Summer! What to do in the Garden – Consider an Herb Garden by Nancy Greeley
Warm weather is finally here and it’s time to really enjoy our gardens! All that hard work you’ve done over the last few months will really pay off now. But, if you haven’t quite finished all the “set up” activities don’t despair, there’s still time.
It’s definitely time to finish up your container planting or you’ll have difficulty finding your favorite plants. The same goes with annuals that you may enjoy planting throughout your garden and borders to ensure color all summer long. If you, like me, enjoy planting mums in the garden, mid-June is the time to cut them back or they’ll get leggy when they deliver their colorful blooms in the fall. Be sure to give them a nice shapely trim and not just a crew cut. Asters can also benefit from a nice trim about now.
There’s still time to get your dahlia tubers in the ground (and cannas and gladiolus, too!). Be sure to watch Suzanne Knutson’s video and webinar teaching us all about dahlias. You can find them on our Facebook page or our website at www.wiltongardenclub.org. There’s also still time to directly sow veggie seeds into the ground. If you plant seeds now, there’s no need to spend extra money at the garden center to buy tiny veggie plants that have barely sprouted. Zucchini, squash, cucumbers, beets, and spinach will all sprout fairly quickly now that the days are warmer, and they’ll catch up to any plants bought at a nursery within just a few weeks. If you have strawberry plants, now’s the time to fertilize them and consider stringing up twisted reflective tape above them to discourage hungry birds from eating them all. It’s still not too late to sow zinnias, sunflowers, and cosmos seeds directly into the garden.
If you don’t already have an herb garden, now’s a great time to start one. Many herbs are hardy perennials in our area and deliver amazing flavor and aroma to your fresh cooking. Sage, mint, thyme, and chives, for example, return year after year. They are a beautiful and fragrant addition to any garden. Many herbs are also great pollinators and many even deter mosquitos. You may be surprised to know that rosemary, mint, lavender, basil, lemon balm, and lemon grass are very unpleasant to those pesky bugs. Mint is invasive, so be sure to corral it in a container or plant it in an area where it can take over.
When planning your herb garden, consider planting it near the house so it’s easy to clip off just what you need before each meal. The basics, including rosemary, parsley, thyme, basil, chives, sage, and oregano are great culinary choices that you’ll enjoy regularly. Container herb gardens also work well, but be sure that you don’t mix plants that like different amounts of water. Rosemary, for example loves dry, sandy soil that drains well. Basil is very tender, so the beginning of June is usually the earliest time to consider planting it outside. It loves a sunny spot and warm moist soil to thrive. Be sure to pinch away flower buds before they bloom, as once basil flowers new leaves stop growing. Most herbs do best when they get continual haircuts as a result of trimming for regular use. For cooking, basil and rosemary are my favorites! I find the Barbecue rosemary to be especially fragrant and full of flavor. It enhances nearly anything I cook. It is also beautiful with gorgeous small blue flowers. If you’re a bread baker, rosemary is a fabulous addition to sourdough flatbread crackers and sourdough focaccia bread!
Lavender is one of my very favorites! While I don’t cook with it, many do. I’m eager to try some baking with it this summer. I recently saw a recipe for a lemon lavender tart that looks tempting… I just love the scent and the beautiful lavender flowers. Lavender can be tricky in our area. I find that Munstead, Hidcote, and Provence varieties do best here and can survive our cold winters. They thrive in FULL sun, love sandy soil with good drainage, and don’t like to have wet feet. Once established, like rosemary, they need very little water. In the early spring, they often look bedraggled and like they just might not make it. Be patient, they usually come on strong once the weather warms up. It’s very important to give them a chance to get going. Never cut them back to old wood. Lavender will bloom in late July and again in the fall. Cut it back just before the blooms begin to fade and enjoy it dried in a bundle or a fragrant sachet. Dried lavender can also be a nice addition to a winter fire in your fireplace. It just smells so good! When you cut your lavender, gather up the flower stems and cut just at the base of the long thin stems. Don’t cut down too much into the leafy stalks. Feel free to shape the plant nicely after you harvest, but, again, don’t cut down to the old wood. Once the plants get going, you can cut out old dead wood as needed.
Enjoy these summer months in your gardens! As I’ve said before, we really are so lucky to be gardeners, to reap the bounty of all our hard work, soothe our souls, and commune with nature. Many thanks to our “Brain Trust” of Wilton Garden Club gardening experts who contributed many and various tips over the last several months: Sandi Blaze, Lila Griswold, Liz Keister, Suzanne Knutson, and Jerre Dawson. Happy gardening!