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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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Herbs, garden color, and a Book Giveaway!

I’m planning to grow an herb garden for the first time. When is the best time to set out transplants?

Basil

Wait until warm weather to plant any type of basil.

Now that spring is definitely on the way, of course we’re anxious to get things planted, and the herb garden is a good place to start. Some herbs can withstand chilly temperatures, and may already be available at nurseries or garden centers. Herbs that are more hardy – sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro, rosemary – can be set out very early, but to be safe (and depending on the climate in your area) you may want to wait until closer to the last frost date. (That’s around mid-April in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home).

Tender herbs such as basil absolutely will not tolerate cold weather, and you should

Parsley

Parsley can withstand a chill, and can be planted now.

wait until after the last frost date – or even a few days longer, just in case — to set out transplants.

In general, herbs grow best in well-drained soil in a spot that gets full sun, but there are a few herbs that do well in partial sun or partial shade. Garden author Judy Lowe lists chives, cilantro, lavender, lemon balm, parsley and sweet bay as plants that tolerate a little shade.

And for aspiring gardeners without a place to dig, herbs do well in containers — alone or planted with other herbs in a garden arrangement. At the appropriate time, set transplants in containers in good potting soil. Place them in a sunny spot on the deck, porch or patio, and keep the containers well-watered.

Color all year long – And a book giveaway!

Nellie Neal lo res

Nellie Neal photo by Dave Ingram

Nellie Neal’s appreciation for color in the landscape began while she was college.

“I became aware of this garden that was on my route every day. I noticed that it didn’t matter what day of the year it was, there was something going on that was worth a look.” She watched throughout the cycle of the year: where the azaleas bloomed, where the gardenias flowered. In winter, where the shrubs held gorgeous berries.

“It’s really when I became enamored with how the colors and the form go together to create this effect.”

Today, Nellie is a garden writer and radio host living in Jackson, Miss. and the author color garden book jacket lo resof The Nonstop Color Garden, a guide to designing flowering landscapes for year-round enjoyment.

Nellie offers some of her garden color tips in a story in today’s Style section in The Tennessean. Here at The Garden Bench, I’m giving away a copy of the book.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite season for color — or just name a color you like. Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, March 20, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a copy of Nellie Neal’s The Nonstop Color Garden.

Rosemary: Time to start over

After this winter, my rosemary looks as dead as dead can be. Is there a way to tell now whether I should go ahead and pull it up and replant, or should I wait?

RosemaryRosemary is considered a marginally hardy shrub in this part of Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a). The last few winters here have been kind to us, and most gardeners’ rosemary has survived, especially the more cold-hardy varieties such as ‘Arp’ and ‘Hill’s Hardy.’

But this winter delivered a knockout punch to everyone’s rosemary. To test for life, scratch the bark on a stem and if you see green underneath, there is still life in there. But I’m guessing it’s as dead as it looks. Might as well pull it up and start over.

For better luck keeping rosemary alive during winter, choose one of the more cold-hardy selections. The U.S National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. makes several recommendations at its web site for Rosmarinus officinalis varieties that have made it through winter in the National Herb Garden with little or no dieback — ‘Albus,’ ‘Logee’s Light Blue’ and ‘Salem’ among them (no word at the web site on whether they made it through this winter, though). As a rule, they say, cultivars with thinner leaves and lighter flowers are hardier. Prostrate types of rosemary are least hardy.

To give new rosemary a head start on surviving next and future winters, here’s what the National Arboretum experts suggest: Plant new rosemary in a location that gets full sun throughout the year, in a site sheltered from winter wind, if possible. Plant in the spring so the roots have a good, long time to become established. If your soil is a heavier clay type, mulch with gravel to reflect light and heat back into the plant and help prevent soil-borne diseases from splashing onto the leaves.

New book: Troy Marden says ‘Plant This Instead!’

Plant This InsteadMiddle Tennessee garden guru Troy Marden believes there are better choices than some of the same old plants we reach for at the nursery time after time. His new book, Plant This Instead! is out now (published by Cool Springs Press), and Troy is giving a free lecture and book signing next Saturday (April 12) at Moore & Moore Garden Center, 1826 Highway 100 in Nashville. He’ll be there 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

More on the book later. Meanwhile, I’m flipping through the copy I have here and looking for alternatives to replace some of those shrubs and perennials that bit the dust this winter.

Cheekwood’s a winner!

A few weeks ago I noted that Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art was one of the finalists for BestPublicGarden in USA Today Travel’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards list.

The votes are in, and among the 10 winners (determined by a public vote), Cheekwood placed 6th on the list.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be included in the list of 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Award winners,” said Cheekwood president Jane O. MacLeod in a press release announcing the results. “Being chosen by the public to win this award is a big honor— and it proves that Cheekwood ranks among some of the most celebrated and well-known gardens in the world.”

The results were determined by supporters who voted at the 10Best Readers’ Choice Award web site. “We are so grateful to everyone who voted for Cheekwood, both for their support and for helping us earn even more wonderful exposure,” McCleod said. Congratulations, Cheekwood!

 

Easy herbs for a beginning gardener

QUESTION: What are some of the easiest herbs to grow in a new herb garden?

Let’s start with five of the most-used culinary herbs in a kitchen garden, as suggested by gardener Sara Plummer, a member of the Nashville Herb Society:

Basil

gb Basil GenoveseNeeds: Warmth, sun, well-drained soil; water regularly.

Varieties: Sweet basil is the most well-known, but there are other varieties with distinctive colors and flavors, including cinnamon, lemon, ‘Spicy Thai,’ ‘Purple Ruffles’ and many more.

Use in: Pasta sauces and salads, with mild cheeses, in rice dishes, and to make pesto.

Note: Basil is very tender and will be killed by cold temperatures, so don’t be in a rush to plant it if the temperature is not consistently warm. Basil is an annual, but if you let it flower and go to seed in the fall, the seeds will drop to the ground and likely will sprout next year when the ground warms.

Chives

gb ChivesNeeds: Moist soil in a sunny location; water regularly.

Varieties: The most common chives have purple globe-shaped flowers, but there are also pink- and white-flowered varieties, and garlic chives.

Use in: Eggs, salads, soups, potatoes, broiled meat or fish.

Note: Clip the long, tubular leaves as needed. Cut chives can last in the fridge about seven days; for longer storage, chop them and store them in the freezer. This hardy perennial grows from bulbs, and may need to be dug up and divided every few years.

Rosemary

gb Rosemary fitcNeeds: Well-drained soil in a sunny location. This is a tender shrub that may be damaged during extreme cold; some varieties are hardier than others (‘Arp’ and ‘Hill Hardy’ are two that do well here).

Use in: Meat, chicken and lamb dishes, fish, casseroles, tomato sauces, egg dishes, vinegars and oils.

Note: Rosemary is evergreen, so you can use fresh leaves all winter if the plant doesn’t succumb to extremely cold weather.

Thyme

gb Thyme motherNeeds: Well-drained soil, but thyme is tolerant of poor soil and dry weather.

Varieties: There are many species and different “flavors.” Popular varieties include ‘Silver Queen,’ lemon thyme, wild creeping thyme, wooly thyme and others.

Use in: Stews, stocks and marinades, stuffing, sauces, herb butters, oils and vinegars.

Note: Some thyme varieties are upright, some have a creeping habit. Trim thyme often to keep it from becoming woody. Harvest the leaves before the plant flowers.

Oregano

gb Oregano GreekNeeds: Well-drained soil in a sunny location.

Varieties: Some species are more flavorful than others, and some are more suited to decorative uses than culinary, so choose carefully. Greek oregano is a good, flavorful choice.

Use in: pizza, meat, tomato dishes, vegetables, oils and vinegars.

Note: Oregano is a perennial plant, but some are more hardy than others. Pick the leaves whenever you want to use them for cooking. They can also be dried or frozen.

 

Grow herbs in containers

QUESTION: I want to grow herbs for cooking, but we don’t have space in the yard. Can herbs do okay growing in pots?

Grow three types of basil for an attractive container combination.

Grow three types of basil for an attractive container combination.

Many herbs can grow very well in containers, and if your “garden” space is a deck or a condominium balcony, it’s the best way to have fresh herbs at your doorstep. The things you need to guarantee success are good growing medium, ample sunlight, and plenty of water. You can sow seeds, but transplants get the garden off to a faster start.
Begin with the soil – and by that I don’t mean the dirt you dig up in the yard, but a soilless potting mix, which is lighter and less likely to become compacted in the container. Members of the Herb Society of Nashville recommend a mix that is heavy with peat. Slow-acting organic fertilizer can also be added.
After you fill the pot with growing medium and the herb transplants of your choice (more on that in a minute), find a spot on the deck or balcony that gets several hours of sunlight – at least four to six — a day. After it’s planted, the challenge of keeping a garden pot growing is making sure it gets enough water. At mid-summer, when days are hot and dry, pots dry out quickly and often need to be watered every day.
The container itself is up to you; almost anything that will hold potting mix and drain well can be used as a planter for herbs. In fact, a variety of types of containers may make an interesting arrangement. Consider baskets, bowls, an old wheelbarrow – anything that holds a moderate amount of soil and a few plants (drill holes in a container that doesn’t drain naturally). Of course, traditional pots are fine, too.

Mint is a good choice for a container herb garden.

Mint is a good choice for a container herb garden.

As for what to grow: Basil, chives, dill, mint, oregano, parsley (curled and Italian), sage and thyme all can grow well in containers. Cilantro also does well, but you should remember that it is a cool-season herb that goes to seed quickly when the weather turns hot. Grow them in individual pots, or consider some container combinations: rosemary sage and chives; parsley, basil and thyme; mint, basil and dill are all good choices for container herb gardens.

Rosemary may suffer indoors

QUESTION: We received a potted rosemary plant as a Christmas gift. According to the plant marker, it is a variety called ‘Arp.’ It was fresh and green when we got it, but now the leaves are beginning to turn brown. What is the best way to take care of it?

RosemaryThose rosemary topiaries and the miniature rosemary Christmas trees are popular gifts for cooks and gardeners during the holidays. Unfortunately, they don’t always live as long as you might expect.

Some sources with information on houseplants say that rosemary is one of the culinary herbs that can be grown outdoors in summer and brought in during winter. But rosemary has specific needs that are not easily met in some indoor environments.

To grow well indoors, a rosemary plant, which is really a tender perennial shrub, requires bright light — four or more hours a day of direct sun, or about 14 hours of supplemental fluorescent light. In addition, it likes warm temperatures in spring and summer, and cooler (45 – 70 degrees) in fall and winter. It also likes fairly humid conditions, and the air in an average home may be too dry for the plant to thrive.

While you have it indoors, give the rosemary as much light and humidity as possibly (a daily misting may help). Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings, but don’t let it dry completely.

‘Arp’ is one of the hardiest rosemary varieties. Plant it outdoors in early spring (full sun, but it also does fine with a little bit of shade), in soil that drains well. If you plant it in a sheltered location, there’s a good chance that it will last in the garden for many years here in Zone 7a.