Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lavender Wands Make Me Happy

OMG!  I cannot believe that it has been since July that I have posted anything on my blog!  Where did the summer go?  I look out today and there is snow on the ground and I wonder where the year went?  It certainly has been another whirlwind of time.  So I have lots of catching up to do!
Beautiful Lavender in Full Bloom
In July, our Indianapolis Herb Society paid a visit to Willowfield Lavender Farm.  And what a glorious visit it was!  They treated us to a nice program about growing lavender and a brief tour of their farm. It's not a large farm, but large enough to grow lots of lovely lavender.
Rows and Rows of Lavender in Bloom.
When the lavender is in full bloom, they offer U-Pick to their customers.  My daughter Grace and I decided to take advantage of it and we each picked a bundle of 100 lavender blooms.
Grace picking lavender.
We enjoyed our visit to the Lavender Farm and very much enjoyed our purchase from the lavender farm!
Grace with our lovely bundles of lavender that we picked.
Once we were home, I decided that Grace and I should try a little crafting with our lavender purchases.  We decided to try our hand at making lavender wands.
Here is the objective of our crafting afternoon.  Take the lavender stems and make them into a lavender wand.
Lavender wands are not hard to make, just a little tedious.  It just takes a good eye and a little patience.  To start your lavender wand, select some nice, long, freshly picked stems of lavender.  Lavender stems will remain pliable for a few days after picking, but once dry, you will not be able to bend them.  You need an uneven number of stems and I believe we used 17 stems of lavender in our wands.  (Note:  you can also use an even number of stems, as long as it comes out with an uneven number when divided by 2.  For example:  18/2=9 or 22/2=11 -- I'll explain why in the next couple of steps.)
Once you have gathered your lavender stems, you will want to tie a piece of ribbon right below the blooms and tie it tight as show in the following picture.
17 stems of lavender cinched tightly with some ribbon.
Once you have tied the ribbon under the blooms, you will bend the long stems down - as shown in the next picture.
Bending down the stems over the blooms.
You essentially want to 'encapsulate' the blooms with the stems.
These stems will cover the blooms with your ribbon woven through them.
Now comes the tedious part - weaving the ribbon over and under the stems.  This will weave it all together and close the blooms inside the wand.  Your ribbon must go over and under each stem and wind down to the end of the blooms.  If you are using an even number of stems, you will weave over and under 2 stems at a time.
Starting the weaving.
Beginning the weaving is the hardest part, I think.  Once you get a few rows done, it gets easier.
Keep weaving the ribbon over and under the stems, spiraling down until you get to the bottom of the blooms (or, rather, the top of the blooms!).  Then you can tie off your ribbon and finish your wand.

Almost finished weaving.  Just a few more rows until I have the blooms all covered.

Lavender will hold its fragrance almost indefinitely.  So these wands will be fragrant for years.  I hope I can do more of these next year! 

This is Grace's finished wand.  She did a great job making it and I think hers turned out even better than mine.
If you are interested in making lavender wands, you can grow your own lavender or visit these two great herb farms:
Willowfield Lavender Farm, 6176 East Smokey View Rd., Mooresville, IN.  You can view their website at   They deal strictly in lavender items - plants, dried lavender, lavender sachets, lotions, teas, etc. -- all lavender.
Also visit Carolee's Herb Farm - 3305 S. 100 W., Hartford City, IN.  You can view her website at  Carolee has quite a large lavender field and hosts Lavender Daze every year the first week in July.  She also has a large variety of herb plants and many herb and garden related items in her gift shop.
I promise that I won't wait so long to post again!!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Purple Basil vs. Red Perilla

I have to share with you one of my little pet peeves.  I have several customers each year comment while they are browsing through the basil plants that they have "TONS of basil that just comes up everywhere".  Some claim that it must be a perennial basil and some claim that it just seeds everywhere.  I explain to them that if they have a basil that seeds so prolifically, then they probably don't have basil after all but rather red perilla.
Do you have a patch of purple basil that seeds like this?
Red Perilla is an herb and is often called beefsteak plant.  It is edible, but it is not in the basil family and does not have that lovely basil flavor, but it does have a pleasant flavor and can be used in many dishes.  The best description that I have ever read comes from The Big Book of Herbs by Arthur O. Tucker and Thomas DeBaggio.  I quote "Beefsteak plant looks so much like basil that some gardeners believe they have discovered a "perennial" basil, or, at the very least, a basil that self-sows so extensively that they will never have to purchase basil seeds or plants again.  This claim of a reseeding basil is another example of the old adage that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Although it is not a perennial basil, beefsteak plant can stand on its own as an interesting, flavorful herb.  An alternative name used by gardeners who must endure continual emergence of seedlings every spring is "wild coleus"."
Red Perilla (Perilla frutescens) or Beefsteak plant.
Some of the differences are serrations on the edge of the leaves (although ruffled varieties of basils also have serrated leaves) and I notice a difference on the veining with the perilla have a little more curve to the veins coming down the leaves.  And, of course, basil smells like - er - basil.
In Japan perilla is called shiso and is frequently used in Asian cooking and often eaten with sashimi or cut into thin strips in salads, spaghetti, and meat and fish dishes.  In 2009 Pepsi Japan released a new seasonal flavored beverage - Pepsi Shiso.  There is also a green variety, but the red variety is often used to add color to dishes, even as a dye for some foods.
Green Perilla
Here are some pictures for comparison:
Purple Ruffles Basil
Opal Basil
Osmin Basil (purple variety)
Red Perilla.  Note that the leaves do not seem as glossy.
Another perilla of note is Perilla magilla - a landscaper's dream! 

Perilla magilla
Perilla magilla is an ornamental variety that gardeners love!  It looks like a coleus but can be planted in full sun!!!
I hope this clears up some mystery about basil/perilla.  Do you have any questions about your basil?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tomato Salad

I love this time of year!  The fresh produce is all around us.  I was hoping to have a large garden this year.  We did manage to get some things going, but it's going to be very late in the season before I have much of my own veggies to harvest.  But I am hitting the Farmer's Markets every week and selling my delicious jams and jellies..........but while I'm selling, I'm also shopping!!!  Quite a nice bonus!
Some of the fresh produce that I bought this past week at the markets.
So let me share with you my simple salad recipe.  I made this tonight and took it to our Master Gardener meeting.  Everyone asked for the here it is!
First, let's get one thing recipes are not strict lists of ingredients and measurements but merely suggestions!  I often gather whatever I have on hand and then improvise.  So that's how this 'recipe' began.
For tonight's salad I used 2 cucumbers (about 6" each) 1/2 golden zucchini, 1/4 or less red bell pepper, maybe about 2 Tbsp. onion (chopped small), 1 clove garlic (chopped fine), some red ripe tomatoes (maybe about 2 cups chopped) and DARN IT, I meant to add some corn, freshly cut off the cob and forgot to add it!
After chopping the veggies and tossing them in a bowl, I added a couple of pinches of sea salt, a little coarsely ground black pepper, some freshly snipped dill and then drizzled it with some Italian dressing.  Then right before serving I tossed on some feta cheese (maybe about 1/2 cup).  Our local grocery store had some feta cheese with sun dried tomatoes and basil - so it was a great blend.
All those pretty veggies tossed together and topped with feta cheese.
You can change up this 'recipe' in many ways:  Spice it up with more onions and garlic and even add some jalapeno peppers.  Mix in some black beans and serve it with tortilla chips!  Use an oil and vinegar dressing instead of Italian.  Add in the corn that I forgot to add!  Use cilantro instead of dill.  Use basil instead of dill.  Any of these ingredients can be omitted or increased, the dressing can be changed to ranch or even raspberry vinaigrette.  Serve it as a side salad.  Serve it on a bed of salad greens.  Serve it on crusty bread as bruschetta.  It's very versatile.....and delicious.  How can you go wrong with fresh, locally-grown veggies?
What's your favorite summertime recipe?

Garlic harvest

It's time to harvest our garlic!  Well, actually, we should have been harvesting our garlic anytime in the past 2 weeks, ......... but what I harvested today is looking pretty good!
The garlic that I harvested from one of our garlic patches.
I've been telling Shawn for the past few weeks that we need to get our garlic harvested.  If you remember one of my earlier blog posts last November, we planted our first garlic this past fall.  Garlic needs a longer growing season than most plants, so you need to plant it in October or November. 
Several years ago, a local man who raised lots of garlic (I believe he planted around 1500 garlic cloves each year!) did a program for our herb group in Greenfield and he said that he always harvested his garlic on the weekend closest to the 4th of July.  So we should have been harvesting a couple of weeks ago.  However, I also did some reading and chatting with other folks and got the opinion that the 4th of July might be a little early to harvest.
You want some of the leaves to be dying off and browning......but you want the protective papers that surround the bulb to still be intact.  Leave it in the ground too long and the paper wrappers will start to deteriorate.  Harvest your garlic too early and it won't dry and store as well.  So it's all trial and error for us at this point.
We planted 6 varieties of garlic -- 2 of them were softnecks and 4 of them were hardnecks.  Today I harvested Silver Rose - which is a softneck variety.  I was very pleased with the harvest!  The first few bulbs I unearthed were rather puny and disappointing.  But soon I was digging up more substantial-sized bulbs and some of them were plump and full!
I will put them in the barn to cure for a couple of weeks.  I'll trim off the tops and rub the dirt off of their skins.  Maybe I'll trim the roots shorter once they are completely dry.  I might even try my hand and doing a garlic braid (which you can do with the softnecks, but not the hardnecks).  And once they are cured, I think I'll store them in the basement and I'll save back a few of the nicest bulbs as my 'seed' for next year.
Tomorrow I'll try to get another variety of garlic harvested.
I laid them loosely in my garden cart to put them in the barn.  I hope that tomorrow we come up with an idea of what to put them on in the barn so they can spread out and dry.  I ended up with 67 bulbs from this patch.
I'll update you later on the rest of the harvest!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Our little Fairy Garden

Many of you know my daughter Grace and know what a promising young gardener she is becoming.  You have probably bought some of her flowers that she sells at GardenFest every year -- she starts most of them herself from seed.  She does the seed trays, she transplants the seedlings and she takes care of the whole process.  (I help with the watering and the transporting for her.)
Here is a picture of Grace and I at our booths during GardenFest 2008.  She has grown up quite a lot in the past 3 years and now is as tall as I am!
For the past few years we have talked about doing a Fairy Garden.  Grace has enjoyed many books about fairies in the garden and has done some research on it.  But we are always too busy in the spring with the greenhouse and garden shows that by the time we get around to doing something in our own yard, the weather has turned too hot to want to do much of anything too demanding.
This year has been a little milder -- or at least we have had some up and down weeks in the tempurature.  So it has allowed us a little more stamina to be creative around the house and yard.  We had picked out a nice spot under one of the maple trees.  It is in the side yard where there is not much foot traffic, but it is visible from the front porch and driveway.
Grace spent an evening digging out the sparse patch of grass beneath the tree and then working some composted material and some potting mix into the area in an effort to enrich it and loosen it up for some tender new plants to take root.
I suggested that she plant as many 'tiny' plants as we could find in the garden - because fairies are small and like tiny plants with small leaves and blooms.  We planted some Corsican mint which has tiny, tiny leaves and even tinier blooms.  The little blooms are lavender colored and it will add some nice fragrance to the garden with its minty smell.  We also had some miniature lamb's ears and some native geranium that we had gotten at the Hancock Co. Herb Society plant sale. 
Thyme is absolutely a "must have" plant for a fairy garden.  Not only does it have tiny leaves and blooms which are pleasing to fairies, but it is reported that the fragrance of thyme will help you see the fairies!
We added some blooming plants to the garden that Grace had grown herself - zinnias, cosmos, and galliardia.  I thought they would be too big, but Grace assured me that we needed to add some larger blooms to the bed because fairies use those blooms to make their clothes!  Something that I hadn't thought of.  Those blooms will also attract bees and butterflies to the garden -- friends of the fairies.
Grace as she is placing her pots of plants in the garden - deciding what plants will go where.
A fairy statue to adorn the fairy garden.
Since she planted her fairy garden about 4 weeks ago, she has come up with many new ideas of things to add to the garden.  She has added some rocks that will serve as a resting platform with smaller rocks as steps.  More rocks will be added as we find them and used as edging in the garden.  She plans to add a tiny swing made of twigs and jute.  And another fairy has been added that was given to her as a birtday gift 2 years ago.
Grace looks very satisfied after planting her fairy garden.
I'll post more pictures in a later blog as she adds more items and the plants start to fill out.  I can't wait to see what it will look like in another month!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Garden Tea

I know this is a little outdated, but I've had some really good stories to tell you and haven't had the time to sit at the computer.  So I am trying to catch up with all of the things I want to share with you.


Back in June, I was happy to again be a part of "A Garden Tea".  It was held on Sunday afternoon, June 5 and was co-hosted by The Herb Society of Central Indiana and the Purdue Master Gardeners of the IMHM Medicinal Plant Garden.  IMHM stands for Indiana Medical History Museum and is located at 3045 Vermont St., Indianapolis (formerly Central State Hospital).  This group of Master Gardeners has planted beautiful gardens on the site with medicinal plants.  The thought behind doing the tea was to get more people to visit the museum and gardens.
St. John's Wort

You can see some of the beautiful medicinal plants in the pictures.  Touring the gardens would be enough to entice me to visit -- but the day was rounded out with many other delights!  There was a tent with beautifully decorated tables and herbal tea and lemonade and many other tasty treats. 

Beautiful table centerpieces in the refreshment tent.
There were fresh-cut flower arrangements on all of the tables -- gracefully arranged in tea pots!  These beautiful arrangements were given away as door prizes throughout the day.  The Herb Society had also made favors of herbal tea that were given to each visitor. 
Two programs were each given twice during the afternoon.  Kathleen Hull, MD gave a talk on medicinal plants and I gave a talk on the benefits of herbal teas.  Both programs were well attended.  My talk was in the lecture hall - which is an historically delightful room at the Medical Museum.

Lecture Room

Judy Eudaly, harpist, provided live music throughout the day.  She was in the loft of this room so it was a joy to spend time here while I prepared for my program to begin.
We were so glad that the light rain that began the day disappeared and the Plein Air Artists were in the garden painting.
Plein Air Artist
I believe this event will be planned again next year, so hold open a spot on your calendar.  It should be around the first week in June. 
You can learn more about the Indiana Medical History Museum by going to their website:  I will again be at the Museum this coming Thursday (July 14) as I present a program about "Civil War Herbs".  Program begins at 6:30 pm and you can find more information on their website.  (I think you might have to register if you would like to attend.)
You can also keep track of events of The Herb Society of Central Indiana by visiting our website:
Raised Bed in the garden with fennel and foxgloves.
I've recently joined the Herb Society on a trip to a lavender farm -- I'll post more on that in a few days!
Have you even visited the Indiana Medical History Museum?  Do you grow any medicinal plants in your garden?  How do you use them?  Please share with us!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Garlic Scapes

If you saw my earlier posts at the end of last year when I first started blogging, you probably know that we planted garlic this year.........or rather, we planted garlic last year.  Garlic needs a long growing season, longer than we have here.  So you plant it in the fall.  Mid-October is optimal time to plant garlic, but I think we got it planted around the first week in November (we always run behind!).  You need to get it in the ground before it freezes, and that can vary from year to year.  The garlic starts to grow right after you plant it and then will overwinter and continue growing in the spring and will be ready to harvest around July. 
We planted 5 varieties of garlic, and hopefully I will be able to find my diagram of what was planted where so we can decide what varieties we liked.  We planted both hardneck and softneck varieties.  Hardnecks have a hard stem coming out of the top and will usually produce larger cloves than softneck varieties.
During the growing season, garlic will produce a bloom.  This bloom comes from a hard stem that comes up in the middle of the garlic tops and they are called scapes.  You really don't want garlic to bloom.  When any plant blooms, it focuses its energy into the bloom and producing seeds.  In garlic, you want the plant to focus its energy into producing larger cloves.  So you need to cut off the scapes.
Garlic scapes can be tasty treasures from the garden and this year is my first experience with them.  I didn't get them harvested as early as I should have (I told you we always run late getting things done!), but I did get them harvested last week.  These scapes can be sauted, chopped and added to dishes, or pickled.
I got my information on pickled garlic scapes from Victoria Wesseler.  Victoria is an Indiana based food writer from Labanon, IN.  I met Victoria last year when she and her husband Robert did a presentation on pickles for the Herb Society of Indiana's Spring Herb Symposium.  Dill was the herb of the year for 2010, and they did a wonderful job of explaining how to make delicious pickles.  Victoria likes to eat as local as possible and she and her husband grow and preserve about half of all of the food they need each year on their "Dirtpatch" farm.  You can find Victoria's information on pickled garlic scapes at
I didn't have nearly as many scapes as Victoria had, so I had to improvise.  I collected and washed my scapes.  I know that they say to discard the blooms, but I didn't have very many and I wanted to experiment -- so I used as much of the scapes as I thought could be usuable.
I cut the scapes and packed them into 2 pint jars.  Then I used 2 cups distilled vinegar, 2 cups water and guessed at the salt amount.  I put the vinegar mixture in a stainless steel pan to heat.  I didn't have any whole cayennes, so I used about 1/2 tsp. of pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp. dill seeds and 2 bay leaves in the bottom of each jar.  Once the vinegar mixture was hot, I poured it over the scapes, filling the jars.  I wiped the rims of the jars clean and put on the lids.  I did not process them in a hot water bath.  I am just keeping them in the refrigerator since I only had 2 jars.  I will let you know in 2 weeks how we like them!
My precious 2 jars of pickled garlic scapes.
I hope to find many ways to use these scapes and share those ideas with you soon.  Have you ever had garlic scapes?  Let me know how you like them!