Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wildflowers and Native Plants of Peru - A Tourist view

Native Plants flowering at Machu Picchu, Peru
From adventure traveler to casual tourist, the Inca Trail provides an unforgettable experience. I traveled it over forty years ago and still dream of the cool, lush, humid Andean rain forest full of unusual flora and fauna. The mystery of the high city and long forgotten tales. If I was taking the trip today, I'm sure I would soak up all the bromeliads and orchids which are native to this area.  The native flower is an orchid! Peruvian native plants are often lusted after house plants :)  The abundance of unusual native plants in Peru is acute in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary and nearby areas. Peru hosts more than 3,000 known orchid species, and some experts claim that this is only half of the Peruvian native species; more to be discovered!  So just think, if you take this hike you might discover an orchid that you could call your own?!

I'm sharing photos taken on a recent trip to Peru by an intrepid group of college seniors. Oh - and lest I forget, below is the crew as they are on the Inca Trail reaching Machu Picchu - how fun does this look?  Thank you Rachel for permission to post your photos.  They experienced beauty riding the train from the City of Cuzco, strolling in Aguas Calientes, meandering at Machu Picchu, hiking through the lush rain forest, babbling along gentle waterfalls, relaxing in city gardens, and resting in church yards.  
Inca Trail - Spring Break - 2014

So please enjoy the photos below. If you can identify any of the species let me know and I'll label them!

Looks like a violet!

Peruvian orchid, National Flower

The picture to the left is the orchid that is the national flower of Peru. Rachel told me the folklore of forbidden love and this flower.  Two lovers who were not allowed to be together so they sought help from the gods.  The answer to their prayers was that the man was turned into a hummingbird and the female was turned into this orchid flower.   This makes sense as this particular orchid, with it's long petals and structure, is pollinated by hummingbirds. I found two other fables regarding orchids. Both of which deal with unrequited love. One is a tale that says a young princess was turned into the orchid and her lover would cry when he saw this remembering his lost love. 

Should you decide to take this adventure - besides great flora and vistas, you may get the opportunity to enjoy a traditional and important Andea protien source - Cuy ("coo-ee") which is  guinea pig to you and I! There are even Cuy festivals.  I remember trying this and having it served in a fetal position whole on the plate. Here was Rachel's experience with this cuisine. I didn't ask if she thought it tasted like Chicken.  
Today I'm recalling pan-pipe music echoing through the mist.
Teresa Marie

Monday, April 14, 2014

Arizona Wildflowers - A tourist view

Hiking - Vermilion Cliffs, AZ
The desert can be so beautiful! This year I had the pleasure of spending time in Arizona and Utah during early spring. I just caught the beginning of the splendor of desert flowers - I'm sharing a few shots of those I encountered on the trail.  As we got off road on BLM lands and into Vermillion Cliffs, Grand Staircase Escalante, Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon - the little pops of color from mother natures blooms were unexpected and pleasurable. Hiking with the fragrance from sage and wide open spaces - Priceless!

While I'm tagging these are wild flowers or Native flowers - someone local with much more experience may say some of these are invasive. Like I say, this is a tourist view :)

Almost like an apple blossom - Arizona Wildflower

This looked like as aster to me. Arizona Wildflower

A nice touch of purple.

This very beautiful "Maiden Hair Fern" was growing into the cliff wall, on the Northside, just where the water would drain down. I thought it an appropriate time to ponder how how perfectly characteristics come together for plants to flourish - the other side would be way to hot and not enough water. Even a few inches on either side would probably not work. My companion said that the fern had been in just this spot, and never much larger for years. 

Maidenhair Fern - Arizona

I love the geology and topography of this area. While on the one hand I'd love to retire here, on the other hand I'd have to have an entirely different type of garden. That could be fun!

Singing Route 66!

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Container Gardens - Growing Herbs

Grow Your Own Fresh Herbs - Container Gardening
More recently as I teach Container Garden classes I'm asked specifically about growing herbs.  In particular small urban patio gardens and families with small children seem to enjoy this activity. I am an avid consumer of fresh, home grown herbs! Photo of harvest of mint, dill, parsley! Herb container gardening is a great way for new gardeners to dig in. There is a great satisfaction in serving delights from your garden. Plus the fragrance from herbs is wonderful. There are many herbs that I always grow in container (aka mint!) This year I'm putting more herbs and veggies in containers to make it easier to get to from my kitchen!

There are many decisions that must be made for a container garden including container selection, soil selection, available light, and care (water, fertilizer). In addition having a plan for materials and support of the containers - for example if you will be gardening on a deck or porch where will you get water, store soil, and does the deck bear the weight? These decisions and tips are covered in Container Garden Basics (blog link coming.) There are some nuances of container gardening just for herbs with a heavy emphasis on plant selection. Please read on...

What not to do! Baskets! Source: Daily Mail
CONTAINER: Almost anything will work as long as there is good drainage. Drainage defined as size of hole in the bottom relative to the size of the container (bigger containers need more or larger holes.)

  • Type: There are really cute and decorative herb container garden pictures all over the internet. Don't fall for the cute baskets or metal tubs for your herb container garden. While these herb baskets look great - they may be short lived. For the former - the baskets rot and do not last well. For the latter, the metal containers get too hot and rust may be an issue.  I stick with terra cotta or plastic containers. 
  • Size: Herbs do not generally have extensive root systems, so smaller containers work relative to annuals and other plants. However, since containers dry out, with smaller containers your watering regime will be more extensive. In some cases I have to water twice a day when it's really hot outside (and I live in Chicago!) My rule of thumb - use the largest pot possible and combined 2+ plants rather than using several smaller pots. Self watering containers also work well for herbs like parsley, chives, and mint that like consistent moisture levels. General rule of thumb - 1 gallon pot space or 8" for every plant to grow in a container (see listing below.)
  • Transplanting: You can start herbs in smaller pots and then move them up as they grow. This is a great idea if you have seedlings as small seedlings in very large pots do not do well (too much water) Some herbs will quickly outgrow the container without diligent harvest. Basil for example can get over 2.5 feet tall in no time. 
SOIL & FERTILIZER:  Potting soil you get at the garden center is perfect. Check to see if it has a slow release fertilizer mixed in. If not, add the recommended amounts of fertilizer. Don't worry about fertilizing for flowers - for herbs it's all about the leaves! Some herbs like Thyme and Oregano, don't need fertilizer. I practically neglect mine (other than harvesting) and these two do just fine.  Plan to apply regular fertilizer to your containers. Frequent watering washes out the nutrients so regular 1/2 strength fertilizer every 3 weeks works well. 

LIGHT:  Most herbs need full sun - that's at least 6 hours a day. However some do well with only 4 hours. Many herbs are Mediterranean in origins so think hot and not so much water. If they do not get this much light they get leggy (long stems and not enough leaves.) I'm not 100% certain but I think:
- Mediterranean/Asian in origin include: Celery, Dill, Chives, Mustard, Sage, Tarragon, Marjoram
- Native North America include: Salvia, Beebalm, Nasturtium, Culantro
Keep in mind, in direct and extended sunlight, many containers get warm, or even hot. Too hot. That bakes the roots and will kill your herbs. So some shading in the afternoon can be very beneficial. Feel the side of your containers to see if they are getting too hot - don't worry, they are easy to move a few feet to get out of or into the sun! 
SELECTING HERBS / CONTAINER PLANS:  For starters, grow what you will use or what has a fragrance you adore! One year I put in Borage and Rue because they looked interesting - but I rarely cooked with them. I tried Celeriac and was pleasantly surprised. Tired fennel and was disappointed. I like having Sage and Rosemary on the patio because they smell so great. Basil, in multiple varieties, always finds a home in my garden, kitchen, and freezer. It's all about your preferences (and light/water conditions.)

  1. Match requirements - put together plants with the same light and water requirements. You can mix in annuals with the herbs and vice versa. I sometimes through in a hot pepper, Kale, or Asian eggplant for interest. 
  2. Seeds or plants - Seeds may give you a wider variety of options than you will get in your garden center. Seeds are also less expensive.  In most of the country, cold climate gardens, seeds will need to be started indoors 1-2 months before they can be moved into containers outside. Plants, ready to go into pots is a convenient option & a great way to start with less effort if you are new to gardening. I usually get most staples as plants - but do a few new options from seed each year. 
  3. Numbers of plants per container - I tend to like over crowded containers, however this can slow growth and crowd out some plants while reducing my time weeding.  The container pictured above has just small plants - it will need to be thinned out and items transplanted. But for now, it sure looks cute.
  4. Specific herb considerations for some of my favorites:
  5. Chives and oregano in the herb garden
    • Chives - These are hardy Zone 3-10 so you can leave them in the container year after year. Clump-forming perennials - they will eventually fill a container by themselves.
    • Basil - can tolerate short period of drought. Grows well with thyme and parsley. It can get tall - there are small varieties Boxwood is nice and great for pesto. Purple Ruffles Basil adds color while tasting like licorice. Thai basil another fun add.
    • Lavender - Love it, have trouble getting it to take as Perennial. Not all varieties are hardy in a cold climate. 
    • Oregano - The more sun it gets the stronger the flavor. I've used a Greek oregano variety that takes over everywhere it touches. Doesn't like wet soil.
    • Mint - vigorous and aggressive.Very forgiving on light, water, and soil condition.  Always grown in pots & never let it seed. I like growing fun varieties like orange mint. 
    • Rosemary - loves full sun and average soil. Keep the pot to under three gallons if growing it alone. Need to pull it inside in winter. 
  6. What goes with what - there are lots of options. Some fun ways to arrange are:
    • Italian Herb Container garden: Basil, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (through in a few garlic bulbs to harvest in the fall)
    • Aromatics Container Garden: Sage, Lavender, Chamomile
    • Tea Container Garden: Spearmint, Peppermint, Chamomile
    • Pizza Container Garden: Parsley, Basil, Oregano, Chives, Garlic (Dwarf Tomato plant)
    • Herbes de Provence Container Garden: Thyme, rosemary, marjoram, basil, savory, summer savory
    • Asian Cuisine Container Garden: Parsley, Mint, Thai Basil, (Chinese Eggplant, Hot peppers, garlic)
HARVESTING:  Pinch back the herbs as they first start growing to help them develop into bushy and compact plants. While commercially harvesting herbs is most optimal when the flower buds start to appear - do not let your herbs flower, this will reduce the leaf growth and may change the flavor of the herb. In your container garden you may harvest to control growth and for your own culinary needs! The more your pick, the more it grows, the more you get :) Always harvest the older stems first - don't just cut down the whole plant. For perennial herbs, like Sage, Mint and Thyme,  you can remove the top third of the plant/branch when you harvest (in addition to taking pieces as needed.) For annual herbs,  leave several inches of shoots for regrowth. Perhaps 5 inches or so should be left. This is also a good rule of thumb, don't harvest unless they are at least 6-8" tall. Watch how the plant grows - so for example, Parsley and Chives grow from the the center/bottom in this case cut the oldest parts out completely.

Have a great time experimenting with your Herb Container Garden. I'd enjoy hearing your tips and news in this regard.

Signing with the birds on this spring day!

Teresa Marie

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