Seeking Oasis from the Heat of Day …

July 12th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

While out watering the newest section of my garden this morning, I caught this toad —nestled amongst the cool, green & white, spotted leaves of Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’— waiting for his daily shower.

With temperatures soaring this week, watering potted plants, vegetables and annuals around my home —as well as the newly installed garden designs I manage for various clients— takes up quite a bit of my time. When Mother Nature doesn’t provide it, the plants in our domestic landscapes count on us for a regular supply of water. Be sure to give all potted plants a daily drink; especially hanging baskets, which may require more than one soaking on very hot days. And even if they were planted months ago, remember to provide new perennials and shrubs with an inch or more of water per week during dry spells. Try to water your garden in the early morning hours, and always saturate the soil deeply and thoroughly; setting your hand-held spray wand to ‘soak’ or ‘shower’ and focusing the water toward the base of the plant. Organic mulches help to conserve water —particularly well rotted compost, leaves, bark and other natural materials— by reducing evaporation and retaining soil moisture. Mulching plants also protects surface roots from the scorching summer sun. Soaker hoses or drip-irrigation systems placed at the base of the plant or beneath mulch work very well in gardens large and small, because they focus water at the root-zone, where plants need it.  Trees planted this year will be especially vulnerable during periods of dry weather. When installing new gardens, one of the landscape contractors I work with uses Treegator bags to keep large trees thoroughly hydrated throughout the growing season. I find that they work exceptionally well. And, if you’re planning to be away on vacation this summer, consider investing in a timer for your watering system.

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea in My Garden (Click Here or on Photo for Recipe Post)

And remember, while out caring for your garden, you need to hydrate and protect yourself from the sun as well! On bright summer days, I pull out my clear glass pitcher and make a batch or two of lemon-mint sun tea (click here for recipe post). I also have learned to wear a wide-brimmed hat and spf 30 sunscreen, as well as light, cool clothing. Mindful of the sun’s damaging rays, I usually opt for early morning and late afternoon gardening sessions at this time of year; reserving mid-day hours —between 11am and 3pm— for studio work and lunch.

That’s me, working in my friend Eve’s garden (photo by Eve’s daughter, Ivy).  When working outside in the sun, I always wear a lightweight hat to protect my skin.

Time to Refresh!

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Savoring Summer: Harvesting and Drying The Garden’s Finest Herbal Treasures…

August 19th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Drying Herbs in the Stairwell

One of the great pleasures of living in New England is, of course, the seasons. The natural world operates on a distinct schedule here, and all life flows along with it at a steady pace. On these late August days, the song of the hermit thrush —an ever-present twilight melody enjoyed throughout summer— begins to fade as flocks of songbirds gather for migration before the full moon. And the sun, shifting position and setting earlier each day on the horizon, glimmers low and gold in the trees now. Although the noontime hours of late summer can be quite hot, and evenings are still spent bare-shouldered, it won’t be long before downy quilts and lavender-scented sweaters are pulled from closet shelves.

August is a month of preserving; of putting up and setting things by. Jars of jam and pickled produce form neat rows in the cupboards, and my freezer is packed wall-to-wall with summertime’s bounty. This is the time of year when my voluptuous herb garden literally spills from its neatly-edged confines. Borders? Fiddle-dee-dee, the mint seems to say, as it runs wildly wherever it may. But I never mind a bit of excess in the garden -it’s so nice to have plenty to spare. Mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender and lemon verbena; their scents perfume my fingers and fill the cellar stairwell with beautiful fragrance. …

Freshly-harvested basil – Tied with twine for drying…

Basil and Mint Bundles

With dry air and scant rain, August is a great month to begin harvesting and drying herbs for winter. In the coming months, I will be grateful for a hint of summertime’s pleasures in warm cups of tea and fragrant breakfast scones. Drying herbs is simple and economical; an easy way to trim your monthly grocery budget and add flavor to daily meals. Have a look at the price of dried, organic basil next time you visit a grocery store. If you need a bit of convincing before bundling up the harvest and making room in your rafters, that little bit of sticker-shock should do the trick.

I grow herbs in my potager amongst the vegetables, on my terrace in containers, and throughout the ornamental gardens as well. Once the morning dew has dried —usually by 10am— I head outside with harvest baskets to gather whatever tempts my eye. Some days, I focus on aromatic herbs for cooking; including basil, rosemary, thyme and mint. But I also keep other uses in mind; gathering lavender, bergamot and hyssop for scenting oils, soaps, and sachets. Dried bundles of artemisia, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and other herbs are also useful for wreaths, swags and dried flower arrangements. Once the cellar stairwell and loft are filled —mostly with herbs for teas and cooking— I string clothesline in my dry cellar to hang bunches of herbs, protecting them from dust with loose paper bag ‘hoods’…

Herbs in the Potager

Keep potted herbs attractive by frequently pruning. More than you need? Try drying bundles to use in recipes —including soup and salad dressing— throughout the winter…

Once I’ve collected herbs, I spread them out on the terrace and pick them over; stripping lower leaves and forming small bundles. I like to use natural twine to tie the herbs together, but I will use recycled rubber-bands as well; particularly for large bouquets of flowering herbs. Once bundled up, I hang the herbs in a dry, dark place. When they have completely dry-cured, I will strip the leaves from the stems and store the herbs in tightly sealed jars (clear is fine for closed cupboards – use dark glass if storing herbs in brightly-lit spaces). Although I try to harvest most culinary herbs before flowering —for best flavor— I do allow some herbs to blossom, in order to provide pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in my garden. Flowering herbs make great companion plants in the potager…

Bundles of herbs are picked over and thinned, then bound together with twine…

Harvesting Herbs in Late Morning, After the Dew Has Throughly Dried

Sorting and Bundling Herbs in My Kitchen

Some sage is left to flower in the potager. Other plants are kept tightly pruned through regular harvests…

Rosemary is a beautiful, as well as a useful herb. I like keeping aromatic herbs near my door, where I brush against them as I come and go. Here, I can quickly snip bits to flavor teas, salad dressings or garnish cocktails…

And as wonderful as dried herbs are in winter, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of fresh rosemary and basil —is there? I keep pots of herbs just outside my kitchen door all summer long, where I can easily access them if I need to add a sprig to a special sauce or evening cocktail. Come late autumn, I will bring the potted rosemary inside to my windowsill, and in late September, I will begin sowing flats of basil to grow indoors beneath lights.

Yes, I enjoy thinking ahead to the coming seasons, but I’ve never been much of a pleasure-delayer at heart. I believe that being prepared for the future should never detract from the importance of the present moment. From lemon-mint sun tea and caprese salad with fresh basil at lunchtime to ice-cold mojitos and herb-infused ice cream enjoyed by the light of the moon; savor the rich tastes and sweet smells of the season while you can…

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea (Click Here for Post and Recipe)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint flowering in the garden)

Cuban Mint Julep (aka the mojito) – Click here for recipe and story

Some great herb gardening resources to give as gifts, add to a wish-list or purchase for your own horticultural and culinary bookshelves…

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Liquid Pleasures from the Late Summer Garden. Part One: Keeping Cool with Lemon-Mint Sun Tea…

August 20th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea in the Garden

The dog-days of summer have arrived, and it sure is hot outside today. Gardening is hard work, and it’s easy to over-do it on a sweltering day. Digging, weeding, dividing, lifting, mulching: all physically demanding tasks. In the summer, I always protect my head and skin with a straw hat, light colored clothing to reflect the sun, and regularly applied sunscreen. When temperatures rise and the mid-day sun is strong, even these precautions aren’t enough, and it’s best to take a break in the shade. On hot days, I try to schedule my physical work for early morning and late afternoon hours. And in mid-August, I can usually be found in my office breezeway, designing gardens and researching plants for fall projects. Retreating to the lake is tempting, but I have much work to do this week. So, after hearing the forecast, (humid, with temperatures in the 90’s), I decided to make up a batch sun tea to chill in the ‘fridge for later. I know that this icy-treat will help keep me focused on my client’s designs, paper work and planning later this afternoon.

Early this morning, I gathered fresh peppermint, (Mentha piperita), and lemon balm, (Melissa officinalis), from the herb garden and mixed up a pitcher of my favorite summer-time refreshment, Lemon-Mint Sun Tea. Making sun tea with fresh herbs is one of those simple-pleasures I learned in childhood and have enjoyed every summer since. I have tried many recipes for sun tea, but this one with refreshing mint and lemon has become my favorite. Peppermint and lemon balm are easy to grow perennial herbs, (in fact peppermint can become aggressive in gardens, so be careful where you site it), and they are endlessly useful in the kitchen.

If you have never made sun-tea, you have no idea what you are missing. Give it a try!  All you need is a sunny day, a clear glass container, (gallon-size is best), fresh water and some tea bags, (black, green or herbal all work fine). Variations on the theme are limited only by your imagination. Sun tea can be flavored with a wide variety of herbs, from lemon verbena and mint to thyme and lavender. Fresh fruit, such as oranges, limes and lemons can all be added to sun tea to enhance the flavor. I often use lemons, since I usually have them on hand and I love their flavor in tea.

To make Lemon- Mint Sun Tea, (recipe below), I crush fresh mint and lemon balm leaves and toss them into a clear pitcher with three or four sliced lemons. I like to use black tea with this recipe and I tie 5 bags from the handle of the container to dangle in the mix. Some people prefer to simply toss the bags in and fish them out later. Either method works fine. Sun tea can be made without sweetener, but I like to add a simple syrup made with honey. Pouring the boiling syrup over the crushed herbs and lemons helps to release their oils into the tea, and the fragrance is wonderful! I muddle the ingredients a bit with a wooden spoon, fill the pitcher with fresh water and set it outside on my stone terrace for a few hours in the full sun. Once the water has turned a deep honey-gold, I remove the tea bags and place the pitcher in my refrigerator for a couple of hours to chill. By mid afternoon, my tea will be ready to pour into a tall glass filled with ice, garnished with a wedge of lemon and a few sprigs of fresh mint.

Enjoy the warm weather and remember to take it a bit easy when gardening on hot days. Try and make the time to enjoy the liquid pleasures of a bountiful herb garden. Relax in the shade with a cool glass of Lemon-Mint Sun Tea.

lemon mint tea one

lemon mint tea two

lemon mint tea three

lemon mint tea four

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea

Syrup:

1/2 c honey

1/2 c water

Tea:

3/4 c peppermint leaves, lightly crushed

1/2 c lemon balm leaves (melissa officinalis), lightly crushed

3 – 4  lemons, sliced

5 bags of black tea, (herbal or green are fine if you prefer)

1 gallon size clear glass pitcher and fresh water to fill

Lightly crush mint and lemon balm leaves and thinly slice three or four lemons. Toss these ingredients into an empty 1 gallon, clear glass pitcher. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 c honey and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat while stirring. Remove saucepan from heat and slowly pour the hot syrup into the pitcher, coating the herbs and lemon. Tie 5 tea bags to dangle into the pitcher, or toss the bags straight in. Slowly fill the pitcher with cold water and stir. Set the pitcher outside in the full sun for 2-4 hours, (I cover mine at the top to keep out insects). Bring the pitcher back inside and remove tea bags and chill in the fridge, (with serving glasses for a frosty experience), until cold. Fill chilled glasses with ice and pour in the sun tea. Garnish with a sprig of mint and/or lemon and serve.

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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