Friday, April 17, 2009

Thyme to Plant the Herb Garden

Herbs...herbs...herbs....orders have been coming in since January for everything from Basil to Thyme and we're so happy to see them finally go out of the greenhouses and into the mail or into the brown truck. Being that herbs are so easy to grow we often wonder why everyone doesn't grow them. They don't require an enormous amount of space and they thrive on benign neglect. They just need sun, some afternoon shade and water along with some well draining soil. Herbs will often grow in rocky soil and some even prefer that.

In the southern region of the country many herb gardens are already in and are giving their owners a daily fragrant harvest. Here in the mid-south we're still waiting on some drier weather before beginning the planting. If you have been reading our blog you know we're working on revamping the backyard into victory gardens. Well, the raised beds are built, dirt has been delivered and the kids will be wheelbarrowing the dirt into the beds on Saturday. We added an additional bed for just herbs such as Parsley, Sage, French Tarragon, Lovage (love my Lovage), Chervil and so on. I will have a couple of pots full of mint and want to start a Bay once again since my ten year old Bay died last fall.

Up north the weather is much improved since a few weeks ago. Garden centers are opening up and many offer our herbs in their selections. Planting begins after the last frost date which can vary depending upon where you live.

So, from our farm to your garden Possum Creek offers some of the healthiest and strongest herb plants on the market. Try some in your garden this spring. or if you live in the Chattanooga area come see us at the Chattanooga Market every Sunday from 11:00-4:00 (eastern) beginning April 26th.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Mail Order - Gardens in a box

Mail-order Herb Plants….Garden in a Box

By now the avalanche of seed and plant catalogs has tapered off to a trickle. The mound of magazines beside the chair pulled up close to the fireplace is almost all in the recycle bin and your orders are winging their way via mail, internet or phone to your favorite herb and perennial companies. And you are sitting back and waiting on the boxes of lovely plants to come to the door. Let me ask you something. Ever been disappointed when you opened that box of plants that you paid a lot of money for? Sure you have. We all have. We have all fallen under the spell of the plant catalog with those big, glossy pictures of full size plants and the sexy description that always follows. And we are so sucked in to buying those pretty pictures. We anxiously await the UPS or FedEx dude to bring our treasures only to find very small and very UN-like the picture plants. Ah yes, we have ALL been there before.

Here are some tried and true suggestions when ordering from mail-order plant companies to insure that you are receiving healthy and happy plants. And that said plants will grow and prosper in your garden or in pots on your deck. First and probably most importantly, get to know the people who are growing the plants for you. That may mean letting go of the well-known plant company and finding a small, family owned company. Chances are when you call a smaller company; the owner will most likely be the person answering the phone. If not, there is without a doubt, that if you will leave a message, the owner will call you back as soon as she can wash the dirt off of her hands and get to the phone. Ask questions about the plants such as will they grow in my zone? How big are the plants at the time of shipping? This is important because in your mind you are seeing those slick pictures of full size plants and that’s what you want. Full size plants will not be what are in the box upon arrival. Plants should be, on average five to size inches tall if you had ordered say Rosemary for example. If you ordered Thyme the pot should be quite full and lush. Ask how the plants will be shipped? Which carrier is bringing it and what will they charge? We all know shipping rates are expensive and I truly do not see that changing anytime soon. However, be aware that some plant companies charge shipping and HANDLING which will be added to the total. Or some companies will add a few bucks to the total to cover the cost of the packing materials. Not all companies do this and the ones that do should indicate their practices somewhere on their website or in their catalog. Find out too, if the company you are ordering from is using recycled material. Getting a box full of packing peanuts can be quite irritating. But if plants are gently but firmly wrapped in newspaper and laid in a cardboard box sturdy enough to withstand the worst UPS driver’s handling then that might be more environmentally friendly.

Timing is everything when ordering via mail-order. We all get antsy in January and start placing our orders. Disappointment sets in when we find out we are not going to get our plants until the weather is just right in our part of the country. And that is as it should be. If a plant company is shipping plants in January then they had better be packing those babies in fur booties. Some companies do ship plants in winter but for the most part they are shipping to greenhouses and the greenhouse operator is aware they are coming and are willing to pay for the quicker shipping. Usually in that case an order was placed many months ago and the order has been divided up into multiple deliveries. When ordering from a website, utilize the comments section. Tell the company when you would like your order and if you will accept substitutions. Plant companies do not hire mind readers. So, if there is nothing noted in the comments section very likely someone is guessing when you would really like your plants.

Okay, it is now March going into April. The weather is balmy in much of the regions of the U.S. and the UPS and FedEx drivers are starting to make their deliveries with your precious plant orders. Now what? First, if you are expecting a plant order keep an eye out for a box. You never know where the driver might stick it. Front door, back door, basement door, garage door is all the same as “to the door” with delivery drivers so look for your box. Carefully pull or cut the tape away from your box using a knife or scissors. Don’t stab into the box. You might stab into a plant. Find the packing list or a copy of the order. There should be one attached to the outside of the box or tucked inside on top. Begin pulling out the packing material and unwrap every plant. Do this the same day it was delivered. Make sure you got what you ordered. Each plant should have a tag or possibly the name of the plant is written on the material used to wrap the plant. If it is fairly warm outside, put the plants in a shady area like under a deck or on a shady porch. Give them all a little drink and leave them alone for a few days. If it is brisk and cool outside, do this in your basement or garage. Look at each plant to be sure that there is a good stem with several leaves. Some plants hate to be in the dark, hate to travel, and are really fragile. The plant company does everything they can to insure a plant will make it to your house, but there are those times when stuff just happens. The stem breaks or there might be other damage. Yellow leaves do not count as damage. That’s the plants defensive mechanism kicking in. The leaves will fall off and new growth will not be far behind. Once the plants have settled in to their new environment and have hardened off they are ready to plant. Recycle the packing material and enjoy your new plants.
You may be wondering why we know so much about the mail-order plant business. It’s because that is what we do. For eleven years Possum Creek Herb Farm has strived to grow, sell, and ship healthy plants that will survive a trip in the back of the brown truck and arrive alive at your home. We are very conscientious of what it takes to wrap and pack one plant or a hundred and one plants so that breakage is at a minimum. You will not get over fed, over watered or plants sprayed with non-organic pesticides from us. Dinky little plants do not get shipped. It is just our rule and we hold ourselves to it. We do answer the phone when it rings and we do return messages if they are left on our voicemail or email. And we love to answer questions about the plants you want to purchase so ask us. And use that comments section on our website. Get to know us. You might just throw all of those catalogs away in January knowing that when you are ordering herbs and perennials from Possum Creek Herb Farm you are getting a little bit of Pat and Michele in every plant you purchase. Article excerpt March/April 2009 issue The Essential Herbal Magazine

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena

Aloysia citriodora
Family: verbenaceae
Shrub to 8 feet
Hardiness Zone 8

In the language of flowers, Lemon Verbena, means “enchantment”.

Highly favored by Victorian ladies during the heat of summer, they placed leaves in handkerchiefs so they could inhale the lemony scent to ease the symptoms of heat. Leaves were also placed in water bowls to scent the air bringing about the “finger bowl” which is passed around the dinner table between courses to refresh and cleanse the fingers.

Lemon Verbena is a shrub with arching stems that branch out to narrow, sharply pointed pale green leaves that are whorled in groups of three and four. Blooms are not scented and though small, appear in July and August to give a clear white color to the top of the plant.

Lemon Verbena was named in 1784 to honor Maria Luisa, wife of King Charles IV of Spain and refers to the perfect lemony scent of the leaves. Possum Creek Herb Farm considers Lemon Verbena to be the best of the lemon scented herbs. It has such a true lemon scent that it lends itself to a multitude of tasks.

Cultivated for perfume, essential oil, absolute and concrete’. Leaves are cultivated for tea, potpourri, sachet and flavoring of food. Extracts and tinctures are used in the formulation of liqueurs. Lemon Verbena oil is considered GRAS (generally regarded as safe).

Constituents: Antifungal, analgesic and anti-diarrhea

Hardy to Zone 8. Frost and wind protection is needed. Most gardeners treat Lemon Verbena as a tender perennial and bring the plants inside during the winter months. Plants grown in cool greenhouses lose their leaves through winter only to leaf back out in the warmth of spring. A neutral ph and well draining soil is best for this plant which does best in full sun. Susceptible to spider mites and white fly in hot, dry conditions.

Propagation: Cuttings from new growth. Layering has also been successful.

Lemon Verbena Potpourri
30 drops of Lemon Verbena essential oil
20 drops of Lemon Balm essential oil
5 drops Orange essential oil
5 drops Lavender essential oil
1/3 cup Orrisroot or oak moss sifted
3 cups Lemon Verbena leaves
2 cups Calendula flowers or yellow rose petals
¾ cup dried lemon peel ribbons
½ cup lemon scented geranium leaves

Add oils to orrisroot or oak moss and blend. Oils should rest for several days with the orrisroot or oak moss. Add oil blend to botanical and gently mix. Store in covered container for three weeks being sure to mix gently each day.

Finger Bowl
Small, pretty glass bowl
Several clean Lemon Verbena leaves
Float three to four leaves in a bowl of water. Pass around the dinner table between courses with a clean towel.

Tea Blend-by the cup
6-8 Lemon Verbena leaves
2-3 Lemon Balm leaves
2-3 Orange mint leaves
½ teaspoon dried Ginger
2-3 whole cloves
Place blend in tea or muslin bag and place in mug. Pour just boiling water over the bag and let bag simmer for five to six minutes. Creates a very warming tea that is great for winter. For summer simmer the tea for ten minutes, remove bag and add ice.

Creating an Herbal Wedding Bouquet

Herb gardens are indeed magic and with some special planning a very aromatic and symbolic bouquet can be conjured up from the earth. All brides dream of a bouquet that is unique and different and a herbal bouquet fulfils that desire. The herbs that we want to use are not readily available at your local florist, so we will have to grow the herbs ourselves. A homegrown wedding bouquet will keep the guests talking for months while they remember the fragrance, beauty and folklore.

The flowers and herbs have their own language:
Rosemary- for remembrance
Sage- virtue and esteem
Lavender- best wishes
Myrtle (Myrtus communis microphylla)- a symbol of love and fertility
Ivy- friendship
Globe amaranth- unfading love
Mint- virtue
Roses- love
Even the colour of the rose has meaning:
White roses signify simplicity
White and Red roses together- unity
Multiflora rose- grace

There are a number of great books about "The Language of Flowers," although after reading many they sometimes contradict each other. All of the herbs and flowers for this project should be harvested early in the morning or in the evening, when they are full of moisture. Take clean containers of water with you out to the garden. Use a sharp knife to cut the stems on a slant. Remove any lower leaves and thorns. Let the floral material stand in clean tepid water for at least two hours, or ideally, overnight. This conditions the flowers so they will not wilt. The old fashioned fragrant roses are the best, but if you feel uneasy about the blooming time and the quality, order them from the florist. You will also need two or three stems of baby's breath. There are many different types of bouquets, tussie mussie and cascade styles are the prettiest with herbs. Tussie mussies are round, easy to design and very attractive. The bouquet begins with a rose bud in the middle that you carefully surround with circlets of the wedding herbs- rosemary, lavender, more roses, mint, myrtle, ivy, baby's breath and a circle of leaves (perhaps scented geranium or woolly lambs ear). Add a lace bow and place the flowers in a special tussie mussie holder or wrap the stems in an antique handkerchief. The traditional shape is a cascade design. Cascade is basically a round circle with trailing material at the bottom to create a vee shape.

What you will need:
1 colonial type oasis posy holder (at any florist)
3 feet of lace
1 antique handkerchief / tatting / special article that can be added to the bow
1 florist wire
1 florist pick
1 dozen roses
10 to 15 sage stems (I like to use a fruit- scented sage)
10 to 15 rosemary stems
15 to 20 lavender blossoms on long stems
3 to 5 stems of myrtle
3 long sprigs of ivy (12",15",17")
6 shorter sprigs of ivy (approx. 6")
3 or 4 stems of baby's breath (approx. 5")
Start by fashioning the bow. It can be made ahead of time. If you are having difficulties, have someone else make it for you. Just keep in mind the size of the finished bouquet- you don't want the bow to be overpowering. Incorporate into the bow a lace handkerchief from Great Grandmother or an antique ribbon or tatting done by a family member to give that special flavour of heritage. Tie "Victorian Love Knots" in narrow ribbon; as you tie in the knots repeat the bride and groom's names 3 times which is a symbol of luck for the bridal couple. Now the fun begins! Soak the posy holder in water until saturated. Place in a bouquet stand so the holder will be off the work area. If you don't have a store bought stand use a tall, narrow vase to get the posy holder up into the air.

Have all your conditioned floral material gathered in separate vases or jars. When I harvest the herbs and flowers I gently secure the stems with an elastic band. When it's time to work with them, the elastic is cut making the stems easy to handle. Place the greenery first. Rosemary sprigs can be gently pushed into the oasis (about 1/2"). Do this at quarter intervals around the posy holder. Repeat with the other green herbs each time in a new section: be very symmetrical. Always balance the stems opposite each other. To give the bouquet depth start in the outside perimeter. Then when the outside perimeter is full, start placing the greens in the middle. Insert the 3 long pieces of ivy into the bottom to establish the length of the cascade. The shorter ivy is to be placed throughout the top circle space. The shorter roses should be placed into the middle area to form a pleasing circle. Make sure there is a rose just off the centre point and all the rest will fall into place. Save 3 or 4 longer roses to repeat the line of the cascade with the ivy. Gather together 3 stems of lavender at a time and place throughout the bouquet. Use the baby's breath and any other herbs and flowers you wish to add to fill in any gaps.Mist the bouquet well and add the bow that has been attached to the florist pick. Carefully push the pick into the oasis about 2/3 down the design, until it feels well secured. Place your finished HERBAL WEDDING BOUQUET in the refrigerator until picture thyme!!

If you feel that you have more of a green thumb than a creative one, why not grow the herbs and flowers and ask a florist to design the bouquet for you.
Oh yes, and after the wedding you may want to root some of the ivy, myrtle, mint and rosemary for the next HERBAL WEDDING BOUQUET.

· The Victorian Language of Herbs & Flowers, by Kathleen Gips, TM Publications, Chagrin Falls, OH 1990
· HERBS for Weddings & Other Celebrations , by Bertha Reppert , Storey communications, Inc. 1993
· Tussie - Mussies , by Geraldine Adamich Laufer , Workman Publishing, NY. 1993
. Planning an Herbal Wedding, request by emailing us at

Gardening with Kids

Earthworms, dirt and kids. Nothing is more fun than gardening with a child. Whether it is creating an elaborate sunflower bower or a bean teepee or a zinnia zoo, children gravitate to the soil and let their imagination take over.

Herbs lend themselves well to gardening with children. All of those textures, shapes and scents give children hours of enjoyment. What child hasn’t come running to a parent or grandparent and said “I know where the fairies live” and take you to look under the lamb’s ears. Some herbs that children find enjoyable are lavender, pineapple sage, mint, Johnny Jump-ups, Love in a Mist, Thyme and Scented Geraniums. Little girls love using the leaves to make little dresses or cups to hold tea for that special party. Little boys love sailing leaves down a stream or making airplanes.

There are no special tools when it comes to gardening with children. A little time and patience, some large seeds or sturdy little plants and a shovel is all that is needed. Children love to see things grow and to be able to take care of something that is all theirs. Remind them to water and tend their seedlings and plants and watch them nurture that plant until it is grown. Make sure to put a tag with the child’s name on it next to the plant to remind everyone whose it is. You will indeed make them proud.

To make a sunflower bower sow several tall growing sunflower seeds around each leg of a tripod. As the sunflowers grow gently wind them around each pole all the way to the top. The tripod will fill in with the leafy sunflowers and the flowers will cover the “roof”.
Here at the farm we are growing our sunflowers all around the little green playhouse. Won’t it be pretty? And we will make the birds happy too.

Swamp Water
A large cooler
Lots of ice
Lots of fresh herbs…mints, pineapple sage, anise hyssop, lemongrass, lemon verbena, rose petals (unsprayed), monarda and edible flowers
Early in the morning add ice and fresh herbs to the cooler. Let it all steep together for several hours. A delightfully cool drink loved by kids and adults too.

Fairy Gardens

A Fairy Garden

Whether large or small, creating a fairy garden is the perfect activity for the creative gardener. We chose to make a small one that a child would enjoy playing with and rearranging. We took a large but shallow terra-cotta container with a drainage hole in the bottom. If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, drill a few smaller holes with a masonry bit attached to a drill. Fill the container with a good light-weight soil mixture. We create our own blend here at the farm which is a mixture of a light soil less blend, a few handfuls each of vermiculite and perlite, and a handful of sterile sand and composted worm manure. Make sure it is moist before you begin planting. The soil should come to just below the top of the container.

Now for the fun part. Herbs incorporate themselves well into a fairy garden. They do not grow too quickly and if they get straggly, a little trim is all that is needed to keep things neat. Fairies require places to hide so incorporate some taller bushy herbs and plant them at the back of the container. We chose Rosemary 'Arp' and Rosemary 'Cascade' as the “forest”. They also enjoy soft places to rest upon after play. We chose ‘Magic Carpet’ Thyme and ‘Elfin’ Thyme for the carpet and planted it near the shade of the Rosemary. Johnny Jump Ups and Pansies added color and gives the fairies material for their skirts and caps. We added a few garden tools, a bench and tiny pots so the fairies could complete their gardening chores. A pebble pathway leading to a little clump of lavender completes the miniature garden. Gentle watering of the container is needed daily. Container should be kept in partial shade to be enjoyed by the wee folk and the larger folk.

Start Herbs from Seed

There are a great many reasons for starting your own herb plants from seed. Most gardeners are first prompted to venture down this road by this motivator: necessity. How many of you have wished for the perfect herb to fill in that one last spot in the garden or the perfect shade of pink in your flower border and then have gone to your local garden center only to find out that it is not available locally? Economics is another motivator for starting your own seed. Plants, especially exotic, can be expensive even to buy just one and often one is not enough. Starting plants from seed often gives us more plants than we need. Quality is another motivator for seed starting. Often the plants found at the local big box stores have been sitting around at the mercy of whoever remembers to water it. Starting plants from seed at home insures that plant health is controlled which gives the plant a good start for a long life.

Finding the space to start your seeds could pose some logistic problems, so before you actually begin, decide where you plan to keep the trays. Seeds need warmth and moisture to germinate and once germinated they will need light. My suggestion is that if you don’t have plant lights or fluorescent lights use what you have in the house. Seed germinates between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The top of the refrigerator or the top of the TV. or a warm windowsill are all good places to start the germination process. Before you begin your seed starting adventure gather a few key items. Containers can be of various shapes and sizes. From propagation trays with domes to clean egg cartons, these will work as long as they can hold a little seed starting mix and can handle a little moisture. They must be clean and free of contaminates. Wash the trays with one part Clorox to 9 parts water and rinse well. As with anything else in life the preparation of growing medium for seeds can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. We chose to be as simple as possible with our growing mix opting to pick up several bags of the Jiffy like mix at our local home improvement stores. Pre-moisten your growing mix before using will kept the dust down and make sowing those tiny, tiny seeds a whole lot easier.

Most seeds can be sown straight from the packet, but on occasion seed jackets are too tough and germination is virtually impossible. By chipping, nicking or soaking the seeds for a period of time in warm water, the jackets will more likely open up and receive the moisture needed to germinate. Most seed companies give you some information about the best method of preparation so read the back of the package carefully.

Eliminate confusion at sprouting time by marking your trays with its contents. Little white tags with name of seed, when sown and any other pertinent information can be written down. Tamp down the medium and level off in the container. Make indentations or rows for the seed keeping the depth according to package instructions or your own experience. Either with a pinch of two fingers or a gentle shake of the package those tiny seeds will be on the growing medium. Tamp down the seed to make contact with the medium. Cover your seed trays with plastic wrap or plastic domes to retain moisture. Place under growing lights or on top of refrigerator. Most seeds will germinate in 7-10 days with some exceptions. There are some herb seed that requires refrigeration before sowing. Again, experience and a little research will give you the information needed to reach a high rate of germination.

Once germination has occurred take the domes and plastic wrap off the seedlings. Place seed trays under grow lights or near a sunny window. Turn the trays often to insure that the seedlings are receiving enough light and watch for drying out which occurs quickly. Damping off occurs when the stems of the seedlings rot at the soil surface. The seedling falls over and dies. Water the seedlings by sitting the tray in a pan of water or the sink and let the moisture absorb from the bottom. Once the herb seedlings have a true set or their second set of leaves it is time to transplant to their new homes. Pot up the new herb babies in clean and sterile pots. Use a potting mix that is friable and light. Poke a small hole in the potting mix. Gently pry your seedling out with a popsicle stick under the roots and gently place into hole in potting mix. Lightly tamp soil down and gently mist. Water until well established.

Some of our favorite seed companies are Seed Savers Exchange, and Horizon Herbs,

Excerpt from “Starting Herbs from Seeds” by Michele Brown, 2002.