Perennial Herb Garden

Last summer I started a perennial herb garden just on the other side of our orchard.  Although I grew up eating fairly bland food and have cooked that way myself for years, as I get older I realize that I enjoy herbs and spices more than I thought I did!

Perennial herb garden

Here is my Perennial herb garden looking from East to West, with the oregano section in the foreground.  The oregano started out as one small plant, but has spread and will probably fill in the bed this year.

I decided to start a perennial herb garden because I found that buying fresh herbs at the market can be quite expensive.  Even when I find the price reasonable, sometimes I have to buy too much for the recipe I am following and end up wasting some of the herb.  So, I decided to start growing my own.  Of course I will continue to plant basil seeds every year, and red peppers to make my own red pepper flakes, but the perennial herbs seem to take care of themselves.  In fact, it’s rare that they get bugs.  That’s probably because of the aromatic oils in the plants themselves.  My only problem has been with our &%$#(@# vole that insists on tunneling right through my beds!

The rosemary plants look pretty good. They are fairly drought tolerant and have virtually no pests, but our honeybees will absolutely maul the rosemary blooms when they appear later this spring,

I grew rosemary for years at our old house and ended up with huge rosemary bushes that weren’t very well tamed.  Our kitty cat used to sleep under the rosemary during the hot summer afternoons and she would come into the house smelling like heaven!  I am just learning to cook more with rosemary, and made a delicious rosemary sourdough cracker a couple of years ago.

I have also tried growing oregano before and really enjoyed learning to make Italian and Mexican dishes with fresh oregano.  However, I have never grown sage or thyme, which I had heard are fairly easy to grow, especially in my 7B/8A climate. In fact, when our new house is finished being built, there is a hill right behind our covered patio where I will be planting thyme, as it is supposed to be a great ground cover.

I decided to locate the garden right behind the log retaining wall that is terracing our orchard because many herbs are deterrents to deer. In fact, my research reveals that deer detest rosemary!  We haven’t had a real problem with deer in our orchard/garden, but I’m all for double purpose plants!

So, I decided to plant the herb garden with the four basics:  oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme. Did I just hear Simon and Garfunkel in my head? 😉  All of these are perennials.  Up in the garden I also have a few other perennial herbs including lemon balm, spearmint and lavender.

Growing lemon balm in a perennial herb gardenThe lemon balm is in a planter right next to the bee hives.  There is an old folk tale that bees will not abandon a hive (swarm) where lemon balm grows, so that is why we planted it there.  We also have another lemon balm plant right next to our bee watering pond, so you can see I put a lot of faith in some folk tales!  We’ll see how it goes this year.  Lemon balm was once called a “poor man’s lemonade” plant, because not very many pioneers had lemon trees, nor could they afford lemons, but lots of people can grow lemon balm!

I am keeping the spearmint plant contained in a large pot.  Spearmint is known to spread willy-nilly and is hard to get rid of once established.  That is why, even though it is crowded, I am keeping it in a pot.  I will find a wider pot for the spearmint later this spring, however, so it can spread it’s roots a bit more. But I must warn you, my plant kept trying to escape this past summer by producing runners down to the ground seemingly overnight!  Of course, these runners are what I snipped and used for my kitchen. I love putting a few bruised spearmint leaves in hot water with a touch of either honey or a few stevia leaves, letting it cool, then drinking it over ice.  Ahhhhh.  So refreshing on a hot summer day! Growing spearmint in a perennial garden

The lavender is located just above the log retaining wall, near the strawberries.  Lavender lavenderinfused water is also yummy, and I just love putting a few dried sprigs in my drawers for a fresh, clean scent.

My dresser drawers, silly.  🙂

When Ray and I went on a farm tour a couple of years ago, we visited a farm that specialized in aromatic herbs including lavender, clary sage and lemon verbena.  In their gift shop they gave away lavender cookies and let me tell you, they were absolutely delicious!  As you can see in the picture to the right, I haven’t cleaned the lavender bed yet, but I will get to that soon.  My husband gave me the beautiful garden armillary for our anniversary several years ago, and my father made the concrete pedestal.  When the lavender is in bloom, this is such a beautiful vignette in the garden. And the armillary actually keeps pretty good time!  Speaking of thyme…

Thyme

This is the thyme, which has spread triple from what I planted last spring.

All of the herbs survived well over the winter, despite all of the wind, rain, hail and snow, and are showing signs of good spring growth.

The sage is  the herb in my garden that looks the most winter worn, but it is showing signs of new spring growth, so I have faith it will do just fine. Ray and I can’t wait to try a new sausage recipe that uses fresh sage. Yummy.

I pinched a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme the other day for one of our new favorite veggie cooking with rosemary and thymedishes:  roasted root vegetables!  All I had on hand this time were potatoes and carrots, which is just fine, but parsnips, rutabaga, even radish works in this dish. Just a couple sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary, chopped fine, salt and pepper, drizzled with olive oil, and the vegetables come out browned and caramelized, seasoned to perfection. What temp to set the oven?  Just about anything from 300 to 425, so you can roast meat or bake bread while roasting these healthy and delicious root vegetables – just knowing that they will cook faster at higher temperatures  MMMMMMMMM…

 

And the cute little kitty reclining on a rock that you may have spied near the sage?  That is in memory of my sweet kitty, Missy, who was queen of our neighborhood for 15 years and will remain forever in our hearts.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

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Lavender Farm Field Trip

This past weekend we had the opportunity to visit and tour the Lavender Ranch, a local farm that organically and sustainably grows a variety of plants and botanicals, then distills them into essential oils.  The Lavender Ranch, Biggs, CA  I have been driving by this ranch for years and have always loved the scent of lavender wafting off the fields in the heat of an August afternoon.  Lavender Cookies at the Lavender Ranch

When hubby and I arrived at the ranch we began our tour at the gift shop, which was located inside their quaint old farm house! When first walking through the door, we were greeted with a gorgeous little stand in the corner offering free lavender cookies.  I don’t know why, but I thought eating the actual lavender would be a bit bitter, but these were delicious!  Inside the shop were beautiful displays, including almost an entire wall of hanging bunches of dried lavender for sale.  It smelled so good inside!  Also on display were lotions, salves, soaps and sachets – all for sale at reasonable prices.   bunches of dried lavender

We were so pleased to hear that they were giving guided walking tours of their lavender fields, and so we eagerly waited the fifteen minutes for the next tour to begin.

As our friendly tour guide gave us some statistics (the Lavender Ranch was started in 1983 and right now has 30 acres devoted to botanicals to make essential oils) and several uses for lavender oils (heals skin maladies, promotes circulation, improves digestion),  I couldn’t help but take deep, cleansing breaths while we walked through the fields. And knowing that they grow sustainably and organically, I was even more impressed!  The tour guide said they even had agreements with local farmers not to spray on windy days, so that there would be no over-spray of pesticides or chemicals on to the Lavender Ranch.  On the highway side of the ranch are signs along the right-of-way stating that the ranch is organic and to please not spray herbacides or pesticides in the vicinity!

Although their name implies that all they grow is lavender, such is certainly not the case.

Flowering Lemon Verbena

Flowering Lemon Verbena

I was in seventh heaven when our tour guide asked us to rub some leaves of the plants in the rows we were standing in……… lemon verbena!!  Oh!  My favorite scent of all scents!  I could bathe in it, sleep with it and eat it!  I wanted to literally sit right in the middle of the row of lemon verbena and take a nap, but I’m not sure the tour guide would have thought too kindly of me doing that!  😉   I love lemon verbena and I wasn’t aware that I could grow this plant myself!  Oh Joy!

And then the lavender!

Somehow, walking through these fields of lavender and verbena, I felt so at peace and at ease!  I know that the scent of lavender is supposed to be calming, but to actually walk in a field of lavender is something you just must do.  An experience of a lifetime!

Blooming Lavender

Blooming lavender

Among some of the other plants they grow and distill into essential oils are rosemary, german chamomile, peppermint, and clary sage!  They even had a 153 year old orange tree that they use to get an orange essential oil!  That tree was massive and is a daughter tree to the “Mother Orange Tree” found in Oroville, California.  What history!

In fact, the Lavender Ranch is only a part of the larger Bayliss Ranch which is known for the rice they grow, commercially marketed as Lattitude 40 (the approximate lattitude where the ranch is located).  We got to try some of the brown rice and it was wonderful – nutty but kind of fruity at the same time. The area where the Lavender Ranch is now sited used to be part of a large walnut orchard within the Bayliss Ranch.  With the use of drip irrigation and a lot of mulch, they now use only 10% of the amount of water that was once necessary when the land held walnuts!

But back to the Lavender Ranch tour.

Lemon verbena and Lavender

Lemon verbena (in the foreground) and Lavender

Our guide told us that it takes about 800 pounds of lavender to make 1 gallon of essential oil.  They use a steam distillation process with both a water phase and an oil phase.  The lavender that is grown at the ranch is a proprietory variety developed with UC Davis for a higher camphor content.  They propogate their own lavender in greenhouses right there at the ranch because each lavender plant is replaced at about 15 years of age.

A distiller for essential oils

A distiller for essential oils.

The medicinal uses of lavender are many.  Of course, I am not a doctor and don’t claim to be any type of a medical practitioner, but you can find so many resources on the internet and in books in your local library that hail praises for lavender.

In fact, I found a couple of websites and blogs that have a lot of information about lavender – just click on one of the links below and through the magic of technology you will be whisked away to their website!  No worries, though – you will be able to come right back to mine!   🙂

This one is great and has a lot of information:  How to make and use lavender flower extract by Frugally Sustainable,  and if you want to cook with lavender (who knew? not me!) you can click on this one:  Desserts using lavender by The Kitchn,   For the final fun site involving lavender, how about a recipe for home made playdough scented with lavender at The Chaos and the Clutter.

I hope you enjoyed coming along with my hubby and I on our field trip to the Lavender Ranch.  I just wish we were able to send the wonderful scents of all these botanicals from our computer to yours!

Thank you for all your comments, suggestions and questions – I try to answer every one!

 

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