My Herbage


Herbs 10

parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme tra la
Also a tomato plantReplotting  plant 2 June 2017

I will admit to being lazy about gardening, which in my case means herbs. I try to winter a few over, but even lavender and rosemary generally don’t make it through the cold on my mountaintop. And then, what with one thing and another, I’m never out with my hands in the dirt early enough to grow from seeds.

You know those folks you see out in the garden shops in May, (and June,) furtively buying pot herb plants? And overgrown miserable pot-bound tomatoes. That’s me.

So I’m transplanting my little herbs into larger pots in an apologetic way. I’m saying, “Look. I know your toes are cramped. I’ve been busy. Okay? Let’s just start over again, shall we?”

Their names are mint, sage, flat parsley, rosemary, lavender, oregano.


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Basil, sweet basil!

Basil 2by Mary Jo

I grew up in the farm country of Western New York and had a fine vegetable garden, but tomatoes were basically just another vegetable, less prized than sweet corn or squash or potatoes.  There were none in my garden. In retrospect, I think that being so far north meant that tomatoes didn't grow as well as they do farther south.

I formulated this theory after moving to Maryland, where tomatoes are very nearly a religion. <G>  Perfect, juicy, sun-ripened Maryland tomatoes are much sought after.  Locations of farm stands with great tomatoes are greedily exchanged.

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Seed Catalogs

Burpee seed catalog

a season of catalogs

Joanna here, being topical.

My seed catalogs have arrived. This is the first sign of spring for me — not a sighting of the first robin — the sighting of the first seed catalogs. Now the truth of the matter is I don’t so much buy seeds and plant them. I live on stony, steep ground here and grow my plants in a few miserable little pots. But I dream with these catalogs. I meditate upon all the wondrous flowers and vegetables I’m growing in my mind rather than in reality.

Anyhow, this got me thinking about woman gardeners in 1800 or so. The eons’ old association of women and healing

Wenches ‘Catastrophe in the Conservatory’ by Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1816

our lady gardener is ANGRY

plants, edible garden herbs, and flowery borders made them natural gardeners. About at this time botany got an intellectual boots with the Linnaean system of plant classification. Thank heavens this was one ‘science’ considered suitable for genteel women. They began collecting plants and writing about them. We have pictures of these women carrying their watering cans — dressed in a way we’d consider problematic for gardening work — headed out to botanize.

I delight to imagine the glasshouses filled with interesting specimens and women tending and caring for them. Studying them. Learning how to grow the most troublesome of their charges. Describing the exotics. Writing, y’know, monographs and papers.

Not that it was easy for them to be taken seriously. I’m just going to mention here that the British Zoological Society and the British Entomological Society (—bugs, yipee —) admitted women in 1829 and 1833, respectively, the Linnaean Society didn't until 1904, which seems rather latish, doesn’t it?

The actual tilling of soil and sowing of seed, digging holes for the odd tree or bush, and pruning of ornamental shrubbery on an estate would fall to a band of hearty young men. The lady of the house would be in the enviable position of strolling through the aspen-studded woodland, past the ha-ha, and along the herbaceous border pointing out to Old Mr. Wenches fair florest Grim the Head Gardener where to put 250 yellow tulips. She wouldn’t so much do the work herself. It would be three or four generations past 1800 before kneeling down and weeding the bed of mangelwurzels would be considered a proper hobby for the well-to-do.

(Mangelwurzel, from German mangel ‘beet’ and wurzel ‘root’, moves into English along with the beets in about 1770. Now you know.) 

Now me, I like to get my hands in the soil and somewhat pity those distant forebearers who never had this pleasure. It's part of what I anticipate in the early days of spring. Like today.

What are you looking forward to with your plants this spring? Anything new and fun?

One lucky commenter will win a copy of one of my books — your choice    

Garden Bells

Wenches cloche copped colonial williamsburg attribe MizGingerSnapsIt's cold outside on the mountains today.  Last night it froze, amazing the poor silly daffodils.

I was thinking about how gardening folks dealt with these early, cold, unpredictable springs in Georgian and Regency days in England when greenhouses or hothouses were fairly rare and expensive. 

Wenches terrac ota cloche modern cc attrib jo-marshallThe English had a characteristically common-sense solution.  They used what we call a gardeners cloche.

Cloches were sort of a poor man's mini-greenhouse.  They could hold about one plant, so you needed a goodly number of them.  You had to keep an eye on them so as not to scorch a delicate plant in the sun.  Keep another eye on to guard from moisture build-up and mildew.  But, oh, how useful.  Cloches didn't just protect against the cold, they held in moisture and kept the wind out, they stand between the tasty succulent little plants and birds, deer, slugs and such hungry beasts like that. 

 The name 'cloche' comes from the shape of it — it's the French word for 'bell'.  In fact, when these glass shapes lived inside in a somwhat less robust form, our historical people called them 'bell jars'. Wenches cloche cc attrib smabssputzer

 These glasses seems to have reached England from French early in the 1600s.  In our Georgian and Regency times, cloches joined cold frames, forcing boxes of many kinds, terra cotta cloches and even woven baskets, in keeping plants warm and safe across the British Isles.

I think kindly of these homely glass hats sitting in the midst of our protagonist's kitchen garden.  How pretty, and how unexpected to come across while sneaking out to adventure in the early light of dawn.

attrib: coldframesmabsputzer; terracotta jomarshall;
cloche Mizgingersnaps' pair of cloches MaggieMcCain Wench cloche colonial williamsburg attrib Maggie McCain


What do you remember from some childhood garden in the spring?
          What are you going to admire and use in your garden this next month?