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The Herb Tower Groweth!

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted a picture of my new herb tower, or “wee potager” as my friend, Nicki, likes to call it. I stacked up a galvanized washtub, and a smaller bucket, and planted with a cherry tomato, in the bucket, surrounded by herbs in the washtub. I thought you might like to see how well it’s doing.  The tomato plant is as tall as I am (close to 6′ feet), and the herbs have filled out very nicely though I did lose one spicy globe basil. For some reason, none of my basils are doing well this year, no matter where they are planted, except for my African blue basil, which is slowly becoming a monster plant and bee magnet. But that’s for another post. 🙂

In comparison, here is the potager right after I set it up. You can see that there has been plenty of growth in a very short time. I even have some tomatoes starting to ripen. And in spite of several days of 97 degree weather in a row, the galvanized metal doesn’t seem to be getting too hot for the root systems. I think I’m on to something here. I will be doing a lot more gardening in these tubs and containers. They are cheap, long-lasting, and apparently work quite well. In fact, rather than going to the expense of buying watering troughs for my container vegetable beds, I believe I will just stick to washtubs. I can grow plenty of bush beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, lettuces, and the like in tubs, and line them up along the same area where I had thought to put the troughs. Why not? 🙂 Are any of you using galvanized containers in your gardens? I’d love to know how they are working for you!

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A Bit More On Herbs

Specifically, oregano.  Surely oregano is one of the most popular herbs used in cooking, and is one of the easiest to grow in the herb garden. But if you think all oregano is created equal, you’d be wrong.  There are several herbs with similar flavors that have “oregano” included in the common name of the plant: Mediterranean Oregano, Mexican Oregano, and Cuban Oregano to name a few.  Sometimes these plants are not even in the same family, but can often be used in similar ways.  If you want to grow them for cooking, though, you need to learn the differences, as even though they are similar in taste, they will not add the same flavor to your dishes.  I’m not an expert on oregano, by any means, but here are a couple I have grown, and some information for those of you who would like to know some of the differences.

The mainstay of Italian cooking would have to be Mediterranean oregano, and it is the one most commonly sold (at least around here) as potted plants for your herb gardens.  It is a low growing, spreading sprawl of a plant, with smallish leaves and the flavor you associate with pizza and spaghetti sauce.  It is easy to grow, at least for me, and in Florida becomes a tender perennial which lasts years in my garden, even if neglected.  It is a member of the mint family.

Mediterranean or Common Oregano (Oreganum vulgare)

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Mexican oregano is known to have a similar but much stronger flavor than Common or Mediterranean oregano. It is less sweet, with a hint of citrus.  It is a member of the verbena family (which is probably why it reminds me so much of lantana), and makes a small, deciduous shrub.  It goes better with Mexican foods, such as chili, than with Italian dishes.

Mexican Oregano (Lippia graveolens)

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The third “oregano” I have grown is sold as Cuban oregano around here, though it may be sold under different common names in other parts of the country.  It is really an attractive plant, having large, fleshy leaves, and comes in a green form, or a variegated one.  One leaf chopped up is enough to season quite a big dish, so use it sparingly. The plant has been grown commercially, and is used as herbal treatments for coughs and throat problems, though I would urge caution before using any herb for medicinal purposes unless you know what you are doing.  Just because something is natural, home-grown, or organic doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous if used incorrectly.  But this plant is so pretty, I grow it just for the hairy, variegated leaves alone. It is a plectranthus, related to Swedish ivy, and several other ornamentals. The plant has an upright growth habit, and looks great mixed in with various coleus.

Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)

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And there you have it.  A bit of info on three plants sold as oregano that can actually be used in cooking, as well as just for pleasure in your garden.  Google the Latin names and you will find tons of information on how to grow them, if you aren’t sure what will work in your area.

More Things Herbal

“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

Proverbs 15:17

Well, I’m fresh out of oxen, fattened or otherwise, but I am planting herbs, and this year I am actually going to try to USE them in my cooking.  At least more often than I have in the past.  I grow them every year–basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley,  and velvety, silver sage, to name a few. But I mostly grow them because I love how they look, how they smell when I brush up against them in the garden, and how many butterflies and bees they draw.  I always think I will snip them and use them daily, but except for the occasional cup of pineapple salvia tea, I tend to forget.  This year, I plan to remember!

Basil is my favorite herb to grow and to eat, and thus one that I do sometimes think about when making dinner.  I even like to substitute fresh basil leaves for lettuce on a sandwich, I enjoy it so much.  Sweet basil tastes the best, but African blue basil is the most beautiful and is an absolute magnet for honeybees.  The clumps can get 3 feet across or better, and just as tall.  

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What are your favorite herbs to grow? Do you harvest them for drying or fresh seasoning?

Herbs In The Garden – Borage

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Borage Officinalis

With temps hovering in the mid-70’s and even predicted to go as high as 85 degrees tomorrow, I’m feeling pressured to get my winter gardening underway, and to find time to clean up my beds and get ready for spring.  I really love planting herbs in and among my other flowers and shrubs, and in containers scattered throughout the garden.  One of my favorites is borage, which has edible flowers and leaves, but which I mostly grow for the lovely, Victorian look of the plant.  With its velvety leaves and gorgeous blue, star-shaped flowers, it just feels so romantic to me.  And it is a bee magnet, so it is always welcome in my yard.

I’ve read that both the flowers and the tender new leaves have a mild cucumber taste, and make a delicious and attractive addition to salads.  I’ve never tried this, and I’m curious to hear from anyone who has.  If nothing else, how beautiful would a sprinkling of these blue flowers be across the top of a crisp, green salad?  I have heard it recommended to try borage sparingly at first, as it might have a mild laxative effect on some people.  I find that can be true of many vegetables, so it doesn’t worry me overly much, but if you have a sensitive system, you might want to heed the advice.

Borage is an annual, but it often reseeds and comes back on its own.  I just picked up a beautiful plant this weekend so I could use it to jump start a container garden in a cobalt blue planter.  I also found a healthy seedling that volunteered in my raised bed. 

If you’ve never tried growing borage, you really should.  With its fuzzy leaves and sweetly nodding flowers, it will give a softness and a touch of beautiful blue color to any garden, whether you grow it as an edible herb, or just as a pretty and unusual plant.

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What herbs do you enjoy growing, and what time of year can you plant them in your area?