Hello again fellow gardening enthusiasts!! It’s been a while but let me give you a recap of all the exciting things happening here at Sunshine Care, an Assisted Living Community, in beautiful Poway California.
After a colder than usual winter, Mother Nature has reciprocated by giving us gorgeous spring weather to grow outstanding fruits and vegetables. Our fruit trees have never looked better, most likely due to the colder than average winter. Fruit set in the orchards has made thinning our deciduous fruit trees, quite a chore- BUT worth it. We have had plenty of peaches and the fruit load on the apples is tremendous. Looks like we will have a bounty of plums, nectarines and apricots for our residents very shortly.
Our memorial rose garden came off winter like gang busters also. Never seen such a display of the number of roses and size of flowers. We were able to overload the houses with beautiful, fragrant roses.
Springtime is the most exciting time in our 5 organic veggie gardens. We are still harvesting our cool season crops. Since January, we have enjoyed around 1000 lbs each of broccoli and cauliflower. As a side note, Sunshine Care took first place For Horticultural Excellence at the Poway Valley Garden Club’s 34th Annual Flower Show (second largest in SD County) in April, with some stunning Graffiti purple cauliflower. We beat out hundreds of flower entries. Those rose growers will be after me next year. I’m going to have to come up with something equally odd.
We have been enjoying lots of crispy romaine lettuce in our salads all year. So far this spring we have harvested close to 600 lbs of cucumbers and 1500 lbs of zucchini and yellow squash. Last week we cleaned up some huge bell peppers and got that huge rush by plucking some delicious cherry and fat tomatoes. It’s like heaven! Green, yellow and purple bush beans are making the dinner plates also.
We about one more harvest left of our last cole crops, then it’s time to bear down to attack the tomato harvest and start the marinara show in our kitchen!
Bottom line--- we got it all right now.
I want to take the time to discuss a very popular horticultural topic these days. Starting an herb garden has been a very popular concept in my lecture repertoire. I worked for three years at a local herb company in the Oceanside area before landing here in Poway. I absolutely love having fresh herbs, near my kitchen at home, to turn my good food into great cuisine. Next to eating-- I love to cook.
Growing herbs satisfies many popular garden ideas these days. Buzz phrases like- xeriscaping, cooking with fresh culinary herbs, attracting hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, edible landscaping—are all mentioned as reasons for starting your herb garden.
Buying fresh herbs in the store is a huge rip off! Why spend a couple bucks buying 2/3 oz bunches of fresh herbs, when growing some is easy, cheaper, fresher and tastier. You probably end up throwing away most of that herb anyway.
One shouldn’t turn their nose up to most of the dried herbs. The problem is –how long has that poultry herb blend or dried rosemary in a jar, been in your kitchen cabinet. Most people have been working off that jar of poultry seasoning for the last three Thanksgiving feasts. Harvesting your extra fresh herbs and letting them dry out will give you tasty dried herbs until your plant bounces back. In Southern California this can be just a few weeks in our mild winters. In other spots of the USA, it might be months. In any case, there is no need to keep dried herbs for more than 4 or 5 months, until the plant is lush with fresh leaves again.
I group herbs into three categories.
- Seeded crops- These annuals would include Italian parsley, cilantro, dill, chives and chervil for example. These herbs are used more often than not fresh and uncooked or tossed into that marinara at the last minute. Slow cooking these herbs will leave nothing in the form of flavor or texture. Fresh chives on your baked potato, cilantro in your guacamole, chopped Italian parsley sprinkled over your favorite Italian dishes, are all ways fresh seeded herbs add pop to your meal.
- Perennial herbs- These would include thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary and winter savory. These in theory, will grow forever and add that great layer of flavor in slow cooking methods or marinades. All these can be used fresh or dried and can overpower your dishes if too much is used.
- Basil- “The King of All Herbs!!” Whether Sweet Italian, Thai or Opal- all basils are fragrant, and add tons of flavor to that special dish you are preparing.
Let’s spend time this blog to talk about PERENNIAL HERBS.
These all work well in culinary plantings in a container or in an edible garden landscape. All will flower and attract bees, butterflies and birds. All are drought-tolerant and suitable in xeriscaping . All are members of the mint family and evergreen in nature and very aromatic. Full sun is the key.
THYME- Every time I go to my local nurseries , I find new varieties of thyme. The most popular one for culinary purposes is Common Thyme- Thymus vulgaris. Similar varieties are French, English and German Thyme. All are extremely similar with the French saying theirs is the most flavorful (the leaves are narrower). Who’s is going to argue with a French chef? These thymes will get up to 18” inch in height and should be planted 18” to 24” apart. They like full sun and can handle alkali soils like we have here in SoCal. The bloom color can be rose/mauve or white/near white. Blooms will pop in mid spring and last for months.
When breaking into the thyme growing game, get your feet wet with one of the above types.
If you are looking for varieties to add a little something extra in the form of color, texture or groundcover, you have many different types available. Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is great with chicken and fish. It will only get up to 6-12”. The blooms are violet/lavender in color and start to bloom in the summer. In our herb garden here at Sunshine care, the blooming is just now starting.
Another interesting variety that is perfect for a groundcover is one called Magic Carpet (Thymus serpylium) this variety will stay under 6” in height and makes way more sense than grass. Plant them at 12” max spacings on borders, between stepping stones or in a rock garden. The blooms will be red in color and start to pop in late spring. The leaves are rather glossy in texture.
Thyme has medicinal properties as an antiseptic or source of thymol. The Egyptians used it for embalming, the Greeks for courage and in the Middle Ages it was put under pillows to rid one of nightmares. The Romans spread thyme throughout Europe in cheeses and liquers.
A must in your garden and in your kitchen! Look at variegated types for more colorful foliage.
OREGANO - The four big boys in this group of perennial herbs (origanum) are Greek, Italian, Marjoram and Mexican oregano. If I’m not cooking Italian food it probably will be Mexican cuisine. Next to my stovetop I always have dried Mexican oregano which actually is not even an oregano. Mexican oregano is actually related to the verbenas. In the garden ,Mexican oregano, can get to be 3 ft tall with large violet/lavender blooms. Flowering will occur sometime mid -summer.
Greek oregano, or also known as winter marjoram (origanum vulgare subsp. Hirtum) can get to be two ft tall with white/near white blooms sometime mid- summer. It is extremely herbaceous and aromatic. We have a 15 ft row of this oregano in our herb garden here at Sunshine Care and it would easily work as a ground cover, because it will fill an area very quickly. In Greece it is known the “Joy of the Mountain”. This probably adds proof of its xeriscape possibilities.
Italian oregano, or hardy marjoram (origanum x majoricom) will grow to about 18” in height. Another great candidate for groundcover with white/near white blooms in late spring to early fall. It looks great in the winter and deer won’t munch on it. This fresh herb is a staple in my patio and gets tossed in all my Italian fare usually with fresh Italian parsley. Italian oregano is known as the “Pizza Herb” and was introduced to the USA after our soldiers came home from World War ll after their tremendous efforts in Italy and Sicily.
Italian oregano can sometimes be distinquished from Greek oregano by the color of the foliage. Italian oregano has a lighter green color with a tint of yellow and somewhat sweet in flavor. Greek oregano foliage can get a bluish green color and is stronger in flavor than Italian oregano.
Sweet marjoram or Knotted Marjoram (origanum majorana) is rather unappreciated in the kitchen compared to the other oreganos, but probably is my favorite. Very aromatic and used with all the proteins but I love it with eggs. Not a very good candidate for ground cover because its plant habit is more upright and bush-like. It can get to be 3 ft tall with pink or white blooms from early spring though early fall. These can be used on your garden to accent certain areas as some small shrub.
All the oreganos like full sun , attract bees, butterflies and birds and can survive in alkali soils. Don’t overwater these!
ROSEMARY- There are basically two types of rosemary. Upright rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, can get to be 10 ft high (usually 4-6 ft) with long straight spears of evergreen-like foliage. Four ft spacings will make a definite statement and you can even squeeze them to 2ft if a hedge-wall is desired. It is very hardy and requires very little attention. You can plant them in areas of partial shade to full sun. The blooms are a beautiful blue-violet color and can bloom all year. Propagation is probably the best means of new plant material if many plants are desired. The plant doesn’t set seed, flowers are sterile or the plants will not come true from seed.
The other type of common rosemary is Prostrate Rosemary or also known as Creeping Rosemary. This type is great for retaining walls and will drape nicely over a large area.
Both types work very well in containers or pots also. The blue/violet flowers bloom from spring through fall.
In Latin rosemary gets its name from “Dew of the Sea”, probably referring to its drought- tolerant nature. Another story as to its name comes from a tale of the Virgin Mary laying her blue cloak over a shrub while she settled down for a nap. When she awoke, she lifted up her garment and the blooms of the bush had changed to a blue color. The plant was then named “The Rose of Mary”.
It has been said that rosemary can improve your memory. In the Middle Ages it was used as a love charm and used in weddings.
As the other perennial herbs, rosemary will attract bees, butterflies and birds. Due to the fact that it is drought-tolerant, it is very suitable for xeriscaping.
All these herbs can be used in your edible landscaping and really boost the flavor of your meals. Keep them close at hand.
I’ll try not to let too much time elapse until my next blog. I’ll probably pick up where I left off and talk more about herbs for your kitchen and garden.
Please feel free to call or email me with questions, comments or if you just want to come out for a look.
Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture, Sunshine Care, An Assisted Living Community in Poway Ca
We also have, free to the public, monthly garden lectures on the third Saturday of the month at 10:30 am. We offer prizes, refreshments and tours of the gardens afterwards.
I will be speaking this month on July 20th on Successes and Failures in your Spring/Summer gardens and getting ready for Fall crops. Give me a heads-up and we will be waiting for you.
Check out our website www.sunshinecare.com for more info.
That’s it for now- I have tomatoes screaming to get harvested!
Hope to hear from you and - Happy Gardening!!
Please contact me, if you have any questions or would like to tour our gardens.
Roy Wilburn, Director of Horticulture at Sunshine Care- 12695 Monte Vista Rd, Poway CA 92064