Posts Tagged rosemary

Blooming Today

Now that winters here in central North Carolina no longer even try to remain cold for more than a few days at a time, something in my yard blooms every month of the year. Most of the plants currently blooming are not native to my region; they are non-invasive ornamentals I planted years ago, and they do all attract pollinating insects on days warm enough for them to fly. Here are a few photos of what I saw as I walked our five acres this morning. Note that you can click on any photo to see a larger image.

Flowering Apricots (Prunus mume)

Both of my trees are struggling with a fungus that will likely kill them in a few more years. The beauty and fragrance of their flowers is intoxicating on a chilly winter day. The local honeybees always visit when the weather is warm enough for them to fly. I’ve forgotten the name of the pale pink-flowered cultivar, but the deep rose-colored bloomer was sold to me as cultivar Peggy Clarke, although there appears to be some debate about that.


These non-natives are so poisonous that the deer do not even nibble them. Mine are spreading, and I am currently attempting to eliminate them from the landscape, because they migrating into the area where a substantial natural population of bloodroots flourishes.

January Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

This early bloomer is often mistaken for forsythia, which actually blooms almost a month later in my yard. Despite the name, it has no fragrance, but it is not invasive, pollinators visit the blooms, and the cheery flower color brightens cloudy winter days.


These two are smaller species that bloom before the bigger ones usually seen. The cottontail rabbits always devour them shortly after their buds appear, unless I spray the plants with a deterrent.

Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica)

This non-native tree has spectacular exfoliating bark and golden autumn leaf color that stops all visitors in their tracks. It is in the witch hazel family; its inconspicuous flowers are tiny, but pretty when viewed closely. On warm days, honeybees visit the tiny flowers.

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

I planted this non-native dogwood-family member because its bright yellow flowers appear very early, and because its fruits are supposed to be favored by wildlife. Unfortunately, my plants never set fruit. It has been suggested that I need another one that is not genetically related to the two I’ve got. I’m mulling on that. Meanwhile, the small bright yellow flowers undeniably light up the winter landscape.

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)

This beloved herb has flourished for years nestled among large boulders in a front garden. Not native, of course, but it seasons many of Wonder Spouse’s culinary masterpieces. It blooms off and on all year, but always produces an initial burst of blue flowers in late winter.

Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’)

This beauty is technically native to the Ozarks west of here, but for me that’s plenty native enough for here. You cannot argue with its abundant knockout-gorgeous purplish strappy flowers, and its fall leaf color is also quite spectacular. The strong, clean fragrance of the flowers carried by a chilly late winter wind lifts my spirits every time I catch a whiff.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Although technically not quite yet in bloom, these swelling flower buds point to an imminent explosion of red flowers within the next few weeks. I believe their arrival is the first true sign that spring approaches. Even before these native trees start, the local elm species (Ulmus spp.) open their inconspicuous flowers to unleash their pollen on winter winds. They started doing that here yesterday. I know, because my allergies went crazy as soon as I stepped out the door yesterday and today. I must now pack tissues for every walk around the yard.

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Fruiting bodies, not flowers, I know, but these beauties stopped me in my tracks on this morning’s walkabout. My friend with fungus knowledge assures me that these are edible oyster mushrooms, but we’ll likely leave them for local wildlife to enjoy. They are growing at the base of a fungus-killed tulip poplar. Fun fact I learned when I researched this mushroom: it is carnivorous. Its mycelia kill and digest nematodes, likely as a way to obtain nitrogen.

The weather seers are calling for cold rain for most of the next two weeks. Today’s blossoms will likely turn to watery mush. However, more blooms are imminent. Some will be late flowers on the above plants, but many more flowers of other plants will appear before long.

During breaks in the weather, my friend and garden helper, Beth, and I — sometimes with the additional aid of Wonder Spouse — are attempting to clean up overgrown sections of the yard. The task is eternal, especially because it is constantly slowed by unanticipated discoveries — new plants in unexpected places, sleeping frogs, friendly Ruby-crowned Kinglets curious about what we’re doing.

It is those surprises that prevent the work from becoming drudgery, and they help this aging gardener hold on to the child-like sense of wonder that gets me out of bed every morning in time to catch the day’s sunrise.

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Blooming Today

Nothing screams "Spring!" like sunny crocuses.

Nothing screams “Spring!” like sunny crocuses.

After returning home from errands today, I noticed quite a few flowers blooming among my five acres of green chaos. I thought of all the folks buried under feet of snow, and decided to offer them some hopeful signs of spring. It was approaching noon when I shot these, so apologies in advance for the less-than-stellar quality of some these pictures.

Long ago — over 20 years — I planted a number of traditional spring-flowering bulbs here and there in the yard. I haven’t done anything right by them since. I haven’t divided them, fed them, mulched them (on purpose — some get leaf mulch because they’re under trees), or given them any supplemental water. Despite total neglect, they brighten our late winter/early spring landscape every year.

The daffodils have mostly spread in place, making ever-larger clumps. However, the crocuses travel. I don’t know if birds, insects, or rodents are moving the seeds or corms, but somehow, I now find blooming crocuses in unexpected places. Take, for example, those bright yellow beauties in the top photo. They just appeared beside my pink flowering apricot a few years back, as if to keep it company. That tree has finished blooming, but the location continues its spring show, thanks to these sunny crocuses.

Another volunteer crocus is blooming in deep shade beneath the loropetalums. Every year, I mean to relocate it, but, of course, I forget it when the leaves disappear.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

Some crocuses are still blooming where I planted them — more or less. I love the subtle striping on these paler lilac beauties.

Subtle and lovely.

Subtle and lovely.

I almost overlooked the blooming dwarf crested iris I planted some years back. These diminutive specimens are native to Piedmont floodplains, but horticulturalists have created a number of cultivars. I have long forgotten the name of this variety that continues to thrive among overgrown Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

I wrote some time ago about all the volunteer wildflowers — many non-native originally — that have naturalized and taken over much of my “lawn.” Blooming vigorously right now is this little Speedwell. I think it’s Veronica persica, but don’t hold me to that. This clump is growing in my gravel driveway with the rest of the weeds.

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

Both of my Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ specimens are still blooming. Peggy Junior is nearly done; she was more severely impacted by a recent bout of sub-freezing weather. Peggy Senior is protected from north winds by our garage. Her branch tops are still filled with fragrant rosy flowers; abundant honeybees enjoy this resource every sunny day now.

Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke'

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

As I mentioned previously, this is the first year that my non-native Parrotia persica has bloomed abundantly. It’s still doing so, but most of the flowers in this picture are spent. The brighter pops of magenta here and there are the currently blooming flowers.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

The daffodils on the floodplain open first, because the area is a tad warmer than the hilltops. Ice Follies is always the first daffodil to defiantly declare spring’s arrival — sometimes in snow!

Daffodil 'Ice Follies'

Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’

The snow drops I showed you in the previous post are now fully open.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

About 8, maybe 10 years ago, I planted a hybrid Hellebore. This clump of Lenten Roses grows more enormous every year, and, no, I haven’t gotten around to dividing it. As is usually the case, its flowers begin opening well before the onset of Lent most years.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Inside the deer fence on the north side of my yard, two recently planted specimens are showing their late winter flowers right on schedule. The Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) from last year is completely covered in bright yellow flowers. The new plant we added this year is blooming some, so I’m hoping we’ll get at least a couple of fruits, now that I’ve provided a source for cross pollination.

The small flowers of Cornus mas 'Spring Glow' are difficult to capture with my little camera.

The small flowers of Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ are difficult to capture with my little camera.

My hybrid witchhazel, Aurora, is just starting to show off its strappy yellow-and-orange petals. It should be more impressive after a few more years of growth.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

Up front beneath the shelter of mature loblolly pines, Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ is about to explode into snow-white star bursts of potently fragrant glory — assuming no freezes brown petals prematurely.

Fingers crossed that cold won't damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star.'

Fingers crossed that cold won’t damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’

I can’t close before showing you a couple of native trees now in glorious full bloom throughout my yard. The Red Maples are heating up the forest canopy with their usual crimson display.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring's imminent return.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring’s imminent return.

Some feet below in the subcanopy, American Hazelnut trees are ornamented by numerous dangling male catkins. Every breeze makes them dance, releasing pollen onto the tiny female flowers scattered among them. These native shrubs/small trees disappear into the landscape when everything leafs out. But right now, they are quite conspicuous. As I wandered around my yard today, I discovered a large specimen growing in my backyard that I had never noticed before.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Then as I walked the creek line, I realized that at least a half dozen more specimens were blooming on my neighbor’s land across the creek. I spotted a very large tree over there so covered in catkins that I wondered how I’d never seen it before.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

One final enthusiastic bloomer will close today’s post. This rosemary has been growing against my house for a number of years. I always intend to prune the branches away from the siding when the plant stops blooming, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t really ever stop blooming. I certainly can’t bear to cut it now, when every branch is covered in delicate blue flowers beloved by hungry foraging honeybees. I’ll try to remember to do this in summer, when bloom enthusiasm decreases, and the pollinators have myriad other options.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

All of these early flowers are signaling me that it’s time to start some spring vegetable seeds in the greenhouse. When the weather moderates a bit, that will be my next task. Happy February, ya’ll.

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Growing Culinary Herbs in the Piedmont

My chive bed this past April.

If you like to cook, you really need to grow your own culinary herbs. Even the stuff you buy “fresh” at grocery stores is a sad imitation of the real thing picked from your garden minutes before it adds zest to your latest dish. We are lucky in the southeastern Piedmont region of the US, because most of our winters are mild enough to prevent root kill to traditional perennial culinary herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage. However, you need to remember a few key points to keep these herbs growing happily from year to year.

Growing herbs outdoors

Purple basil in bloom.

As with flowers, some herbs are annuals and some are perennials. Annuals die at the end of the growing season when the first freeze kills them. Common culinary herbs in this category include basil and dill. Most of the oft-used culinary herbs are perennials, which means the plants survive and expand from year to year. Herbs in this category include rosemaries, sages, thymes, and oreganos. True culinary tarragon is categorized as a tender perennial, meaning it is much more likely to die during a cold spell than a sage or a rosemary.

Even within the perennial herb group, some varieties are more tender than others. You didn’t think there is only one kind of sage or rosemary or oregano, did you? Rosemary cultivars alone number probably in the thirties or forties. Thymes come in a stunning array of growth forms and flavors, and even the sages and oreganos offer several distinct varieties.

Culinary sage in bloom this past spring.

Culinary sage today.

Regular culinary sage is indestructible in my garden. However, tricolor sage — a gorgeous plant with leaves sporting cream, pink, and purple leaves — never seems to handle our winter wet spells, no matter what I try. Purple sage has lovely lavender leaves with a milder taste than traditional green culinary sage. Some winters it survives for me; other years I lose it.

Greek oregano today. Note the late-blooming flowers to the left. Flower stalks are tall in spring, and draw every pollinator in the county.

Traditional culinary oregano is downright subtle compared to the in-your-face aroma and zing of Greek oregano. I recommend growing both. Greek oregano rocks home-made pizza. Both varieties survive winters well for me.

Rosemary ‘Salem’ in my front garden.

Happy rosemary plants grow into large sprawling shrubs in the Piedmont. This one in my front garden is about ten years old, and I hack it back regularly to keep it from overwhelming its neighbors. Some rosemary forms and varieties are much hardier than others in our climate. Prostrate rosemaries look fabulous draping over rock walls, but wet spells in winter always seem to kill mine when I try them. Some rosemaries have blue flowers, some pink, and some white. The leaves of some varieties smell like turpentine to my nose, but many are wonderfully sweet and resinous. The two varieties that survive best for me are Salem and Tuscan Blue.

An October rosemary flower.

My rosemary plants bloom at least a bit almost every month of the year, including mild spells in January. Pollinators adore the flowers, as they do the flowers of all culinary herbs.

You really need to see many of the rosemary cultivars growing together to appreciate their diversity. If you are near Chapel Hill, NC, visit the Mercer Reeves Hubbard Herb Garden at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.  They are the keepers of one of the Herb Society of America’s National Rosemary Collections, which means they — along with botanical gardens in other parts of the US — grow every distinct variety of rosemary known and keep records of bloom time, growth rates, etc. In late spring when all the rosemaries are in bloom, you can really appreciate their diversity.

Lemon thyme in bloom this past spring.

Like the rosemaries, thymes come in zillions of forms and flavors — everything from nutmeg thyme to orange thyme to traditional culinary thyme — and many others! Some are much easier to keep alive in the Piedmont than others. Of those varieties I’ve tried, lemon thyme and traditional English culinary thyme are the two that survive well with no help from me. I love them both.

This post is growing lengthy, so I’ll close with a few tips on growing these culinary necessities.

  • The herbs I’ve described today all originated in the Mediterranean region of the world. To keep them happy here, give them full sun and excellent drainage.
  • Never pamper these herbs. Fertilizer and extra water make them grow fast and leggy, and the essential oils that provide their flavor are diluted. A zingy herb plant in the Piedmont grows in hot, dry, unfertilized soil.
  • Don’t try to grow culinary herbs in unamended clay soil. Mediterranean soils are sandy/gravelly. Think rock garden. If your soil is red clay, build a raised bed and amend the clay with sand and a bit of compost to create a fluffy, fast-draining bed.
  • Mediterranean herbs hate our humid summers. Lower branches that touch the ground often develop fungal problems that sometimes kill the plants. My successful strategy to combat this is mulching with white pea gravel beneath the plants. The white gravel prevents branches from touching soggy ground, and the rocks reflect sunlight back up from the ground deep into the middle of plants, keeping them hot and happy.
  • Besides the white gravel, prune up branches near the ground, especially if they start looking sickly. This is especially important with rosemary plants. Don’t be afraid to prune herb plants. They just branch out and grow more.

Growing herbs indoors

Briefly, the secret here is to stop overwatering them. Really, everyone I talk to at the help desk at the NC Botanical Garden and anywhere else always seems to be doing this to their indoor herbs. Let them dry out completely between waterings, and keep them in your sunniest window away from drafts from doors or heating/AC vents. In other words, approximate Mediterranean growing conditions as closely as you can.

This goes for growing them in pots on decks and patios too. Don’t let them sit in large pots full of wet soil. They will not last long that way. Whenever possible, grow them in the ground, preferably near your house, so that you’ll remember to run out and pick fresh cuttings when you’re cooking dinner.

I’ll write more about growing herbs soon. I still need to cover the myriad basils and dills, not to mention parsley, bronze fennel, savories, garlic chives — and the list goes on and on.

Fresh pasta sauce with rosemary, basil, and oregano from the garden anyone?

Lemon basil blooming in the October vegetable garden.

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