Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Love Affair And A Cottage Garden Story

Like a great many other people, I have longed for that special place where I can go and be completely absorbed, at least for a time, forgetting any troubles or worries that might be bothering me. A garden is just such a place. There is something wonderful about planting and tending one's own garden, while getting hands dirty in the process. Speaking of dirt, I am going to share something with you! I have been involved in a deep and exciting love affair for a long time. I confess that, in fact, the affair is still going on today. You know how it is, some things are just too wonderful to stop. Looking back, it probably happened because it was just so doggone easy to get involved. The object of my affection has never asked much of me and has required very little pampering or attention. That's why I love Herbs so much!

Okay, so the only dirt involved in this story is the kind that winds up under my fingernails. The part about the love affair is true, however, because I definitely have been in love with that group of plants known as "herbs" for a long time.

I have spent countless hours reading, researching and learning as much as possible about these plants. As long as I can remember, I was interested in herbs. Yet I admit to not knowing the group encompasses so many plants, including some that most of us refer to as weeds, such as the Dandelion. I certainly did not know much about growing them. Then, about twenty years ago, I came across a book entitled The Complete Book of Herbs "A practical guide to growing and using herbs."  It was first published in 1988 and was authored by Lesley Bremnes. I don't know if it is currently being printed, but I find it for sale (used) on Amazon here: If you are interested in growing herbs, believe me, it is well worth looking into. I note that it is still getting rave reviews, even some 28 years after its original printing. It is a timeless reference for studying, growing and using herbs. I purchased my copy in 1993 and I still refer to it, after all these years. It is beautifully written, informative and is filled with hundreds of wonderful photographs and diagrams that are still very much pertinent for the gardener of today. This is a picture I took of my copy of the book, which has been used by me as much as my dirty and rusty old potting tools.

The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremnes
Some of the herbs I grow are planted in the ground and others in pots. Some could be considered perennials in this part of the United States and, depending on how cold a winter we experience, some either stay green all year or come back when warm weather arrives. Others, like tender Basil, must be replanted when spring comes around. 

Situated just outside my kitchen window is a very large (about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide) bed of Oregano.   In the pictures below you can see that there are other plants, like Gladiolus and Lilys, around which the Oregano has grown. I prefer a relaxed, cottage style, rather than formal. It is no big deal to me when things get a little mixed up and crazy. I planted this Oregano years ago, in this spot, when was just a tiny plant. It has a somewhat spreading habit and is pretty much allowed to do its thing, as it falls over the edges of the bed. It is very hardy and retains some of its green leaves through the Winter months. It generally spreads more with each Spring and Summer. It is very pungent--spicy hot in flavor and aroma.

Very Large Bed of Oregano

Another View of Oregano Bed
This Rosemary plant has been growing right beside the bottom steps of my deck for years in front of a Yew. I often reach down and rub the leaves as I walk by it. Honestly, I do this with all my herbs. It is perfect having this Rosemary by the back steps. When I want to add a little punch to a dish I happen to be preparing, I just step out there and snip a sprig or two.
Rosemary Plant by my Back Door Steps

The Eucalyptus tree in my yard is yet another herbal plant. It was planted by my husband and I some 16 years ago. It was just a tiny shoot of a plant at that time, maybe a couple of feet high. We never dreamed it would grow into such a  large and wonderful tree. It smells fabulous, especially when the weather heats up! Another attribute is that it is good  for using in arrangements. A tree can bring joy and this one has brought much joy to us.

Unfortunately, my husband got a little carried away a couple of years ago when doing some yard work. Some of the tree's limbs were touching the ground. I am sure that he meant well when he took a saw to it and "trimmed" some very large limbs off its trunk. I am afraid it suffered, badly, from the cutting it received. The leaves began to fall off and it has become somewhat bare in places. In addition, some of the smaller branches seemed to have died off. The Eucalyptus, though not a hard wood, is known for being a tough tree and one that can survive droughts and hot temperatures, so I hope it will fully recover.

In the picture below you can see, near the bottom of the tree, some of the areas where my husband cut off the branches.You can also see how it has lost some of its leaves in some places. The leaves of this special tree change shape, in stages over the years, as the tree matures. It actually looks like it is two different trees with different leaves. Note how small my granddaughter, Rachel, looks as she plays near the tree. Its magnitude is evident, even though much of the tree's top is not visible here. Can you tell how the leaves near the bottom of the tree are somewhat round in shape and elongated or blade-shaped as you look farther up the tree?

Eucalyptus Tree Showing How Large the Tree is and How Its Leaves are a Rounded Shape  at the Bottom and Elongated at the Top

Some people may not agree, but I think the bark of this tree, with its deep, rusty-brown and gray hues and peeling habit  is wonderful.The bark comes off in long strips, if you pull on it, and it has a spongy texture. With its twisted and gnarled branches, peeling bark and silvery leaves, it is striking. It somehow reminds me of an old Wise Woman, like the ones you find in legends and myths, with wrinkled skin. Here is another picture of the tree, so you get some idea of how beautiful the bark is and the lovely silvery color of the leaves, which are more rounded here at the bottom of the tree. Notice how the small branches have a sort of cascading or weeping habit, almost like vines hanging down.

Close Up of the Trunk of the Eucalyptus Tree

Pictured here, in a large pot, are some of the more tender herbs. It contains Parsley, which actually somehow wintered over in this pot, and Sage. Because of the relatively mild winter we had, the Sage survived winter, too, as well. The Basil and a Pepper plants were added to the medley this spring. Rachel loves most of the culinary herbs and she proceeds to pull the leaves off of the things in this pot when we go out to play. She calls herself "making a salad" and then she eats it.

Potted Basil, Parsley, Sage and Pepper Plant

Our sandy soil is good for growing most herbs, as you can see, because the hardier ones seem to almost thrive on neglect. Vegetables, however, are a much different story. They are difficult to cultivate without investing much time, hard labor and money into the process. It is simply not cost effective and it requires too much labor in preparing and planting the traditional way. Not to mention the fact that I cannot handle the bending and stooping involved in preparing and working with a traditional garden. Therefore, the prospect of growing vegetables has been pretty much out of the question for me. A tomato or two, planted in pots, was about the extent of my vegetable gardening.

And so, every year in the past, when Spring rolled around, I would find myself dreaming of having a vegetable garden, even the tiniest one. I finally came to the realization that if I was going to do any vegetable gardening, other than the occasional tomato, it would have to be done in some sort of planters. A couple of years ago, my son-in-law, Jimmy, and our grandsons, knowing the desires of my heart, built a planter for me for Mother's Day. I was ecstatic about it. Even in the midst of Jimmy's health problems, last year, they built yet another.

These planters measure about 4 X 8 feet each and are situated just past my back deck and close to my kitchen. Since I wanted to be able to sit on the sides as I worked in my garden, the planters were built about 18 inches deep and have flat planks on all of the top sides for sitting and working.

It was a little late in the season when I finally got some things planted in my garden. As I said earlier, I sort of like things a little mixed up and so went hap-hazard this year, planting something in just about every square inch. One planter contains some yellow squash and zucchini plants, some bush bean seeds, climbing bean seeds and some mustard. An Eggplant or two is planted in each of the gardens, as well. I even strewed some Marigold seeds I collected from my flowers last summer, all about. I am hoping these flowers will deter pesky insects and, in the process, add a little color, in the process.

After waiting a few weeks, this is what my garden looked like when I took pictures with my cell phone a couple of weeks ago. The bean seeds had begun to sprout. Some climbing pole beans are planted near the front of this planter. I had intended to redo the poles and chicken wire I used to run things on last year, but I did not get around to it. At this point, we were really in need of a good rain.

Bush Beans, Eggplant & Squash with Georgia Collards in Pots
In the other planter, I planted some more yellow squash and zucchini plants near the front. There are several different varieties of tomatoes at the other end. This is the planter a couple of weeks ago. 
More Bush Beans near the Front End and Tomato Plants in the Far End

More Potted Pepper Plants, Collards and  a Mixed Salad Blend Planted Under-Story
I mentioned the pesky bugs and worms. Soon after the plants started emerging, there was a problem with bugs and worms. I think maybe those "boogers" came in on the Collard and Mustard plants. I made some home-made concoctions, including garlic spray, to try and eliminate the little "boogers." I even placed some orange peels around the plants. I try, though not always successfully, to use organic and eco-friendly methods, when possible. I do not like to use too many commercial pesticides if I can get by. Now that the Marigolds have begun to grow, maybe those will help, as well. Certainly hope so!

Using my cell phone again to record the progress, I snapped the following pictures last weekend. You can see things were coming along, with a little help from the water hose and some plant fertilizer.

Yay! Nothing works better for a garden than rain water and this week we have had a good bit of rain. As you can see from the following pictures, which I took couple of days ago, things have begun to take shape!
Pole Beans Have Started to Climb. A Pot of Chives (One of the Herbs I Enjoy) Sits in the Forefront in this Picture. Some how Spring Violets took Root with the Chives.
Bush Beans and Tomatoes are Really Taking Off Now
The Collards are Looking Better and Some Mustard is Coming Up Below Them (the Bugs and Worms Have Been Trying to Eat Them)

Some Tomato Plants in a Pot

Look Closely and You Can Spy the Little Bean Blossom Behind  the Leaves
A Squash Bloom
Eggplant Blossoms

Many of your gardens are probably a lot bigger and more spectacular than mine, especially those of you who  live on working farms.  For sure, some of you also are already enjoying eating those tasty vegetables. As I said, I was late in getting started. Still, I thought it would be nice to show you the planters my sweet and loving son-in-law and grandsons built for me, so that I could realize the joy of planting and tending a little cottage vegetable garden of my own.  I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading about it.

Thank you, my sweet Jimmy, Glenn and Stephen for making the great garden planters and for making Mimi's gardening dreams come true!

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