Category Archives: Herbs

A Favourite Plant

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Agastache foeniculum, also known as Anise hyssop, is an herb belonging to the mint family. It was originally purchased by me as a garden thriller. It has since become a workhorse for my garden. The mother plant of the ones I now have was planted in my garden in Havelock – the “Blue Fortune” cultivar.

The seeds of the ones I have now arrived in my new garden in Norwood in the compost I brought from my old place. This delightful aromatic native plant is tolerant of a wide range of soils, drought tolerant once established, deer resistant and will do well in sun to part shade.

Although it self seeds very readily, it is easily pulled when small. The plant will grow 2-3” tall with a branching habit. The flowers are produced on the tips of the branches starting in early July. Some are still flowering in mid September. As far as it’s attraction to pollinators is concerned; it is a bee magnet. It also doesn’t seem to attract insect pests or diseases.

Anise hyssop in my garden (photo taken September 13th 2021)

Since I had so many seedlings coming up all over my garden, I decided to let them develop and act as filler plants until I had something else coming along or decided to use them elsewhere. I have since used them as a border for some of my flower beds next to my neighbour’s property.

Others I use as specimen plant for some of my beds and some others next to my vegetables to attract pollinators. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable and versatile plants in my garden.

More information

Harvesting Herbs for the Winter

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Author’s potted herbs– sage, parsley, rosemary & thyme

Most would agree that fresh herbs taste better than dried.  There is no need to forego the companionship of fresh herbs once winter sets in.  You can make good use of the herbs you are growing in your garden by bringing them into your homes, potting them up and putting them in a sunny window.  If this isn’t possible, you can consider drying which concentrates and preserves the flavouring oils contained in the leaves.  Read below for some of the many options you might consider as our summer months draw to an end.

MOVING HERBS INDOORS

Many herbs can be brought indoors and with proper care, survive the winter months.  They need ample light, even moisture and moderate temperatures.  Remember to pot up the herbs in your garden early.  Do not wait until frost is imminent, because herbs are best if gradually acclimatized to the indoor environment, especially to the lower light conditions. Use a quality potting mixture and a good sized pot.  Prune back the foliage and roots if necessary.  You will get some wilting of leaves and some may die, but you should see some new growth soon.  Remove any dying leaves as they turn yellow.  It’s also a good practice to dip your plants in an insecticidal soap solution before moving them indoors to guard against aphids and spider mites.  If you have the time, gradually move your plants into shadier locations and eventually indoors to your sunniest window.

I have had good success with bringing in my rosemary plant and it remains quite happy in my kitchen window.  I do occasionally mist the leaves and I am lucky to have a south facing window.

I take cuttings from my basil and put the cut stem in water.  Be sure to do this before the cold as basil can die overnight.  Once there are some tiny roots, transfer it to a pot with some good quality soil.  It will require five or six hours of direct light.

Author’s basil cuttings

AIR DRYING

The simplest way to preserve herbs is by air drying, which usually takes two to three weeks.  Tie large leafy-stemmed herbs with rubber bands into loose bundles and hang them in a room or closet with good cross air circulation. It is best to gather the leaves in the early morning after the dew has evaporated. They should feel crisp when fully dry.

You can also spread the herbs over a screen or netting in a dark ventilated area, but you must be sure they are completely dry before storing to avoid any mould.

Photo credit: Amy Kimball, Herbal Houseplants

DEHYDRATOR

My neighbour had a very old dehydrator that hadn’t been used in years.  As has happened in this pandemic, she pulled it out of her cupboard and began to use it.  I had an abundance of basil which I gave to her.  She put it in her dehydrator and within a few hours I had wonderful dried basil that is much greener and fresher than anything I would get at the store.

You can also set your oven to 175 degrees and lay the herbs on cookie sheets in a single layer.  Depending on the herb, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.  Be sure to check every 30 minutes since herbs all dry at different rates.  Allow to cool completely before crumbling.

MICROWAVE

Microwave ovens preserve the colour and flavour of herbs, but can only handle small amounts at a time.  Place the herbs on a paper towel in a single layer and microwave using 30 second intervals. You may have to experiment as temperatures of microwaves tend to be different.  Let them cool completely before storing.  I’m not a huge fan of this method as I don’t find the microwave heats evenly and it is just too fiddly for me.

STORING DRIED HERBS

They can be stored in airtight containers away from heat, light and moisture. It is best to use glass or metal tins with tight fitting lids.  Plastic breathes and will allow the herbs to absorb moisture.

Herbs can also be stored in the freezer.  I have had great success with parsley and coriander.  I store the leaves in an airtight ziploc bag and find it easy to take out what I need for soups, etc.

Another method would be to chop fresh-cut herbs and evenly spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place in the freezer for several hours.  Pack the frozen herbs in small containers, label and date the containers and keep frozen for 6 to 8 months. 

Or, you could freeze finally chopped herbs in stock or water for use in stews or soups.  This can be done in ice-cube trays.  Remove the frozen cubes and store in a ziploc bag.

Richters Herbs website has lots of information about the preservation and storing of herbs.

Permaculture: Where do I start?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

So what do gardeners do in the winter? Once we’ve read all our seed magazines and compiled our purchasing lists, or designed new or changes to existing perennial beds, or decided on our vegetable crop rotation for the upcoming season, or read a new gardening book, or watched some gardening videos or TED talks, or found ourselves in the middle of taking a gardening course, what next? Personally, once I’ve exhausted all these possibilities, I tend to reread my favourite gardening books. I have an incredibly bad memory and find it really helps me when I reread the same books over and over; hoping eventually something will sink in. My books to reread this year are both permaculture-related: Toby Hemingway’s “Gaia’s Garden” and Rosemary Morrow’s “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture”.

When I first became interested in permaculture a number of years ago, I started reading books and watching videos by the two founders, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The concept, ethics, and principles resonated with me, but I have to admit that I struggled based on the literature available at that time, to understand how to translate this into my own Canadian garden. It was not until a couple of years later that I attended a couple of local permaculture design courses and read the book by Toby Hemingway who focuses on North American gardens, that I felt confident enough to bring some of those concepts and methods into my home garden

As I mentioned in my last blog, permaculture is a design system, a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use, working with nature in a continuous cycle that benefits both people and wildlife. As with anything new or overwhelming, it is easy to be deterred by the big picture.  Instead, focus on smaller ideas or concepts. If you start implementing smaller more manageable tasks, it will give you confidence to tackle the larger concepts.

The following are a few easy-to-implement permaculture techniques to get you started:

  1. Sheet mulching. This was actually the first group activity I performed in my first design course.  It can also be called lasagna gardening. Permaculture encompasses a no-dig philosophy focusing on building soil life. Sheet mulching allows you to create new beds whilst eliminating weeds and building up the health of the soil. It is also a lot healthier on your back. You simply lay a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area and top it with 12 inches or so of organic mulch.
  2. Keyhole garden beds. Keyhole beds are often used in permaculture because they maximize use of space, whilst building soil fertility.  They decrease irrigation needs and are easy to plant, harvest and maintain. The bed can be either raised or not, and is often created in a circular pattern which decreases the space required for paths and increases space for plants. This type of bed is most often used for growing herbs & vegetables and because of the circular design, plants with different growing requirements can be planted together often creating different microclimates. For more information: https://permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/keyhole-gardens/
  3. Creating gardening communities or guilds. In permaculture, a guild can be defined as a grouping of plants, trees, animals and insects that work together protecting their health, habitat and productivity. Probably one of the most familiar guilds is the Three Sisters Guild in which squash, corn and beans are grown together; each one supporting and benefiting the others. The beans grow up the corn and provide nitrogen, whilst the squash mulches and covers the soil. In my last garden, I grew apple tree guilds, surrounding each apple tree with daffodils in the spring (deter predators from chewing bark), comfrey and yarrow, and herbs such as dill & fennel along with chives & onions.
  4. Multiple stories or forest gardens. As an avid gardener and someone who has difficulty saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to plants–and also the owner of a small city garden–this technique is one I am especially interested in. The idea is that a garden can have multiple stories or layers; from a low herb or ground cover layer up to perennials, shrubs, small trees and finally the canopy trees. The plants in each layer combine and support each other to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

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Vegetable garden incorporating annuals and perennials

Permaculture is much more than the simple examples I have given.  It can encompass everything from designing landscapes and buildings, to water and waste management. The benefits for me include enriching the land, feeding and providing habitat, growing food for my family, and giving me somewhere to unwind and feel good about life. However, I am omitting one very important benefit for myself–by incorporating some permaculture practices into my garden, the garden tends to look after itself much more with less interference and work for me!

Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

“Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived… I was about to start cleaning my house!”

It starts with the dream.

There’s no better time than now to  dive into a good seed catalogue and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogues can be a great resource for bulbs and unique seeds, and offer a far bigger selection than what you can find in your local garden centre. You’ll find inspiration and will likely discover new plants that you must have in your 2020 garden.

You’ll be the most successful if you pick the seed companies that are closest to where you live, or in the same growing region as you. However, you can still have success ordering from a company farther away, but you’ll have to be careful not to order a plant that isn’t in your growing zone.

Below are some popular seed companies from across Canada, with some that are also in close proximity to the Peterborough, ON, area.

Florabunda Seeds

Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning to get your hands dirty, Florabunda Seeds in Keene, ON, has a wide variety of heirloom and unusual flower, vegetable and herb seeds. They pride themselves in their untreated, non-GMO, and non-Hybrid offerings. They package generously by measurement and not by seed count.  Download catalogueRequest a catalogue.

OSC Seeds

OSC Seeds from Kitchener, ON, features a selection of high-quality seed packets, perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and ready for planting in your garden. Their full line of products includes 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials & biennials. Request a free catalogue

William Dam Seeds

William Dam Seeds is a family-run company located just outside of Dundas, Ontario, supplying small farmers and gardeners in Canada with seed for food, flowers and soil building. They are proud to offer a varied catalogue of many different seed varieties that are not chemically treated, and some of the seeds are certified organic as well. You can download their online catalogue, or request a mailed copy via their contact page.

Natural Seed Bank

Natural Seed Bank is an online retailer of garden seeds. They sell various organic and untreated garden seeds. Located in Port Hope, Ontario, Natural Seed Bank is 100 percent Canadian owned and operated. All of their seeds are non-GMO and untreated, and many selections are organic. They’re committed to never selling GMO products.

Richters

Richters is your go-to for everything herbal. Located in Goodwood, Ontario, Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Check out their online catalogue or request a copy to be mailed out.  Online catalogueRequest a catalogue.

Veseys

Veseys is one of the premier seed, bulb and garden supply sites in North America. Located on Prince Edward Island, Veseys has 75 years of history providing products, services, and advice to gardeners.  Be sure to head over and subscribe for your free catalogue. They put on many fantastic specials, have quality products and outstanding customer service. Request a catalogue.

Resources

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Agastache: Herb of the Year 2019

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

agastache-3966329_960_720Agastache (pronounced AG-a-stak-ee) has been chosen as Herb of the Year 2019. This name is actually the plant genus and includes many different species native to North America. All species attract bees and butterflies and deer do not usually eat. The plant we are most familiar with is Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) which has a strong anise or licorice fragrance to its leaves. It is a prairie plant that likes sun and grows 3′- 5′ tall in any type soil as long as it is well drained. Anise Hyssop has average moisture requirements and is a perennial herb zone 4. Bloom time is mid summer and common flower colour is purple, but it can be found in white and pink. The native strains can reseed, but you can find sterile cultivars like Blue Fortune which may need support. Use the leaves in teas, green salads, or fruit salads. The flowers are edible also. You can use as cut flowers or dry the flowers for arrangements.

(Agastache scrophulariifolia is known as Purple Giant Hyssop and is similiar to Anise.

Agastache nepetoides is the native Yellow Giant Hyssop or Catnip Giant Hyssop that grows in forests which blooms yellow in summer and grows 2′ to 8′. It is rare in southern Ontario, being more common in the eastern states.

Other varieties of Agastache are Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa) which is zone 6 and Rose Mint or Mexican (Agastache pallidiflora) which is zone 7.

 

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale – Saturday May 18th 2019

The GreenUP Ecology Park  has often been called a hidden gem, it has been in Peterborough in its current location for 25 years, but many people are still unaware of its existence. I first discovered the park approximately 8 years ago when I was researching native plants. At that time I wanted to plant a large perennial bed filled exclusively with native plants. I spent all winter researching the plants I wanted and where I could buy them locally and came across the Ecology Park and better still discovered they were holding a spring sale.

I dutifully arrived on the day of the sale 5 minutes after opening only to discover a very, very long line of people all carrying totes, boxes, bags, anything that could be used to carry plants. Even though it was incredible busy I was able to find almost everything on my list with help from the many knowledgeable volunteers and staff that were on hand to help. I was quickly and efficiently processed through the payment line, and was soon on my way home to start planting. The quality and choice of plants was extensive, and I knew then that I had found something special. I have been returning to the Ecology Park every year since either as a customer or as a volunteer.

plantsalecourtesyofGreenUpFBpage

Native plants are plants that grow locally in a particular area. Whether you are planting an entire garden of native plants or simply planting one or two, the benefits are numerous. Native plants tends to be more hardy to the local conditions, needing less watering, and next to no pesticides or fertilizers. They can improve air quality, help in managing rain water runoff and maintain healthy soil as their root systems are deep and help prevent soil from compaction and erosion. Native plants provide both habitat and food sources for wildlife, as many native pollinators rely on native plants. There are numerous interesting articles on the internet detailing the benefits of planting with native plants – I have listed a few below. There are also links to two other native plant nurseries (in addition to Ecology Park).

Why Native Plants Matter
Benefits of Native Plants
List of Native Plants in Ontario
(from Ontario Wildflowers – a comprehensive list)

Native Plants in Claremont
Ontario Native Plants (online only – ship from Hamilton)

sale

This year the GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale is being held on Saturday May 18th from 10 am until 4 pm. As well as trees, shrubs and wildflowers you can also buy vegetables and annuals at the sale along with compost, mulch and wood chips, but make sure you bring your own containers to hold the compost or mulch. A list of available trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses is available on the Ecology Park website.

Children are welcome, even encouraged. While you shop there is a large children’s play area complete with a willow trail and cedar maze to keep them entertained. Be sure to check out the latest addition to the park, the new children’s education shelter which has been built using sustainable practices.

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And finally, the Peterborough Master Gardeners will be on hand wearing their red aprons between 10 am and 2 pm to answer any gardening questions you might have. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

The Peterborough Garden Show

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s coming in 25 days.  It can’t come soon enough.  In our city, “The Garden Show” is a true sign of spring.  It’s an occasion that brings together speakers, workshop leaders, vendors, horticultural society members, master gardeners, exhibitors and many others for one reason:  “For the Love of Gardening”.PGS-logo-small

This year marks the 19th fantastic show: 
April 26 – 28, 2019 (Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 10am-5pm & Sunday 10am-4pm).

And there’s great news ! The show has MOVED – to Fleming College’s brand new Trades and Technology Centre on Brealey Drive with lots of FREE parking and a $10, one-price ticket so you can enjoy the show all weekend.

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will have a booth at the show, and will be happy to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Watch for our red aprons!

The theme “Coming Up Roses” is reflected in several of the amazing speakers along with educational and fun workshops and demos.

This award-winning show was honoured in 2017 with both a “Canada 150 Garden Experience”, and “Garden Event of the Year” by the Canadian Garden Council, so come and see what all the fuss is about.

You will find many of your old favourite vendors along with some new ones.

…and don’t forget the popular “Little Green Thumbs” Children’s Garden that is always teaming with liveliness and action! There are learning activities, face painting, crafts and even a take-home project. Their theme this year is “Miniature Gardens for Elves and Fairies”.

All the show profits go back into our community to fund scholarships for post-secondary students studying in horticulture-related fields,various local projects & Community Gardens.  Since 2002, the show has put over $200,000 back into our community.

Please save the date, visit and and learn why “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in 2019.

Learn more about the incredible speakers, workshops, bus trips, places to stay and tickets here: peterboroughgardenshow.com.

 

The 12 Plants of Christmas – Part 2

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

So in the spirit of the Christmas season, this week’s blog continues Part 2 of the 12 plants of Christmas—this one focuses on food and other traditions that are plant-related.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

sage

5. Sage

Not only is sage a vital ingredient of the Christmas classic, sage and onion stuffing, its fragrant, evergreen leaves are also a wonderful addition to a homemade Christmas wreath, a table centrepiece with candles, or simply stuck in a vase with some silvery eucalyptus leaves, bay branches and rosemary. Sage is reputed to have health-giving properties – it is said to be an excellent anti-inflammatory and helpful in reducing irritations of the stomach and intestines. Sage is also thought to be a great memory booster and is one of the most effective treatments for a sore throat. There is an Arab proverb that says “How can a man die who has sage in his garden?” If you are interested in its medicinal properties, this Herbal Academy site has some fascinating background.

In your garden, sage likes full sun and a well-drained soil. Be sure to prune it right back every spring to stimulate new growth. It doesn’t have to go into a dedicated herb bed—plant it under roses and with lavender.

rosemary

4. Rosemary

Its scientific name very charming – rosmarinus, which is from “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus) or “dew of the sea.” Rosemary is native to the rocky hills on the shores of the Mediterranean and loves a humid sea breeze. The ancients believed without a doubt that the sea air gave the tree its distinctive scent.

Rosemary was connected with the Virgin Mary (because it was thought to be Mary’s favorite plant) and people thought that it could protect you from evil spirits. It is also considered a plant of love, loyalty, and friendship and was the most common garnish put on the boar’s head that rich people ate at the main Christmas meal in the Middle Ages. Rosemary is also more commonly known as the remembrance herb, so it therefore used at Christmas to remember the birth of Jesus.

The English poet, Robert Herrick, who lived between 1591 and 1674 celebrated the holiday use of rosemary in this verse:

Down with the rosemary and so, Down with the baies and mistletoe, Down with the holly, ivie all Wherewith ye deck the Christmas hall.

Many people use (or give) a small, potted rosemary bush for a lovely little Christmas tree or fragrant centrepiece. If you need some tips on how to keep this humidity-loving plant alive after Christmas check out this blog.

CHRISTMAS TRADITION

wreath

3. Christmas Wreaths

Hanging a circular wreath of evergreens during mid-winter appears to have started back in Roman times when wreaths were hung on doors as a sign of victory and status. Rich Roman women also wore them as headdresses at special occasions (like weddings) and to show their wealth. The word ‘wreath’ comes from the Old English word ‘writhen’ which means to writhe or twist. Christmas wreaths as we know them today, might have started life as kissing boughs (a gesture of goodwill or to welcome guests) or come from the German and Eastern European custom of advent wreaths.

frankincense

2. Frankincense 

Frankincense derives from the tree Boswellia sacra. The frankincense tree grows in the Dhofar Fog Oasis, a remarkable area where three coastal mountain ranges of Oman and Yemen are cloaked in thick fog during the summer months. This species was a source of great wealth in centuries past. Frankincense from the Dhofar region (what is now Oman) provided much of the wealth through centuries of trade with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Caravan routes carried the precious resource across the Arabian peninsula.

The BBC posted an amazing story about uses for both frankincense and myrrh in the modern age. Both frankincense and myrrh were widely available and would have been considered practical gifts with many uses. The expensive resins were symbolic as well. Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke, while myrrh, which was often used in embalming, symbolized death.

myrrh

1. Myrrh

Myrrh is derived from the species Commiphora myrrha a small tree that exudes gum resin as a pale yellow liquid when the bark is cut. This dries into reddish-brown lumps the size of a walnut from which the oil is distilled. Native to Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen, myrrh was very popular in the ancient world and was used as a medicine by the Chinese and Egyptians. It was important for use in the Egyptian sun-worshipping ritual and mummification. If you are interested in more information about the botanical connections to the Christmas season, this article has lots of links.

Well there you have it. Some fun and interesting gardening connections to the Christmas season.

If you are up for another garden-related challenge, try this 50 question quiz. Tell us how you did!

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The 12 Plants of Christmas – Part 1

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

The snow is on the ground and the cold winds in the air. Canadian gardeners are reflecting on their gardening season (why does it always go by so fast?) and thinking about next year’s garden (has your first seed catalogue arrived yet?).

So in the spirit of the Christmas season, this week’s blog is about the 12 plants of Christmas—some decorative, some food, and some traditions! In Part 1 we’ll look at Christmas plants and one food; you’ll have to wait until next week for more food and other plant traditions.

CHRISTMAS PLANTS

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12. Holly

Decorative green plants like holly, ivy, and mistletoe originate in pre-Christian times and were associated with celebrating the Winter Solstice by warding off evil spirits and celebrating new growth (well the latter only in warmer climate). Many countries (especially the UK and Germany) still decorate their homes with these plants today, often in Christmas arrangements or wreaths. The beautiful berries of the Christmas holly are produced by some of the approximately 400 species of holly (Ilex) that growing wild around the world. Typically, holly trees and shrubs are smooth-barked and have small flowers, fleshy red or black berries, and leathery, shiny leaves.

In pagan times, Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant. An old tradition from the Midlands of England says that whatever one was brought into the house first over winter, tells you whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year! But it was unlucky to bring either into a house before Christmas Eve. For the Christian faith, the prickly leaves symbolize the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns.

If you are interested in five fascinating facts about holly, check out this link.

mistletoe

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has long been a symbol of love, peace and goodwill. The custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is also pre-Christian and the habit of kissing under the mistletoe continues today in many countries. Mistletoe is the common name for obligate hemi-parasitic plants in several families in the order Santalales. The plants in question grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub. In the past, mistletoe was often considered a pest that kills trees and devalues natural habitats, but has recently been recognized as an ecological keystone species. Studies have shown that rather than being a pest, mistletoe can have a positive effect on biodiversity, providing high quality food and habitat for a broad range of animals in forests and woodlands worldwide.

For a whole host of information on mistletoe myth and legend, plus practical details of how to grow it in your own garden, Jonathan Briggs’ Mistletoe Pages.

cactus

10. Christmas Cactus

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera xbuckleyi) is popular for its colourful flowers that appear during the Christmas season. It is native to the coastal mountains of south-east Brazil where it is found growing on trees and rocks.

However, if you have picked up a “Christmas cactus” in the past month or so that is now blooming beautifully it probably is a Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncate), which usually blooms about a month before Christmas cacti and has very cool flowers– I have heard them described as “leaping shrimps” or “lobster claws”. You can read more about the varieties, and how to tell them apart (hint it’s all in the leaf segments) here.

poinsettia

9. Poinsettia

Euphorbia pulcherrima is is a shrub native to Mexico where it is known as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve. The Aztecs called it cuetlaxochitl (brilliant flower), and made a purple dye from its bracts and a fever medicine from its sap. The plant’s association with Christmas began in Mexico 400 years ago. According to legend a young girl who was too poor to provide a Christmas gift for the birth of Jesus was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them at the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” appeared from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. The poinsettia plant was named after Joel Robert Poinsett, who was an American ambassador to Mexico around 1829. Poinsett was an amateur botanist and liked the plant so much that he sent several back to his home in South Carolina where he grew them in his greenhouse and introduced them in the US.

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in North America and Europe, and the colours have expanded far beyond the traditional red to all shades of pink, salmon, apricot, yellow, cream, and white. While lovely at Christmas they are tough to keep as a houseplant given our dry indoor conditions. During the 1960s, plant breeders worked hard to make the poinsettia more colourful, compact and floriferous, which is what you see today. More information here.

paperwhites

8. Paperwhites

Tazetta daffodil types – usually the paperwhite narcissus N. ‘Ziva’ – is specially prepared to flower in time for December 25. Cultivars of N. tazetta include ‘Paperwhite’, ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ and ‘Ziva’, which are popularly used for forcing indoors.

If you want to try them out and have flowers all winter, here’s some information about how to do it. More here. (One word of warning: not everyone loves the perfume of paperwhites. One component of the paperwhites’ unmistakable scent is indole, and some people’s noses find this adds a fetid edge that’s really rather unpleasant. So you may want to sniff before you try.)

Paperwhites may grow tall and leggy, flopping over just as they begin to bloom. Tie a ribbon around the stems, about two thirds of the way up. According to a professor at Cornell University if you grow paperwhites in a 4 to 5% solution of alcohol it helps regulate the growth. Given that most liquors are 40% alcohol, this would be 1 part alcohol to 9 parts water. Don’t use beer or wine (just hard liquor – gin/vodka/whiskey/rum/tequila).

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7. Amaryllis

Everyone I know loves the amaryllis, and we closely associate them with the festive season. While the popular name is “amaryllis”, hippeastrum is generally accepted as being the correct name. It usually blooms around Christmas or into January or February in the Northern Hemisphere, then produces long green leaves that allow it to store energy for the following year.

Native to Peru and South Africa, amaryllis comes from the Greek word amarysso, which means “to sparkle.” Bulbs were brought to Europe in the 1700s and have been known to bloom for up to 75 years. Amaryllis flowers range from 4 to 10 inches in size, and can be either single or double in form. While the most popular colours are red and white, flowers may also be pink, salmon, apricot, rose or deep burgundy. Some varieties are bicolour such as purple and green, or picotee (having petals with a different edge colour). Lots of information here.

You can buy bulbs on their own or potted up. Select the largest bulbs available as they will produce more stalks and blooms the first year. Bulbs should be firm and dry with no signs of mold, decay or injury. It is common to see new growth (leaves, buds) emerging from bare or planted bulbs. Want to get your amaryllis to rebloom? Here’s some great advice.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

6. Cranberry

The cranberry (Vaccinium spp.) has been a festive favourite for hundreds of years, ever since Native Americans mashed up the fruit and mixed it with dried deer meat and fat to make pemmican (a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food). In 1816, Dutch and German settlers in the New World planted the first ever “crane berry” crop (so-called for their blossom’s resemblance to the head and bill of a crane) on Cape Cod, using the fruit as a natural dye for rugs, blankets and clothing.

It was probably inevitable that the cranberry became linked with Christmas. With their bright red colour, they reflect the season perfectly. As early as the 1840s, people were stringing them with popcorn to make festive garlands for the Christmas tree. At the same time, with their winter availability and the fact they were slow to spoil, cranberries represented one of the few fruits that could be served fresh during the holidays. To settlers’ delight, it was discovered very early that the tartness of cranberry sauce helps cut the far and richness of such traditional holiday fare as pork, goose, duck and turkey, making it a perfect complement to festive dishes. Check out lots of lovely ways to use cranberries here.

Hope you enjoyed part 1 of the 12 Plants of Christmas.
Stay tuned until next Monday for our second segment.

Taking Care of House Plants

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

An interesting question came to me through our website about caring for houseplants. This person had A LOT!

Whether you have 3 or 4 or 3 or 4 dozen, my suggestions will apply. A little research is needed to identify all of your plants. Once that is done, group them as to light, moisture, and fertilizer needs. Then you can care for them in groups instead of individuals.

What I’ve done is to make plant labels for all of my plants. I’ve stuck the labels into each pot. On the labels I’ve written the plant name, water requirements, light requirements, and fertilizer schedule. Once that is done, it is easy to put the plants where they will get the best environment for their growth and health. Grouping them with plants of similar needs will make their care easier.mini-cactus-755542_640

You can then make a watering schedule for the different groupings of plants. Also check the pots to make sure you’re not overwatering. One of the most common things people do is overwater. The symptoms of too much water are very similar to too little. You have to check the soil.  If it’s damp to the touch, you likely don’t need to water!

Space them so that there is good air circulation around the pots.

Some of the plants will need to be in a more humid environment than others. You can put a tray filled with stones for the pot to sit on and add some water to the stones. They will provide moisture to the plant without the roots being in the water.

These suggestions should help you to have healthy plants for a very long time.