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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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May 18

Herbs

Posted on May 18, 2018 at 10:38 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

lemon balm
 Lemon balm
Herbs are hidden treasures in the garden. Their beauty and versatility as garden plants are often forgotten. In fact, mention herbs and I would venture to say most of us consider only their culinary benefits: The use of parsley to enhance a spaghetti sauce or embellish the presentation of a dinner dish. The cilantro we associate with salsas and Hispanic savory dishes. The perennial lemon balm leaves floating in a pitcher of ice tea. And then there is basil. How can anyone not have basil growing in the garden for that impromptu pesto to add to pasta or spread on bread instead of mayo? Or a rosemary branch to use as a barbeque brush for applying marinades?

There is nothing like using fresh herbs in cooking—the results cannot be mirrored with dried herbs. But that’s not all that herbs offer. As I walk around the garden, I note that the herbs planted therein are typically not damaged by browsing deer, rabbits or squirrels. They produce small but beautiful flowers. They come in all sizes and varieties. Would you be surprised to learn that most herbs are also low-water-using plants? How could these plants with so many benefits be overlooked?

Sage (Salvia) is one of my favorite herbs. The plants in this genus have been developed into many ornamental uses, while still containing that same aromatic scent that thwarts the most aggressive garden invaders from dining on the brilliantly colored flowers. Sage attracts beneficial insects into the garden as well.

creeping thyme
 Creeping thyme
Thyme scores right up at the top of my list of groundcovers to plant. This low-grower creeps between stepping stones. Different varieties have different leaf colors that also can add interest to the garden. For example, lemon thyme leaves have a variegated yellow leaf. Wooly thyme is just that—the leaves cast the image of gray fuzzy wool. Additionally, these plants are covered in beautiful blossoms during the late spring/early summer, adorning the ground with a rich carpet of brilliant pink. When in bloom, this groundcover serves to attract bees. (As a result, I would not recommend planting it around a swimming pool.)

Many herbs are used for medicinal purposes. Mint is great for relieving a tummy ache; simply steam a few leaves in hot water to make a tea. A word of caution regarding mint: It is invasive. Plant it in a container and place the container on concrete where the root system cannot work its way into the soil. Savory is another plant known to aid in digestion. 

Herbs can also add interest in a formal garden. Traditional English gardens commonly featured “knot gardens” where plants formed intricate mini hedge patterns to mimic a fancy knot. I can only imagine that the maintenance for this type of garden would be intense, but it creates a beautiful effect for those so inclined. 

The number of herbs is too numerous to mention. They are worth investigating. Grow them in containers by the kitchen door, grow them in the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects, grow them in the kitchen window. Most important? Grow them!
May 14

A Rose is a Rose

Posted on May 14, 2018 at 9:09 AM by Ann Vallee

We will be celebrating Mother’s Day this Sunday. For some reason, this day of the year reminds me of roses. Is it because roses are known as the love flower? Or their fragrance covers a range from sweet to spicy – much like we experienced in the kitchen as we grew up? Or is it the beauty found in a vase adorning a table with the perfect hue of Mom’s favorite color?

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May 03

The Recipe

Posted on May 3, 2018 at 3:52 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

pea sproutsA walk through the garden today brought some surprises. Beside the knee-high weeds begging to be sheet mulched, there in the circular planter sprouted the tiniest hint of green pushing through the soil. Could these verdant green tips be coming from the pea seeds just planted? 

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The soil temperature at the time of planting just reached that magic 50 degrees that allows peas to germinate, and the moon was in the correct phase for planting seeds that produce above the ground. However, cold weather, rain and even snow here in Lassen since planting would surely set back the miracle of this process. Yet, the recipe must have been correct.

My eyes gazed over to the raised bed that I had just hand-weeded about the time of the pea planting. There proudly stood some asparagus waiting to be cut and brought into the house, with more emerging from their winter dormancy. Spring is in the air—or at least in the vegetable garden! 

With anticipation, I walked into the greenhouse where the cucumber seeds had sprouted since my last visit. The cilantro that had been growing all winter threatened to bolt to seed, as if to say that it had done its job sustaining me with just the right herbs to enhance those savory winter dishes. The chard, beets and what was left of the kale growing in the protected environment of the greenhouse seemed a bit larger. They’ve been there all winter, but something was different. The correct ingredient for optimal growth was in the air.

Like any recipe, given the ingredients, we can typically get decent results. Oft times, there may be just one ingredient that can alter the outcome. For example, living in Lassen I find lacking the famous San Francisco sourdough bread that was a staple in the home where I grew up. There are other breads that mirror that bread, but it is always slightly off.

My grandchildren are conditioned to always bring up a loaf or two of the real sourdough when they visit. This past weekend was a special treat as they not only brought sourdough but made homemade pasta while they were here. I wondered aloud why that bread can only be made in the Bay Area. Simultaneously they all said it was the air—the one ingredient that makes that specific recipe so special. 

Clearly this idea holds true for garden plants as well. We can get things to grow, but to optimize the abundance of fruit, flowers, growth and health of our plants, we must consider all elements. As with sourdough bread, one ingredient can make or break our efforts for an optimal garden. It was apparent that the unheated greenhouse provided protection from the frigid snow, but the temperatures stunted the growth of many varieties planted within. Additionally, the daylight hours are much shorter during the winter months, which caused a reduction of growth that corrected itself this spring.

This Saturday, May 5, provides an opportunity to learn new recipes from other gardens. If you have not yet registered for our free, self-guided Eco-Friendly Garden Tour, it is not too late to sign up. Ideas, creativity and beauty await.