The kids are coming to learn that gardening often involves great loss. Our heritage cherry tree fell down in heavy winds some years ago – a real devastation. Most of the bulbs we planted last fall, despite the expert eye of our guard-schnauzer, appear to have been ravaged by squirrels. And, those that did make it were blind (i.e. flowerless). Then, there’s my Yellow Bird Magnolia tree. I’ve been tending to this baby since I planted it six years ago. It’s a survivor, having made it through two major touslings by ice storms, and having grown almost five feet since we moved in. It had over 25 flower buds this year – a new record. Unfortunately, a good two-thirds of those were nipped off by some night varmint. Such was my loss, the kids started planning how they could set up a camera system or leave the dog out all night so as to protect the remaining buds on the tree. The blooms that have survived are absolutely glorious, and we love them even more…
Of course, the flipside of loss in the garden is abundance. But, what the kids are learning, interestingly, is that the promise of abundance requires an incredible amount of patience in the spring gardener. This is most apparent in terms of the way we space our plants in the garden. It’s always such a temptation, in containers, beds or rows, to set seedlings, sprouts, or baby blooms as close together as possible. Now, I’m a fan of soil and compost. But, I have to admit, it sometimes looks dreadful [and dreadfully uniform] to leave adequate space between plantings and let nature run its course. Yeah, kids, tomatoes like to hold hands. But, you’ve still got to plant them yay far apart in order for them to grow up into healthy plants that can do so. Spacing doesn’t make for incredibly amazing photos of the freshly planted garden, either. I always think of my spring garden pics, the wide, panoramic ones, at least, as studies in pattern baldness. Close up on the lilac blooms, if you please!
This year, our herb pots on the back deck are looking customarily bald in spots. We’ve planted them with tried and true favourites as well as a few novelty items. Of course, the instant gratification, at least with herbs, is that you can rub them in your hands for a shot of fragrance or use the leaves for cooking right away!! This spring’s herb, small veg, and edible flower pots have gotten the kids so excited about gardening that we’re planning on flexing our veggie muscles and building a rolling raised garden for our super-sunny parking pad out back later this spring!
In the meantime, here’s what we’re planting in the containers on our back deck this year…
OUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE HERBS, CONTAINER VEGETABLES, & EDIBLE FLOWERS
HERB POT ONE: Classic Flavours
Chives [Perennial] : Hands-down the most reliable and long-lasting herb in our container garden. Actually, these chives have stuck around in our outdoor container for over four seasons now. We trim them and use them on eggs, soups, stews, you name it. The purple flowers make a particularly tasty and beautiful salad topper.
Rosemary : We’re not heavy rosemary users, so we don’t grow a great deal of this herb. I do, however, pick long stalks of it in the fall to put into our roasted root vegetables at Thanksgiving.
Curry : This annual does not produce the curry leaf used in Indian cooking, although it smells like Indian curries. We don’t use it often in cooking, because it is actually quite bitter, but I do tend to put it in the cavity of a roast chicken or, occasionally, make flavoured cooking oil by dropping it in a pan, flash frying it, and removing it before cooking up a main. The tiny yellow flowers actually add a “blue-cheese” bite to salads. At play, the kids really like to use the leaves in the “stinky potions” they “stir” and “serve” to the yard or to their stuffed animals.
Tarragon [tender Perennial, in our containers] : Sometimes a bit of our tarragon survives the winter, although we tend to buy a new plant to supplement what remains, as happened this year. This is a super-flexible, anise-scented herb that we tend to use quite a bit in savoury cooking, from Béarnaise sauces and quiches to chicken or veggie roasts. This year, we’re going to try to candy it and use it in biscuits and teas. [We hear there’s a russian soda that uses tarragon as it’s main ingredient – who knew?]
Oregano : We like to trim our oregano quite often and use it in our italian meals. I quite prefer its mild flavour to dried oregano, which often bothers my stomach. I also flavour oils with it, occasionally.
Sage [tender perennial, for us] : The sage we grow in our containers, for some reason, rarely lasts through the winter. We actually prefer the smaller younger leaves in our roasts and stews. So, no harm done. This year, we are planning on frying some sage and using it as a topper for soups, cold and hot.
HERB POT TWO: Citrus Bliss
Pineapple Sage : New to our garden this year, Pineapple Sage is already a major hit! It offers a true pineapple flavour, and we’ve topped many an iced cream, poached fruit, and clafouti with this already. I can’t wait to try frying some up to serve with a curry or west indian dish. And, no doubt about it, we will be candying some of these leaves soon. [Yes, Yes, a candying DIY is coming soon.]
Lime Thyme : The gentle citrus vibe of this thyme [we grow our plain thyme right out in the garden], is going to be amazing added to salads, roasted veg, and our famous chicken pot pie. [Wait, you don’t have the recipe for that yet, do you? Coming soon.]
Lemon Verbena : We can never get enough of our favourite Lemon Verbena. Daily, someone comes inside with a leaf to rub in between the hands. We love to make bath bars, bath salts, and flavoured syrups with this. And, don’t forget about our famous summer Lemon Balm and Verbena Jelly.
Lemon Thyme : Need we say more? Our favourite seasoning! Tastes great on EVERYTHING from roasted chicken to vanilla ice cream. We love it in our Resurrection Chicken most of all. This year, there’s most definitely going to be a summer popsicle and a biscuit on the menu.
Lemon Balm : Hello “Melissa.” Along with Lemon Verbena, this is one of those herbs that we can’t pass by without passing a hand over or plucking. We love this in jelly [see above]. And we’ll be experimenting with it with rhubarb and strawberries quite soon.
VEG POTS NORTH & SOUTH : Snacking Toms
Tiny Tim and Yellow Pear tomatoes : We like to plant small red and yellow tomatoes in our containers. They don’t get insanely tall, and they produce tiny fruits in abundance, most of which Bea eats before they ever reach our table. In other words, we plant tomatoes for “snacking.” [As mentioned above, we’re working on a mobile container system for our parking pad that will host larger varieties.]
STILL TO COME: A big long planter box of lettuces, mustard greends, and kales.
VEG POTS EAST & WEST : Hot Cha Cha
Jalapeño Peppers : Bea’s really into pickled Jalapeños, so you know where these are destined…This is our first experience growing hot peppers. Pray that it will not be our last!
Flat Leaf Parsley : In our east square planter, we’ve got flat leaf parsley at the front of the peppers and toms. I used to hate parsley, because, let’s face it, curly parsley tastes like *expletive-of-your-choice,* and that’s the only kind I’d ever had. The flat leaf variety, however, works really well, especially in marinated tomato feta salads and with pork, beef, lamb or fish.
Sweet Basil : Never enough. This is just the beginning of our “basil collection.” [We also love to plant Thai Basil. Though, we find it needs a lot of tending to.]
Tiny Tim Tomatoes : Snackalicious, as above
SOLO HERB POTS : Mint to Be
Chocolate Mint : The kids love mint, and this is, by far, their favourite. We like to “flavour” ice water with it. This year, we’re going to make a mint oil and put it in our bath bombs and salts. I’m also planning on crushing this baby in a couple of cocktails. And, yes, ladies and gents, mint grows like wildfire. It’s best off in its own container. Consider yourself duly warned.
[Not pictured] Cilantro / Coriander : We haven’t planted this yet, because we like to grow it in a large, full container a bit later in the season…and we work to keep it growing throughout the summer by vigorous trimming / plenty of use. We love cilntro, especially in quiches, Bea’s famous guacamole, and on our amazing veggie enchiladas [Recipes coming to our sister site, Summer of Funner, in a few….]
SOLO BLOOM POTS : Flowers to Candy
Violas [small pansies] : Violas are pretty, of course. But, what I most like about them are their incredible scents. What? Never smelled a pansy or its smaller sister, viola? Get yourself to one, right now! I love to keep these in small pots on the tables outside. There’s nothing better than reading or writing or having drinks with friends and catching the scent of these beauties on the breeze! Also, these flowers are totally edible. Though, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about them when eaten raw. The kids are super excited, because we’re going to be candying these this beauties this year and using them in baking! Sugared violas and lilacs from the garden, here we come! [Our Spring Candied Flowers post is coming soon!]
AS EDGING IN OUR PLANTERS BY THE SHED : Salad Colour
Nasturtium : An essential summer salad flower! This peppery beauty is addictive. Lucky for us, it’s also incredibly easy to grow!! Right now, of course, our nasturtiums just look like crazy flat-faced alien dudes. I just love how a nasturtium leaf handles a single droplet of water like mercury!
GARDEN PLANTS WE’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO : Scented Flowers and Jam Berries
Serviceberries : Our Serviceberry has just flowered. If we can manage to stop ourselves from eating all of their small summer fruits right off of the bush, we’ll probably have a beautiful jam this summer! I’m also hoping to either propagate one or two more serviceberries from this bush or purchase one or two more to plant on either side of her. The fruits are out of this world. And the bushes add quite a striking, modern flair to the garden. I planted ours at a 45-degree angle to our Japanese Maple.
Lilacs : The lilacs are blooming now. And, as I mentioned above, we’re planning on candying a few of them and pressing a few more!
Weeping Mulberry : Aside from the beautiful cherry tree that we lost in the wind a few years ago, this was the only living thing in the yard when we first moved into the house seven years ago. I’m not a fan of this tree. No matter what we do, it tends to fall over at least once a year. [I associate it with the previous owners of our house, who made a lot of poor decisions about the “upkeep” and so-called “renovations”]. But, if we can beat the squirrels to it, we’re going to have a fantastic crop of berries this year.
Scented Geraniums : I absolutely love the scent of the leaves of our perennial ground-cover geraniums. [I think they’re called ‘Rozanne’.] I’m tempted to try to dry some of the leaves and flowers this year to use in bath salts.
High Bush Cranberry : I planted one of these Ontario natives at our old place, and it took me a long time to track another down. In 2013, we hit paydirt…but then, the bad winter storm knocked all its fresh growth down. This year, I’m really looking forward to its stellar white flowers in late spring and its ruddy small berries in fall. I had a real close look at the glands at the base of the leaves to make sure that they were round, as opposed to sucker-like. This means that we do, indeed, have the native, North American Viburnum Trilubum variety as opposed to the more invasive, European Viburnum Opulus. Thus, the tangy berries are edible. While I may be selfless and leave these berries for the birds, I’ve just got to try making a sauce or a jam with them one of these days.
Indian Summer Crabapple : When the cherry tree fell down several years ago, we went and purchased this young flowering tree. It’s central stalk/limb was lopped off a bit in the winter storm a few years back, but it’s started to send up a fresh central shoot. We’re wondering if we might be able to make a jam of the small red fruits come fall… Though, we’ll likely leave them to the finches.