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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The little mediterranean garden

A spot in our front yard is always dry, and the grass does not grow there well. It gets about 5 hours of sun, but that is mainly in the afternoon, when the sun is at its brightest, and most plants that are put there get baked. It drains very well, and is next to the concrete wall holds the lawn back from the sidewalk. Passers by are at just the right height to touch this spot as they move past it, so I figured that I would create a mediteranian garden there.

Now some of the herbs and plants from the mediteranian will not hold up to our cold Kansas winters, but a variety of them will, especially if the area is well drained. I planted thymes and lavenders to allow the passer bys to enjoy the wonderful aromas and textures that these plants produce.

Thyme is a plant known for its mimicry. While most people know of thyme as just the herb that is usually found dried and nearly tasteless in kitchens, in reality it is a group of plants known for their oils. Thyme oils have been used in everything from cooking, to perfume, even as an antiseptic.

The Thymes I have are spreading and cascading over the wall. Their small flowers hum with butterflies and bees in the summer, and the varieties provide a number of variations in the kitchen. First I have culinary or english thyme. This is the thyme that most people have smelled or tasted. I grows about 8 or 9 inches tall and spreads out. It is not a flat plant, but produces a wonderful savory scent. If I put straw over it in the winter to insulate it, I have found that it will provide fresh leave throughout the year. In the spring it is covered in pale purple flowers.

Next I have red creeping thyme, a variety of Mother of Thyme. Mother of Thyme is named that because it is the wild thyme that all others come from. This Thyme creeps along the ground, barely an inch or two high, and has red stems as well as red flowers. The flowers are born on spikes a little higher than the plant itself, and are some of the most pretty of Thyme flowers.

Then I have Lemon Thyme. Lemon Thyme grows fairly upright like English Thyme, but has the scent of lemon candy. When used in cooking, it infuses the lemon scent with the woody resinous flavors of thyme to create unique and interesting dishes. I find that it goes especially well with Chicken or Fish.

Next is Elfin Thyme, another low grower. This thyme is interesting because it is barely an inch tall, and spreads as a dense carpet of firmly packed leaves. The plant springs back when pushed against and has a wonderful texture. It is not as aromatic as other thymes are however. Another unique thing about Elfin Thyme is that it creates small mounds, the elf mounds, in which the elves and pixies hide and live in.

Some other Thymes that I am interested in including in my little area of thyme are orange, lime, and caraway thymes, all name for the aromas that they exude. There are a huge number of thymes out there, and a dry sunny spot is perfect for them. Be sure to read descriptions however, as some are more hardy than others, and all will appreciate a good mulch in the winter.

Behind the Thymes I have lavender plants. I prefer English lavender to Spanish lavender. Spanish Lavender has "bunny ears" or petals above the spikes of flowers. I find that the flowers smell much more resinous and less pleasent than English lavender. I have munstead, provence, and an unnamed variety growing currently. These lavenders provide purple flowers in the summer time, but also have the wonderful lavender arome throughout the whole plant.

If you have more mild winters, it would be possible to grow rosemary and sage as well.

This style of garden is ideal for dry spots, and allows a number of variations to create a wonderful garden of color, aroma, texture, and even flavor.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My little garden

The backyard at our house is not very big, and the majority of it is shaded by a large oak tree, so there is not a whole lot of space to create a vegetable garden. None the less, this year, we decided that we would grow vegetables and set about clearing a plot for them.

The plot is about 8 ft square. Not large by any means, but I found that I can grow an impressive number of vegetable varieites if I put my mind to it.

The garden plot itself is shaped like a large horseshoe. This allows me access to both sides of the plants to weed or water, but also helps to increase the growing space. In the south end of the U are mostly short plants while the taller plants are toward the north. I did this so that the large plants would not shade out the shorter plants, but now I realize that some of my shorter plants would do better with a little shade.

I have found that I can fit a huge amount of plants into the growing space if I did away with rows and planted small beds. I have leeks, shallots, and garlic in one area of the garden, allowing me to rotate the area next year if I need to. I planted these onion relatives because it doesn't take a whole lot to completely change a dish.

The next area is filled with rat's tail radishes. I always enjoyed radishes, but I found that usually, they were too woody or set seed by the time that I wanted to eat them. Rat's tail radishes solve this. So far, they have produced several crops of the edible seed pods that taste just like radishes. In addition, they have drawn the flea beetles away from the rest of my garden.

I then have the peppers. My wife loves sweet peppers, so I have 8 plants in staggered plantings. Two are of miniature green pepper varieties, while the others are sweet cherry peppers. As long as I keep them picked, the peppers keep wanting to produce more.

Next come the tomatoes. I love tomatoes and planted several different kinds that I had growing up, so I knew what they would be like. Mortgage lifter and Beefsteak are some of my favorite tomatoes for eating on sandwiches and for eating plain. I have roma tomatoes for sauce, as well as an heirloom called amish paste. I also have a few oxheart tomatoes to expirament with. So far, the only producer of Red tomatoes has been the patio but the tomatoes are a little bit watery for my taste.
Here are some Mortgage lifters still green.

I have two cucumber plants climbing up tomato cages, so far they have produced 3 Big cucumbers and have several more on the plants.

I attempted to grow a patty pan squash next to the cucumbers, but it seems to have died out.

Turning the bend in the U, I have Swiss Chard. The leaves are a fair substitute for cooked spinach, and they keep producing. I also have a salad burnett plant. For those of you unfamiliar with this plant, its young and tender leaves taste distinctly like cucumbers, and are great to add to a salad without watering the whole thing down in cucumber juice.

I then have several areas that I sowed with mesclun mix, and Spinach. Unfortunately, my plants went to seed almost immediately, so I dug them under and replanted. I planted mesclun mix, but spaced the seeds well and am keeping the bed well watered to hopefully prevent the plants going to seed. I have also planted bibb lettuce, and am treating it just like my mesclun.

The last part of the garden is devoted to herbs and flowers. I have Genovese and Lime basils, which are growing well as long as I remember to remove the flowers. I have a nasturtium plant in the corner of the garden which is wild with both leaves and flowers. It creates and attractive little plants, and is edible, though a bit spicy for my tastes. I have an oregano plant and French tarragon a little ways away, with sand dug into the soil to improve drainage. I have never used tarragon in cooking, but the flavor of the leaves is quite unique. Just be sure that you get French tarragon. Russian tarragon tastes like grass.

Last I have a lovage plant that is just starting to take off. Lovage adds celery flavors to just about any dish that you can think of. A wonderful thing to have on hand. It does get quite big though, so be careful where you place it.

As you can see, the tiny suny spot in the back yard will help us with fresh vegetables and herbs throughout the year.

It is amazing what you can do with just a little bit of ground.

Let me know what you think of my little garden, and tell me about yours.