Beautiful June is the month of roses and the rose is the Herb of the Year. That makes this the perfect year to have fun with your roses! When your most fragrant roses are in full bloom, gather up your best friends, grandchildren or neighbors and have a rose playday. Make rose water, rose syrup, rose tea, rose vinegar and rose-petal jam. Begin a rose potpourri. At the end of the day set a date for an elegant Rose luncheon or afternoon Rose Tea so you can all enjoy the fruits of your rosey labors in style.
It’s March. Happy New Year! At least, March was the beginning of the New Year until September 2,1752. On that Wednesday night England, along with it’s American colonies, went to bed as usual and awoke the next morning to Thursday, September 13!
The reason? Great Britain had finally decided to replace the calendar created by Julius Caesar seventeen hundred years earlier with the much more accurate calendar the rest of Europe had been using for 170 years! Introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582, the modern calendar was designed to correct a miscalculation on the Julian calendar that resulted in an 11 day gap between the calendar dates and the seasons. It also moved New Year’s Day from the beginning of the growing season to January 1, the beginning of the legal year.
Nonetheless, gardeners still know the real beginning of the New Year is when our plants show signs of new growth and the gardening season begins. So, Happy New Year! May it be a lush and productive one with bumper crops of all your favorite plants.
Puzzle lovers, here is a riddle for you: What herb is widely believed to have originated in ancient Persia yet has been found as a 32 million year old fossil in Colorado, has been carefully cultivated in gardens for over 16 thousand years for it’s religious, medicinal and culinary uses, is grown in all parts of the temperate world, produces a fruit that has 25% more vitamin C then most citrus, is used around the world in cosmetics and fragrance products, is one of the most widely grown plants on earth, produces an essential oil worth over $300.00 an ounce, is the backbone of the international florist trade and routinely used in weddings, funerals, parties and graduations, has been the symbol of love for thousands of years but is also the symbol of secrecy and has been chosen the 2012 Herb of the Year? Give up? THE ROSE!
Once upon a time New England gardens, fields and woods were full of hummingbirds, bees and butterflies doing what they do best, flitting from flower to flower sipping, lapping and pollinating. That isn’t true today. In the past few years a perfect storm of pesticides, air pollution, weather events and plant hybridization have swirled together to create conditions that are seriously damaging pollinator populations. Honey bee colonies across the country are collapsing, butterfly populations are declining and the hummers can’t do their job properly in cold, dreary weather that prevents flowers from blooming on schedule. Many native pollinating insect populations are declining also. The pollinators need our help.
Did you know that horseradish is an herb and that more horseradish is grown in the United States then anywhere else in the world? Both are true!
Each year the International Herb Association (www.iherb.org) picks an herb to celebrate. This year the honor of Herb of the Year goes to the grated root you find packed in little bottles on a supermarket shelf somewhere near the hot dogs, horseradish.
Horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, is native to the Mediterranean. A member of the Brassica family, it’s a kissing cousin of table radishes, cauliflower, cabbages, broccoli, mustard and brussel sprouts. Horseradish has been considered an important medicinal herb for several thousand years. It was grown by the ancient Greeks, early Egyptians and most of the tribes that became the Europeans. Both the long, thick root and broad, weedy leaf were valuable medicines, their uses described in ancient herbals.
“…the river runs, the round world spins, dawn and lamplight, midnight, noon. Sun follows day, night, stars and moon. The day ends, the end begins.” Michael Judge, The Dance of Time.
December signals the completion of one cycle of growth and the beginning of another, the end of one calendar year and start of the next. It ushers the natural world into deep darkness and cold winter sleep at the same time it gives promise of returning light and renewed growth. The month of intense darkness and flickering new light, people have always approached December with a mix of quiet awe and high festivity.
We all love fall mums. The vibrantly colored flowers and sturdy plants signal the beginning of autumn for most of us. We buy them by the dozen to decorate porches and front steps, plant in containers and window boxes, add to fading gardens, use as centerpieces and give to friends. Then, at the end of the season, most of them go into the compost. The next year we do it all over again.
How did this ancient herbal plant, originally a revered wildflower in Asia, become our favorite autumn flower? And why don’t we ever consider it’s traditional herbal and culinary uses along with it’s decorative ones?
Gardening organically is easy, healthy, economical and fun. I have been an organic gardener all my gardening life, which began when we moved to Andover in 1967. Shortly after we arrived, my father, an enthusiastic gardener, sent me his entire collection of well-read Organic Gardening magazines. Those boxes of magazines, a borrowed copy of Ruth Stout’s ” How to Have an Organic Garden Without an Aching Back” and and a book club edition of Rodale’s “Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening” became my first gardening library.
Thanks to my printed collection of gardening advice and my father’s stream of letters and torn-out magazine articles, I learned the two primary principles of organic gardening—composting and plant selection. Gardening organically is based on the simple observation that the right plant, planted in the right place in good soil thrives all by itself.
The further we get into this new century the more we hear about how disconnected children are becoming from the natural world. More and more children are spending long hours indoors with their tv’s, computers and video games, leading virtual lives rather then real ones. Long days at school are followed by after-school, programs, daycare or being shuttled from enrichment activities to home, homework and bed. There seems to be little free time for kids to just muck around, roaming the neighborhood discovering beetles and butterflies, listening to birds, smelling the air and noticing swelling buds opening into lovely blossoms. It’s heartbreaking to think of all the stumbled-upon magic moments that so many children won’t have to remember. Those little discoveries often become part of us, with the memory returning when needed to help shape our adult lives.
In the life of a New England herb gardener, winter is the time for books and catalogs. When winter is doing it’s worst outside the window, herb gardeners pull favorite books from the shelves, gather up new garden catalogs and curl up in a cozy spot to plan and dream about the coming spring. It’s a good time of year.
Adelma Simmons, author and herbalist, opened her classic book on growing herbs in New England by noting that herb gardeners were happy in all seasons of the year. I have always agreed with her. There is happiness in greeting old friends as they green-up in the spring and choosing new varieties of herbs to add to the garden mix.
Summer weeding is a treat in an herb garden. The air is full of fragrance as the leafy stems brush your body. The bees and butterflies really do “make a lovely little breeze” and all seems right with the world.