Friday, April 17, 2009

Blue Flowering Sage Herb Plants For Friday Floral

My sage is blooming now, it is so pretty I just had to share it with you.  This is my regular culinary sage.  I must say I am very impressed with how drought tolerant it is!  It is growing with some lavender and artimis plants.  Both plants are known to be drought tolerant bloomers, but I was afraid the sage would need a little extra water.  

Luckily, I was wrong.  I started out with the best of watering intentions too, but you know how it goes what with the drought and all...  I am happy to report that my culinary sage is just as beautiful and water thrifty as the other plants.  Aside from rainfall, this little microclimate only gets extra water from me when it is 120 degrees outside or I happen to be out with the watering can.

I love the giant blue spikes of flowers.  They bloom on stems that are square and woody, usually covered with hairs.  It makes quite a statement out there in the back 40.  This is the same sage I dry for use in the kitchen.  You're supposed to pick the leaves just before the plant blooms but I hate to do that when there are buds forming.  I'm sure it will still be fine. All parts of this grayish green plant are aromatic.  Salvia leaves are long and thin, growing up to 4 inches long and 1/2 inch across.  They are crinkly, fragrant and sticky and can be used in cooking either fresh or dried.  Fresh sage branches are good for stuffing into chickens and turkey. To dry herbs, hang them upside down in a cool dry place.  You can wrap your herb branches with cheesecloth or paper to keep off dust and insects.

Culinary Sage or salvia officinalis is native to the warm Mediterranean regions (so it matches mine nicely).  They grow to a height of three feet tall and can spread as wide. Sage grows in full sun to partial, dappled shade, and are hardy to about 20 degrees.  Did you know the genus named Salvia is derived from the Latin salvare, meaning “to heal” or “to sav"?  Before modern medicine, sage tea was gargled for sore throats and cold tea was drunk to stop sweating. 

Today, this little sage plant is just making my garden look pretty.  Hmm, I'm thinking it would look good in a bouquet with Shasta Daisies or white Baby's Breath.  Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Eureka! California Black Gold In My Back Yard, Compost That Is

Yes, it does exist! I have found it! Compost can be made in California and here's a giant chunk of that wonderful black gold in my hot little hand.

I just dug some of my delicious compost out of the pile. I am getting ready to fill my bin up with a bunch of new clippings but I wanted to finish off my stash before it got covered. There were worms inching around as I turned the compost over. Ahhhh.

I usually spread out my finished compost next to the bin and leave it for a few days so the worms and bugs and whoever has a chance to vacate first.

I don't know why I get so excited about compost. Perhaps the fact that even I can do it? It's free, improves my soil and fertilizes my plants? Or, it's full of worms and just cool?

The compost was sticking together but it was crumbly like chocolate cake. That's what gave me the idea of taking a photo on a cake plate.

Remember those Oneida silver ads with the fork holding up the orchid?

My compost is posing with a beautiful antique dinner fork; International Silver's Countess pattern. What's weird about that? Should I have used a salad fork?

Anywhoo, I was thinking of the many discussions I've read around some gardening forums where people claim you cannot make compost in California: "It's too hot." "It's too dry." Or, my favorite: "I lived in California for three years -- I know!"

Well that's not the Can Do Spirit that built The West my friend. Here's how I do it. I have a round plastic compost container I got from the City of Los Angeles compost program. It is located in an east facing corner of my yard and it gets shade most of the day thanks to the brush cherry shrubs I planted to hide it. I don't cover my pile with a lid, it likes to roam free. I pile in everything I can find; kitchen scraps, eggshells, cut grass, clippings (except roses) even all my massive wisteria litter. Sometimes the wisteria pods and peanut shells come out looking the same as when they went in, but who's counting?

I don't have much of a composting regimen. When there are a lot of fresh clippings in the bin I try to turn it at least once a week. Turning gets air into the mixture so it heats up and cooks faster. I water once a month or so, or if the texture is really dry. I also pour in the water from my flower vases (and the flowers). If your compost pile smells bad something is wrong; usually too much water. Just turn it for a few days in a row, that should balance things out. The key is making sure your pile is sitting on the bare ground. This lets things drain normally and lets the worms in too.

Grass clippings cook fast but need to be broken up or they will form a solid mat. Grass can also be smelly when it's fresh so mix well to dry it out faster. If there is a lot of grass sometimes the pile heats up so much there's a (harmless) white residue from the heat. I don't like to have more than say, 50% grass in my bin. If there's too much, I just spread the grass next to the bin until I have room to mix it in. Yes, sometimes I turn that pile too. Nobody says you have to use a bin at all.

I turn my compost pile with a good, old fashioned American pitchfork. I probably don't get all the way to the bottom like those super-deluxe compost turners, but that's OK. Attacking your compost pile with a pitchfork is a really, really fantastic way to work off stress and anxiety! But you should stretch and warm up for a minute beforehand so you don't put out your shoulder. I don't add any of those snake oil "starters" to my pile. There's plenty of bacteria in there so it composts just fine thanks. I know that you can supercharge your compost with molasses, but I prefer to bake cookies. After all is said and done, I get around 3 to 4 wheelbarrows full of compost a year. CNN recently covered the home gardening trend and mentioned The National Gardening Association reports home gardening is up 19%; you're gonna want an order of compost on the side with that.

Now, to clarify my gold metaphors. I know Black Gold or Texas Tea is crude oil, the kind Jed Clampett likes. But we have golden gold here in California which is where the "Eureka" comes in: Eureka is the state motto of California. It is Greek for "I have found it" and was reportedly shouted by early gold miners. Although frankly if I find a nugget in my yard, that won't be the first expression that escapes my lips. In the meantime I will settle for my compost gold and happy plants.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Purple Wisteria Blossoms, Pink And Peach Peace Rose For Friday Floral

Today's frequently Friday Floral features beautiful purple, violet wisteria blossoms and a peachy pink Peace rose.  There's also an element of trepidation and mystery, but I'll get to that later.

When I moved into this house there were a few old, giant rose bushes.  They seemed to want to climb, so I put a little arch in that goes from the edge of their bed, over a path next to the trellis.  Now it climbs over the path and looks stunning when it blooms.  This looks like a Peace Rose to me with the delicate peach and pink blush on the flowers.  It has recovered from the sunburned canes it suffered in last years' 120 degree heat waves.  I suppose it would flower more if I watered it more, but it seems pretty happy with my slapdash watering schedule.  We are in a drought here in Los Angeles, but I do give the roses my leftover ice cubes and random kitchen water.  Besides, she's a tough old broad.

The wisteria vine is at the height of its' flowering too.  It is covering the trellis, but it can be an unruly wanderer.   I have to keep pulling its' tendrils off the roses before the entire bush is swallowed up whole.  The flowers are dangling down over the patio and the air is perfumed with their delicate creamy scent.  The blossoms are falling and covering everything like lavender snow.  The bumble bees seem to like the wisteria too.  I am horribly allergic to the bumblers, and my sister has a hilariously humiliating story she can tell you about one day…. When she gets her own blog.  I'm just not going to make any sudden moves out there for the next week or two.

Surprisingly the Carpenter bees (and whether or not my sister will post her humiliating story about me in the Comments) are not the element of fear in this story.  It is whether or not my photo turned out.  I'm having trouble with the monitor of my beloved Powerbook G4.  I'm looking in between the pink vertical lines on my screen, but I think it turned out ok.  Please let me know.  Happy Friday! 


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