Plants – Herbal Teas

I’ve lost count of how many years I’ve grown the herb lemon balm. I use it mainly for tea. The butterflies and bees love it for the delicious nectar in its tiny white flowers. I have near two dozen plants growing in several gardens surrounding my home. Why do I grow so many? Well they self-seed, make excellent tea, are linked to longevity, will grow where other plants would succumb to bad conditions, new sprouts are easily transplanted to a new location, and most important, I find the plants pretty.

The batch above is growing strong around my Square Foot Garden boundaries. In some areas it has inter-mingled with spearmint that has also run rampant and multiplied from one plant.

These two herbs, steeped in just-boiled water make a lovely, invigorating, yet calming tea. If you find these plants in a garden nursery and have room to grow them, give them a try.

Plant – Chives

It’s a day of heavy rain here in the Northeast. Before the drops came down too hard I snuck outside with my camera and quickly took a photograph of my prettiest blooming garden plant: a beautiful bunch of lavender pompom blooms topping my chives. I enjoy using fresh herbs in my daily cooking, and chives add a bit of pizazz to many dishes. This week I used a few of them in homemade cream of potato soup. It was delicious, and the chives added some pretty color to the rather bland appearance of the soup.

Chives are easy to grow. Even the potted herbs you find in grocery stores will grow all season if you plant them early enough. My bunch of chives returns without fail every year, bigger and better and with more blossoms.

I’ve read you can pick and dry these blossoms. I think I will give it a try. Updates will follow. 🙂 Chives fit perfectly into my gardening lifestyle.

Plant – Cinnamon Fern Fiddleheads

Cinnamon Ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) have unfurled during the warmth of the last few weeks. I love walking along woodland paths bordered by these feathery green plants. The fronds appear stately as they hold their spiky ‘cinnamon’ spores high; a scepter covered with the possibility of new life.

Quite often I will find Cinnamon Ferns and Skunk Cabbage growing in the same area.

“The Osmundastrum cinnamomeum fern forms huge clonal colonies in swampy areas. These ferns form massive rootstocks with densely matted, wiry roots. This root mass is an excellent substrate for many epiphytal plants. They are often harvested as osmunda fiber and used horticulturally, especially in propagating and growing orchids. Cinnamon Ferns do not actually produce cinnamon; they are named for the color of the fertile fronds.”
~ Wikipedia

Cinnamon ferns are called fiddleheads in the beginning stages of their unfurling. Here are a few photos of the stages of their growth.

Chefs can create gourmet dishes out of fiddleheads. I’m not sure which variety of fern they use, but think it must be a well-remembered dining experience by anyone who tries this culinary treat.

Quote – The Lily of the Valley

I love this beautiful old hymn. Yesterday, I was reminded of this description of Jesus, and the Bible verse it was based on, when I noticed the first flowers blooming in a nearby patch of naturalized Lily of the Valley. Years ago, I first noticed sprigs of it that had taken hold after someone dumped their garden clippings at the edge of the woods. Those small sprigs have multiplied over the years into a large swathe of plants. As is so often the case, persistence wins the day, and the Lily of the Valley has thrived.

The hymn was written in 1881 by Charles W. Fry

“I’ve found a friend in Jesus, He’s everything to me,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul;
The Lily of the Valley, in Him alone I see
All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole.
In sorrow He’s my comfort, in trouble He’s my stay;
He tells me every care on Him to roll. Refrain:
He’s the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.”
~ Charles W. Fry 1881

“I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
~ Song of Solomon 2:1

This Bluegrass rendition of the hymn is by The Cluster Pickers.

Plant – Violets

I love violets in the Springtime, not only do they add color, they are gently fragrant and a scent I seek out at this time of the year. Violets self-seed and will pop up in unexpected places, like this one under my hydrangea bush. I have violets everywhere, offspring of the dozen or so I transplanted from the creek bed years ago.

“Do you think amethysts can be the souls of good violets?”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Violets are one of those wonderful garden plants that will grow in between the cracks of stones and in other tight places. They are also perfect for arranging in miniature bouquets.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” ~ Mark Twain

Plants & Projects – Throwback Thursday – Spider Plant Revisited

Two years ago, April of 2015, I shared a project involving a yard sale bird feeder frame and a spider plant. I love to find wiry, strange contraptions at yard sales and turn them into plant containers. This one is still growing strong. The photo above shows the growth the spider babies have made in two years. Spiders are great plants and easy to propagate. I thought this was a good post to revisit for Throwback Thursday since yard sales are beginning again with the warmer weather. The photo below shows the plant when it was just starting out.

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Perspective & Plants & Quote – Seedlings/You Do Too Much? NO!

The coleus seedlings have begun to thrive. After their typical slow start, they have developed roots and are now reaching toward the sun on a kitchen windowsill. I’ll let you in on a secret…this is only a portion of the coleus I have growing, there are dozens more under lights. Yes, it seems like a lot of plants, when you add in the tomatoes, eggplant, zinnias, cardinal flowers, moon flowers, etc., etc., etc., but today I came upon a quote in ‘One Woman Farm,’ by Jenna Woginrich, that perfectly described how I feel about what others might view as an excess of activity and objects in my life.

Jenna writes in a chapter titled, ‘I Do Too Much:’
“I do what I do because it fills my mind, body, and spirit. I live in this frenzy of activity not as a victim but as a celebrant.”
and…
“You know what I think? I think wasted potential is a lot scarier than feeling overwhelmed. There is no monster greater than regret.”

I agree Jenna, and so I say when I spend a good half hour watering all my seedling babies…”Onward!”

One of the ‘mother’ plants of my coleus seeds.

Quick Tip & Plants – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

In November, I shared a post relating how I was growing a staghorn fern on my living room wall. In the four months since the post,  the staghorn fern has thrived…this is the good!

To best care for the fern, and other plants, I allow tap water twenty-four hours sitting time before I use it to water houseplants. To store the water, I use rinsed out gallon milk jugs. This also allows me to have several gallons of water on hand  in case of emergency situations. Long story short, recently I grabbed a gallon and watered my fern. Horrors! I immediately saw bubbling in the water and realized I had accidentally watered with the dishwashing detergent and water mix I use to clean milk away from the sides of the jugs…this was the bad!

Dollar store purchases came to the rescue: a dishpan with a plate drying rack placed inside. These two inexpensive pieces make watering plants an easier job. I have many plants, large and small, and know the quickest way to kill them is to let their bottoms sit in excess water. When I water the dishpan catches the water run off, and the dish rack holds even the heaviest potted tree free from the bottom of the pan. The two pieces become quite soiled…this is the ugly.

So how does this quick tip end up in the same post as my staghorn fern? Well, my plant watering system allowed me to place the fern on the dishrack and pour two gallons of clean water through the soil. I almost think the whole ordeal did the fern good, it looks better than ever.

If you have a lot of houseplants try this system. It will save you hours of aggravation and also keep your plants from succumbing to soil that is too wet.

Plants – Sweet Peas and the Farmer’s Almanac

I’ve grown sweet peas many times here in NJ. I’ve been successful starting them indoors and out, but I have found that even if I plant varieties that claim to be perennial, the plants behave like an annual for me and rarely grow a second year.

This year, I soaked the seeds overnight, dug a trench around an already established trellis, and planted all the seeds in the ground. The seeds are covered now, but I have not filled in the trench. As the plants grow, I will gradually cover the bottom of the growth with more soil. This will help the roots stay cool and hopefully give the sweet peas more endurance to withstand New Jersey’s high summer heat and humidity.

Great tips for growing sweet peas can be found in the online version of the Farmer’s Almanac: Growing Sweet Peas

I picked up a pack of chiles for a great price in Aldi this week. They are a great asset to my gardens.

Scattering a few chiles around newly planted seeds might deter a squirrel or chipmunk intent on finding acorns or sunflower seeds.

Plants & Pets – The Accidental Garden

I grow quite a few garden plants from seed at this time of year. This makes space in front of sunny windows the go-to spot when my light table is covered with sprouts. Quite a few of my larger plants have ended up grouped in a spare room for a month or two. Without planning to, I created an accidental garden.

Hans, one of our cats, likes hanging out in the accidental garden too.  At first, I didn’t know he was there, and then I felt eyes watching me. Surprise!

Plants – Looking Down At Things

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Nothing is growing tall, or looming large, in my gardens now, except maybe, the dried out stems of last year’s blooms. To find patches of green I must look down, a perfect pose to find an answer to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge of “Looking Down At Things.”  Wild Cress, even in the middle of February is thriving. This small weed, in shades of shamrock green, grows all over my yard and garden beds through the winter. It is a favorite of mine for pressed flower crafts. The foliage is lush, probably due to the insulating Styrofoam pot and rocks it is growing between and near. At this time of year I’m not picky, I take delight in green plants wherever I can find them.

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I was thrilled to discover this small volunteer sprout of Larkspur, growing in winter against the odds. Larkspur need a period of cold for germination success. I will soon plant a milk carton for winter-sowing. Plants that need cold for growth do well when winter sown.

I’m sure the next few weeks will find me in my garden, looking down…and dreaming.

Plant & Product – Mistletoe Cactus

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On a recent trip to Longwood Gardens I spied this amazing hanging basket filled with Pseudorhipsalis ramulosa, or as it is also known, Red Mistletoe Cactus. I love the combination of soft pink with apple green. (Granny Smith Apple – Color Your World – 120 Days of Crayola) I would love to grow this beautiful plant in a hanging basket, but have no idea where it is sold other than mail-order. Perhaps I can find a source for seeds.

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This year, for the first time, I have found a large variety of hard to find seeds on Etsy. I’ve ordered from three sellers and have been very pleased with the packaging and speed of delivery. Upon searching the site, I found seeds for the Mistletoe Cactus, but they were rather pricey at 11.95. A little high for something without a guarantee to grow. Check out Etsy for rare and unusual garden and houseplant seeds.

Plants – Graceful Orchids

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Orchid Days have begun at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I know I mention the conservatories and gardens at Longwood quite often, but truly, it is one of my favorite places to visit in my area. If you have a chance to travel to the Delaware Valley, please try to visit Longwood.

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The orchids bloom in so many colors and shapes; I wish I could capture the fragrance that greets you when you enter the orchid room. I think orchids resemble dancers with their long stems stretched high and curved in a graceful ballerina’s pose.

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Plant & Pharmacy – Tea Tree Oil – Benefits and Dangers

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In our last excursion to Longwood Gardens we noticed this shrubby bush growing in the conservatory. The marker beneath it identified the plant as Leptospermum laevigatumas, or as it is better known, Australian Tea Tree.

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Essential oil from the Melaleuca alternifoliae species of tea tree, is a well-known remedy for many kinds of skin conditions, ( Always diluted with a carrier oil or products such as Witch Hazel) and also a good addition to organic cleaning recipes. Care must be taken when using tea tree oil, as with any essential oil. Mayo Clinic Tea Tree Oil Warnings

Caution:  If you have cats, many essential oils can build up in their system and become toxic. Tea tree oil is one of these oils. More information on essential oils that are dangerous if you have pets can be found here:
30 Essential Oils Toxic to Pets

As with all essential oils care must be taken when using tea tree oil.

“Pure tea tree oil should not be ingested, and should be kept out of the reach of children; several cases of tea tree oil poisoning have been recorded. The oil can also cause contact dermatitis.” ~ Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

Reader’s Digest has a good article and list of some of the uses of tea tree oil: Tea Tree Oil Uses

Plants – Atomic Tangerines

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Winter doldrums were certainly sent scurrying as we walked through the Longwood Gardens Conservatory on Saturday. Today’s Color Your World – 120 Days of Crayola/Atomic Tangerine perfectly matches what we found within the glass walls. These Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia Uvaria) were stunning from a distance, and up close. I immediately knew I had to try to grow this brilliant variety of the plant in my 2017 gardens.

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My goal this year is to grow most of my plants from seed. It will be a challenge to bring this plant into flower its first year. To get a jump-start on possible bloom this year I am going to try growing the seeds in two ways, Winter-sowing involves placing sown seeds outdoors in a milk carton. More info can be found on winter-sowing here: Winter-Sowing Seeds.

I will also try growing some of the seeds by following the directions on a website called Outside Pride. Their directions call for giving the seeds a period of cold before sowing.

Dampen a paper towel, wring out excess moisture and carefully place the flower seeds on the damp towel. Roll up the towel, place it in a Ziploc bag and place in refrigerator for 4 weeks. ~Outside Pride/Red Hot Poker

Red Hot Poker plants come in a variety of ‘hot’ colors. An added bonus: Red Hot Poker flowers draw hummingbirds to your yard.

Here are a few additional examples of ‘Atomic Tangerines’ growing in the Conservatory.

Flame Vine
Flame Vine
Lily with Atomic Orange Stamens
Lily with Atomic Orange Stamens
Bird of Paradise
Bird of Paradise

Plant & Quote – Poinsettia

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“Who can add to Christmas?

The perfect motive is that God so loved the world.

The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son.

The only requirement is to believe in Him.

The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”

                                                         ~ Corrie Ten Boom

Plants – The Holly and the Ivy

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The forecast is calling for frigid air. The cold will soon send everything into a wintry dormancy. I picked some ivy today to root in water as a last of 2016 cutting. The tiny holly tree beside the ivy is a volunteer. I will soon have to decide what to do with it; the space it is growing in is in front of the gas meter and it will need to be moved.

Holly and ivy have been a mainstay of British Christmas decoration for church use since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when they were mentioned regularly in churchwardens’ accounts. ~ Wikipedia

Ivy is an often overlooked Christmas Green.

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The ‘Holly and the Ivy’ is an old Christmas Carol that tells the story of Jesus.

“The holly and the ivy,
Now both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Chorus
Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior.

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn.

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

 

Plants – Dressing Up Christmas Plants

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Miniature Christmas evergreens are abundant at this time of year. The small trees are good buys, usually under $5.00. They are attractive in their cellophane paper, but they are even prettier dressed up a bit in ceramic and moss.

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I kept mine in the pot it came in, placed it in a ceramic pot, and added a bit potting soil to keep it steady. I topped it off with a bit of moss. I think the tree is lovely. The ornament it came with was the perfect finishing touch, or you could add a special ornament of your own.

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I had some moss left over. I didn’t want to waste it so I place it in a terracotta pot, added some toothpicks, and used it to display vintage ornaments.

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Plant – Thanksgiving Cactus

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I’ve been to the store yet again this week, gathering, gathering, gathering what I need in anticipation of the dinners I’ll be preparing tonight, Thanksgiving Day, and the day after. I’m excited at the prospect of having those I love at our dinner table.

I’ve brought my Thanksgiving cactus upstairs from its usual home in a bright basement window well. The plant will be the centerpiece for my dining-room table. Throughout the summer months the cactus thrives on the screened-in porch. I water this plant once every three weeks. Too much water will doom the succulent leaves to a soggy death. Better to underwater than overwater succulent plants. The cactus is rewarding me for my near-neglect with many buds. I will enjoy its blossom time over the next few weeks of the holiday season.

Plant – Displaying a Staghorn Fern

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I always admire the staghorn ferns in the fern passage at Longwood Gardens. I’ve grown one of these beautiful plants for about six months in an ordinary garden pot. After a recent visit to the gardens, I was inspired to mount and display it properly.

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Staghorn ferns do not need a lot of compost. I used soil amended with vermiculite and perlite to lighten the weight.

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I planned on displaying my fern on my living room wall, but didn’t want to use a natural basket or piece of wood due to possible water stains. I found a good alternative in a wire basket that I had on hand. My first step was to line the bottom with coffee filters to keep the soil in bounds.

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The root system is not large in comparison to the rest of the plant. It fit perfectly in the small narrow basket.

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I planted the fern at an angle, allowing the fronds to cascade over the sides.

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Chair leg pads were a good choice to keep the basket off of the wall. These are self-stick and only took a moment to apply.

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I was pleased with the display after it was hung on the wall. I will update the progress as the fern grows.