Category: Horticulture and Gardening


Shade lovers: Non-stop begonia, lobelia, and impatiens

Shade lovers: Non-stop begonia, lobelia, and impatiens

As you’ve probably noticed by now, my raised beds are built of cement blocks with the holes oriented up and down and filled with topsoil. Very few plants actually survive our 50 below winters, so I buy annuals each summer, mostly in 6-packs, and plant them in the holes of the cement blocks.

Annuals bordering the lavenders and other herbs

Annuals bordering the lavenders and other herbs

Some are truly annuals, growing from seed, flowering, seeding and dying in a single season, regardless of climate. Some are in truth biennials or perennials in more clement climates, but are grown as annuals in Alaska.

Lantana. This is actually a perennial shrub, but I treat it as an annual.

Lantana. This is actually a perennial shrub, but I treat it as an annual.

In general the flowers I choose will keep blooming throughout the summer if they are deadheaded—the flowers cut off after they bloom but before they can form seeds. This keeps the plant thinking it has to keep on blooming to produce seed. (I must admit that this is something I frequently forget to do.)

Calibrachoa, Pansy and Petunia edging the squash bed.

Calibrachoa, Pansy and Petunia edging the squash bed.

A few plants are sterile hybrids, and these never need to be deadheaded—they just exist in a constant state of frustration.

Pansies. I love the colors these are available in today.

Pansies. I love the colors these are available in today, and the way the colors change as the flowers age..

Pansies are very popular in Alaska, and they will self-seed.

Portulaca (moss rose.) They like more sun than we've had this year, but they do like our long days.

Portulaca (moss rose.) They like more sun than we’ve had this year, but they do like our long days.

A sunshine favorite is portulaca, or moss rose. The last week or two have not been kind to these.

Lavenders

Lavenders are usually grown for the essential oil which for highest quality, as used in perfumery and cosmetics, is extracted from the buds and flowers. The leaf hairs also have some of these essential oils and may be used for sachets (often with flowers) or as a slightly sweet, floral flavor in cooking.

I’m afraid I grow them primarily for the shape, texture and color of the leaves, as in this climate I am lucky to see more than a few buds by first frost. As of late June ‘Goodwin’ is the only cultivar with a trace of buds.

I buy them in 3” pots and transplant them into a raised bed—they like it hot and dry, which does not exactly describe Interior Alaska in summer, even in Fairbanks. But they have a nice variety of appearances.

Mint, rosemary, basil and thyme are not the only culinary herbs I grow. There are others I use quite as much, if not more. They share the raised bed with the thyme, rosemary, and lavender. (The lavender will have to wait until Thursday, by when I hope that at least a few of the varieties are blooming.)

Fernleaf Dill

Fernleaf Dill

First of these is dill. I don’t do much canning or pickling (as in none) but the leaves are a wonderful addition to egg dishes, salads, and fish. On the rare occasions when I make borscht, I garnish with sour cream and sprinkle dill leaves on top. Since it is the leaves I’m after, I usually grow Fernleaf.

Curled-leaf Parsley

Curled-leaf Parsley

Parsley is another herb I enjoy fresh. It often gets mixed with cottage cheese and salads. Most years I have both curly-leaved and flat-leaved, but this year I’m just growing the curly-leaved.

Chives 7-20-14

Chives are one of the very few herbs to be perennial up here, and they also seed freely. Their lavender flowers are decorative in the perennial bed, and I have several clumps in the raised beds as well. I should probably get rid of some of them, but they are too good in cottage cheese and salads.

Tricolor Sage

Tricolor Sage

I grow tricolor sage as a culinary herb, but I don’t use much of it. Like thyme, it is often used with poultry. In addition, I like to keep a plant of pineapple sage around just for sniffing.

'Westacre Gold' Oregano

‘Westacre Gold’ Oregano

Oregano, for me, is the flavor and aroma of pizza. Not the modern fast-food pizza, but the pizza I remember growing up in New England. Once the zucchini starts bearing, I’ll slice it and cook it gently in olive oil with oregano and basil, then sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese.

Chervil

Chervil

Finally, I try to get at least one plant of chervil. Sometimes I don’t have to, as it self-seeds vigorously. These lacey leaves are wonderful in scrambled eggs and another addition to salads.

d. rose 6:22:14The sun will rise this morning at 2:59 and set 21 hours and 48 minutes later at 12:47 tomorrow morning. This near the solstice, the day length changes by less than a minute a day, and it is bright twilight all night.

Until the middle of last week we still had red flag warnings and high fire danger, but starting Wednesday we went into a rainy pattern. In fact, we are running at about twice normal rainfall for the month, and we’ve gone from fire weather advisories to local flood advisories virtually overnight. Highs for the next week are expected to be around 70, but with lots of scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms in the afternoons.

Zucchini 6:22:14All this rain has been great for the garden. The first domesticated rose has opened. I’m not sure what variety, but it transplants easily, suckers freely, and makes a nice hedge on the east side of the lawn. It is not a rugosa, which I bought it as, but looks more like a spinosissima. Lot of little tiny spines, and a pretty but small double shell-pink flower.

The green zucchini have female flowers, and are actually showing tiny squash. The yellows are a good deal behind them, but they are showing buds. (The black stuff is IRT plastic, which lets solar infrared through to warm the soil, but blocks visible light to stop weeds.) Unfortunately the weeds are enjoying the rain also; I’m going to have to spend a morning trying to get back ahead of them.

 

Basils

Basil does not grow as well in Alaska as do many other herbs, but I still manage to get a number of varieties each year. Why? Basil likes relatively dry, hot conditions, and Interior Alaska just doesn’t supply that, though the Fairbanks area is probably the best in Alaska.

In general the Thai basils are not my favorites—I just don’t care for the licorice taste. But most basils go very well with tomatoes and Italian dishes. Now that the first local tomatoes are showing up at the Farmers’ Market, my usual lunch of cottage cheese and fruit will change to cottage cheese and tomatoes, with basil, chives, dill, and parsley mixed into the cheese. Another use for basil will be when the zucchini is ready to pick. And, of course, basil is widely used in pesto.

Here are some of the basils I’m trying this year, along with a few I photographed at Basically Basil, which has a regular stall at the Farmers’ Market where they sell plants, herbal vinegars, and seasoning mixes.

 

Thymes

Thyme is another herb that comes in many varieties. Most of us associate it with poultry, particularly with poultry stuffing. It’s also one of the herbs used in bouquet garni for soups and broths. Fresh sprigs are good as garnish, but if the whole leaves are used, it’s best to strip them off the stems or use only the growing tips. The mature stems get woody in texture, and while they may be steeped for flavor, remove them before eating. I add the leaves to salads.

Here are a few kinds I grow:

roses edging lawnSummer Solstice is almost here—at 2:51 am next Saturday, to be exact. Our days are almost as long as they get: 21 hours and 45 minutes, with sunrise at 3 this morning and sunset at 12:45 tomorrow morning. Needless to say, it doesn’t really get dark; the sun at its lowest is only a couple of degrees below the northern horizon.

The weather has not been oppressively hot, and next week’s forecast looks like it will stay nice: high sixties to low 70’s in the daytime, with nighttime lows generally in the 40’s. We could use more rain; the fire danger is still high. We do have chances of showers, but the rain is unlikely to make up for the chance of lightning.

Salpiglossis 6:13:14The wild roses edging the lawn are in full bloom, and the delphiniums, still unbudded, are shoulder high. The zucchini are well budded, though not yet in bloom. Many of the annuals planted at the edges of the raised beds are in bloom. I expect more of the perennials will be in bloom next week; the daylilies and the rest of the white iris are showing a little color.

And I’m actually keeping up with the chickweed in the raised beds.

Rosemary is another herb I’m fond of, and I make a point of getting several varieties. I also try to pot one plant up and keep it going over the winter. It actually survives better than mint as a potted plant.

I like it in numerous dishes, but it’s especially good with lamb. I also cook delicata squash by cutting it in half, brushing the cavity and cut surfaces with olive oil, and tucking a sprig of rosemary in the cavity before microwaving.

Here are the four varieties I found this year.

Huntington Carpet

Huntington Carpet

Barbeque

Barbeque

Salem

Salem

Prostrate Rosemary

Prostrate Rosemary

And just to prove that herbs aren’t all I grow, the first white iris (a white variant of the local wild iris) opened two days ago.

White iris 6:10:14

Raised beds as of June 7

Raised beds as of June 7

The sun rose at 3:11 this morning, and will set at 12:31 tomorrow evening. Yes, we have a full 24 hours of daylight and bright twilight combined. Good thing I am not bothered by sleeping in a light room.

The thunderstorm season is here, and I hope we’ll get a little more rain. We’ve had some—about a quarter inch, which is normal for this time of June. But I’m still having to water quite a lot.

Most of the garden is now planted, at least the raised beds: one with zuchinni, one with mints, one with other herbs, and one with strawberries. The wild roses are in full bloom, as are the dwarf columbines and the hardy strawberries. The begonia boxes on the north side have been planted, and I hope to get the hanging geraniums trimmed and up soon. Thank goodness radiation therapy is over and I hope I’ll feel more energetic soon.

Mints, Part 2

The mints I showed before, in Part 1, aren’t the only ones in the raised bed. I didn’t buy a couple that didn’t really appeal to me last year (Banana Mint and Grapefruit Mint) but here are the others I did get. I just like having them around to smell. In addition, I planted  in a perennial bed one plant of a hardy mint which I am calling Alaska Mint. (It is probably Mentha avensis or Mentha canadensis.) It is trying to crowd out the perennials, though right now of course it is not as large as the transplants.

One of my favorite uses for mint is to chop the leaves fine and add them to unflavored Greek yogurt along with honey, walnuts and a bit of lemon juice.

This time I’m using a slide show; click on any small image to get to the show.

And the first rose of summer, photographed June 3. This is a wild rose, of the kind that makes up the undergrowth of our birch-aspen forests. I’ve never succeeded in transplanting one, but they sucker like mad and do their best to spread from the birch forest to the lawn.

Alaska Wild Rose

Alaska Wild Rose

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