Cats vs. Catnip

018At Blooming Artichoke we grow lots of different perennial herbs.  Some are easy plants to grow, some are more exact and difficult, but catnip (Nepeta cataria) has to be the most challenging of the lot because it calls out to all its destroyers within sniffing distance.

First of all, I love cats.  I’ve been a certified crazy cat lady my whole life.  I love plants.  And I have the plant geek certificates and stack of dirty garden gloves to prove it.  There are just times when those two loves do not work well together.  Catnip and furballs are a good example. 

Read More»

Feed the Bees…Plant an Herb!

Monarda punctataAnyone watching the news and/or their garden is aware of the challenges facing our honey bee and bumblebee populations.  Be a bee friendly gardener by adding pollinator friendly plants into your garden to give the bees (and other pollinators) a reliable food source free of chemicals.

Nothing says “hiya Bee!” like an herb.  Herb gardens are abuzz with the sound and sight of happy bees enjoying pollen and nectar from flowering herbs.  This isn’t a one way street either, all that bee activity is making sure that your whole garden is being well pollinated and productive.

So, out of all the herbs to choose which should you plant?  That depends on garden conditions such as available sunlight, soil type, water availability, etc.  But ideally, your choices should provide successive blooms throughout the season with a mix of annual and perennial plants.  The following are some suggestions for bee favorites.

Plant Name                                      Bloom Time                           Garden Needs

Agastache foeniculum                        July-Sept                                   Average; full sun/partial shade

Allium tuberosum                              Late summer                             Average; full sun/partial shade

Angelica archangelica                         May                                            Biennial; shade/partial sun; moist

Borago officinalis                                 All summer                               Annual/biennial; sun…self seeder

Eupatorium purpureum                    late summer/early fall             Average; full sun

Foeniculum vulgare                            Mid to late summer                 Average; full sun

Galium odoratum                               Spring                                         Moist soil; full sun to full shade.

Hyssopus officinalis                            June to September                   Average; full sun

Matricaria chamomilla                       June to September                   Average; full sun to partial shade.

Lavendula spp.                                    June to August                          Average; full sun

Melissa officinalis                                June to August                          Average; full sun to partial shade

Mentha spp.                                        July to August                           Average; full sun to partial shade

Monarda fistulosa                              June to September                   Average; full sun

Nepeta cataria                                    June to September                   Average; full sun to partial shade

Origanum vulgare                             July                                             Average; full sun

Rosmarinus officinalis                       June to July                               Average; full sun

Salvia officinalis                                  June                                            Average; full sun

Symphytum officinalis                      May to June                               Average; full sun to partial shade

Tanacetum parthenium                    June to August                          Average; full sun

Thymus spp.                                      June to August                           Average; full sun

Don’t forget about the “weeds” around the place that bees love too, like dandelion, clover, and plantain. Dandelion flowers are one of the first blooms to appear each spring and are therefore a valuable food source for bees at a time when the larder is definitely lean.

It should go without saying that having prepared this feast for the pollinators it is NOT okay to then garnished it with chemicals.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Spring Garden Archaeology

Viola_tricolor-wikiIt’s spring.  Well, it’s close enough to spring that I’m pretending it is spring and getting a start tending emerging plants in the nursery.  For the most part this is pretty straight forward now that I’ve finally found a marker that creates plant tags that survive the winter still readable (more about that below).  But there are always those exceptions.  Those exceptions require what I refer to as garden archaeology…the excavation and identification of the anonymous plant.

For instance, there is usually at least one tray of seeds that were planted in haste in the fall with missing markers.  Maybe the markers blew away, or I committed the ultimate gardener sin of assuming I would remember what I planted, or the cats made toys of the things.  Regardless, now I’m looking at a tray of small seedlings with no clue what they are.  Eventually, of course, they will get big enough to identify, but that’s not the point.  I’m out here now with my gloves and spade and ready to DO something with them.  Frustrating.

Or there are the mystery plants that show up as visitors in other plant pots.  Again, late season oversight.  Flower heads that were not snipped off and set seed.  At the time, I just admired the swaying seed heads not thinking about the inevitable results.  Some plants, most plants really, are pretty polite about it all.  It’s only with plants like catnip that you can end up with an unintended seedling invasion.  So, lots of excavating to remove early weeds and pot up volunteer seedlings…maybe pot up volunteer seedlings.  Depends on how badly I want more catnip. Oh, and don’t get me started on the mints.  Lovely plants, but they are definitely travelers.  Their lines of rhizomes running out from their pots to their neighbors, where they wriggle up through the pot drain holes and show up green and minty in a new location.

The first year of the nursery, and before I found my perfect plant stake marker, spring was much more exciting.  It was a lesson in early plant development identification because nearly ALL the plant stakes had faded to the point of invisibility.  On sunny days I would hold the faded markers to the sun to see if I could make out enough of an ink shadow to figure out who was living in that pot.  Sometimes it worked.  Mostly, it was a case of recognizing emerging plants, or waiting until they got big enough to be distinctive.

But despite the challenges, or probably because of the challenges, this is one of my favorite times of the year.  You will generally find me hopping around staring intently at trays of plants looking for evidence that they are emerging, or to see how much bigger they have grown in the past 24 hours.  It is such a magical, joyous time of year with all the new life erupting.  What’s a little archeology when compared to that?

How to Grow Artichokes In the Northwest

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are a treat both in the kitchen and in the garden.  They are a member of the thistle family and if allowed to bloom, produce gloriously large, purple flowers that bees will make a “bee” line to enjoy.  If you want to enjoy artichokes on your plate, you can harvest them as soon as they reach about the size of a softball, but before they start to flower.  Either way, they are a tall, architectural statement in the garden, reaching about 5 feet tall with dramatic spiky leaves.

In our area (South Puget Sound) it can be challenging to get this perennial to behave  perennial-ish.  But with a little careful planting and care, you can enjoy your plants year after year.

Artichokes need sandy, fast drain468ing soil in sun.  Because they are so tall, some shelter from high winds is also a good idea.  Aside from this, they require regular water, particularly if you are growing them for the fruit instead of flower.  When first planting, amend the soil with an organic compost.  Plant starts in late spring and mulch well with straw to protect the roots and crown.  As they grow, fertilize with a balanced all-purpose organic or fish fertilizer.  Artichokes should be spaced 3×3 feet apart to allow them room to spread out.  Be sure to keep them well weeded to avoid nutrient competition.

The following spring you can detach any healthy offsets from around the edges of the crown and plant them on (or share with lucky friends).

Then in the fall, when the leaves are turning yellow, cut the plant back to about a foot from the ground, tie the stalks over the root crown and mulch heavily to protect the plant from frost.

Artichokes do best in areas that do not have wide swings in temperature, but with a little extra care you can enjoy them here too.

How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, make the range of flowers, fruits and veggies we enjoy possible.  Without them we would not be able to grow most fruits and vegetables and a large number of flowers would no longer be seen.  It is important to provide pollinators with what they need in our gardens.  We can do that by providing many types of flowers and bloom times that are attractive to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

What do they get from these flowers?  pollen and nectar.  Pollen provides proteins and fats for the pollinators and nectar is their source of energy in the form of sugar.  Hybridized plants maximize some characteristics of garden plants but in the process are often left sterile and useless to pollinators so select species plants whenever possible.

Because the different pollinators have different equipment and needs when foraging it is best to provide range of plants with different bloom times and flower shapes through the growing season.  There are over 4000 native bees in North America with different tongue lengths and plant preferences.  Bees are attracted to flowers that are blue, purple, violet, white and yellow (which they see as “blue”).  Butterflies prefer flat topped flowers like the umbriferous flowers (lady’s mantle, fennel, etc) so that they can perch daintily on the flower top while eating.  Hummers are drawn to red tubular shaped flowers that better fit their bills.

It is also important not to use pesticides in your garden.  It is a destructive force on pollinator population and the ecology of the garden in general.

Just a hint…bees love most flowering herbs.

Happy Gardening!!

© 2012 Blooming Artichoke Herbary
Shipping & Return Policy | Privacy Policy | FAQs