A Tale of Two Lavenders

Herbs are notoriously finicky in the house in the winter. It’s not their fault. There’s not enough light for them, and it’s either too dry (for some) or too wet (since many of us tend to over-water and therefore love our plants to death!)

Lavenders can take the dryness, being bred for exactly that sort of condition. Both their silvery leaves and the places they might normally grow “in the wild:” the Mediterranean with its sandy soils and salty air show that it is a tough plant that can take a lot of abuse.

So why then, does it struggle in conditions that gardeners usually give it? Good soil and abundant water? Well, that’s perhaps why–we are loving it to death–we are spoiling it too much, drowning it and probably over-feeding it too. Not good.

So what is that gardener to do? Well, short of neglecting the plant completely, because that isn’t necessarily a recipe for success either, the trick to succeeding with any plant is always the old saying “right plant, right place.” Most of us don’t live in climates anything like what lavender is used to–but we can help it along quite a bit with some easy tricks.


First of all, to get it through winter as a house plant, choose the right variety. I don’t know the names of either of these for sure, but I am guessing the one on the right is french  lavender (lavendula dentata). It’s not a hardy one for me.  I am guessing this based on the “leaf” shape.

It tends to say nice and compact in the pot indoors because it is a tropical lavender in my zone. But don’t attempt to plant it outdoors unless you are in a zone 8 climate.

The one on the left? No guesses. It was originally bought as a nice little “Christmas tree” shaped plant in December. You can see it’s very happy because it’s no longer shaped like anything but a mop. The instructions say to prune it hard to keep its shape but I do no pruning on plants in the winter. Once it gets a little more temperate–maybe mid-March–I may take the shears to it. Right now I call it “Cousin It.”

But what’s keeping both these lavenders healthy and mildew free in my house in the winter is just the bare minimum of watering and a south window. They’ll go outside for their “summer vacation,” of course, perhaps as early as April depending on what temperatures do here. After that, we’ll see how they fare–particularly “Cousin It.”

Solve Issues With Indoor Herbs Organically


Rut-roh. What’s the point of growing your own herbs indoors if they’re going to do this?

And lots of herbs grown indoors are prone to this, not just the sage in my photo. Rosemary is notorious for powdery mildew-_- and this is just about the time when all those cute little rosemary trees and wreaths start appearing everywhere.

Well, they’re no longer cute when they’re covered in this!  And rosemary is definitely finicky about being grown indoors.

So what do you do?  If you want some of this sage for stuffing,  you certainly don’t want to spray it with fungicide–or even dish soap, necessarily.

Never fear, I have just the solution ( literally,  and no pun intended). It does require milk, so if you are not a milk drinker, get yourself one of those small cartons like the kids drink at school.

Mix up a small amount–no more than you need for one treatment  because you can’t save it. You are mixing 50% milk and 50% water.

Spray the plant, then discard whatever solution is left. Don’t try to save it over in the fridge. I have tried.  Your sprayer will be clogged by the time you go to use it again–hence my instructions to try to mix only what you’re going to need.

It’s just that simple.  Milk and water. No poisons, no fungicides,  nothing toxic to you or your family–unless of course you can’t drink milk!

Got Herbs?


I love herbs and I love growing them. And I hate to give them up at the end of the season.  So this is my compromise.

Everything you see here–with the exception of the basil–will winter over just fine right here.  There’s also a lavender that you don’t see that’s not hardy for my zone that’s also going to winter here with these herbs.

If I need some fresh thyme or chives or Bay, I know right where to find them–no wading through the snow required.

And it’s just a nice garden to come home to at the end of the day as  well.

If you have an unheated porch that gets plenty of sun, give it a try!

Wordless Wednesday–Poisoned!


If you have any doubt about what did this after Monday’s post, I have to wonder about you.

This is caused by the pesticide drift from the backpack sprayer where the lawn guys applied broadleaf weed control in my yard.

So in addition to killing all the “good stuff” like the clover that my bees were loving, now my entire vegetable garden is contaminated–and I have visible proof!


These are–or were–my green beans. You can even see a bean just about ready in the photo. But who in her right mind would eat anything that’s now contaminated with broadleaf weed killer?

But of course, it’s not just the beans. Everything in this garden is  now contaminated: tomatoes, herbs and edible flowers are all a loss. And those are just my losses. Losses to the pollinators are immeasurable.

And of course I don’t dare walk my own dog in my yard because this sort of weed killer has been implicated in cancer in dogs. There are lots of reasons we’re organic. Yes, it’s just the right thing to do. But we’d also prefer not to prematurely kill our dog.


So now the question becomes–do I look at this or do I just rip it all out?

And of course–what else is going to die?

Composed Flowers


We hear a lot about “composite flowers” as being great for our pollinators. When they talk about composites, they often talk about things like daisies, cone flowers, sunflower and other flowers with a central disk and a ray of petals radiating from that disk.


Even these lovely “weeds”–fleabane is the correct name for them and they are in the aster family so you might want to leave them for your pollinators because the tiny little bees adore them–are a fabulous little composite flower. Such a tiny miracle of nature.

I’m here to propose a totally different sort of “composite”–or perhaps I mean “composed”–type of flower that is excellent for our pollinators.


This photo above is of a great, underused native called veronicastrum. Maybe it’s the name the puts everyone off. The common name is Culver’s root, which isn’t much better. It is native to my part of the country, the eastern seaboard, basically. And normally, it is quite tall, towering over my head. This year it’s stunted–probably only 3′ or so. That’s what 2 1/2 years of drought will do to a native perennial.

What’s great about it is that all these individual spikelets bloom for weeks on end–and sometimes secondary spikelets will form further down the stem, prolonging the bloom time. I have seen several types of bees and solitary wasps all at the same time on this one perennial.


This of course is our native milkweed, asclepias syriacus. It’s great for our monarchs but what a lot of folks don’t realize is that many bees like it too.


Finally here is oregano. Notice all the tiny florets. Mine is constantly covered with bumblebees all summer long.

Obviously I don’t use this for cooking or I wouldn’t let it flower. I have some oregano that I use for culinary purposes (meaning that I don’t let it flower) in my vegetable garden. But from what I understand, these flowers are edible too. I would just hate to disturb the bees!

Wordless Wednesday–Wabi-sabi Wednesday

I am not sure how long I have owned my little chipped bird. He was a “freebie.”  I brought it home from the garden center where I worked over a decade ago  ( with their blessing of course) because it was obviously not saleable.

I have a similar small bird on my desk, with just a chipped beak. It’s painted. I call it the blue bird of happiness.

Many folks couldn’t stand such “imperfections” in their lives or their gardens. For me, I find that small imperfections are what life is all about.

Oregano for Pollinators?


20160804_142258Although they are not visible in this photo, there were literally dozens of small bees on this flowering oregano. There were four honeybees. There was at least one bumblebee. And there were 3 steel blue cricket hunter wasps. All on this one clump of oregano.

I didn’t want to get too close to take the photo because I didn’t want to disrupt all those pollinators! Believe it or not, this clump of oregano (which grew from a 4″ pot planted maybe 4 years ago?) is not there to feed anyone. It’s there mainly as a deterrent.

This is my “work” garden. I planted it a few years ago and then it wasn’t supposed to be “mine” anymore.  You know how that goes. I still take care of it and weed it and plant it every spring, etc. That’s fine. It’s definitely small enough for me to manage.

But at work we have a family of woodchucks–or we did until this year. I haven’t seen them too much this year, although I closed up the hole in the garden that was there from last fall and it “re-opened” so I think they’re still around. It probably means I just haven’t been looking at the right time.

I don’t have the physical ability to do the digging required to fence against a woodchuck so I figured that I would just ring the garden with herbs, not grow what it seemed to like to eat and leave it at that. That’s why the oregano is there. It’s one of the “stinky” herbs I brought in. I think it’s even the “hot” variety. Obviously the pollinators don’t care.

At home I have some golden oregano–an ornamental variety–that came back after I removed some insect infested black eyed susans. Although the leaves still get affected by the same insect that bothered the rudbeckia, the oregano has been blooming most of the summer and it is constantly covered in bumble bees. I feel bad when I have to water the garden and get the flowers (and the bees) wet!

Try letting a small portion of your herbs flower, particularly if you have a large clump. Your pollinators will be grateful!