NOTES FROM HERB GARDENER:

When George and Ira Gershwin wrote the lullaby Summertime and the Living is Easy, they couldn't have been in the gardens of the hot, humid south or the parched semi-desert and desert gardens of the west.  For gardeners everywhere, summertime can be a real challenge and the living or gardening is rarely easy. Tasks that are doable and even fun in 80 degree weather become laborious and totally unglamorous in 100 degree weather.

And here, in the hot interior valley of California, we have finally reached the 100 degree mark. Fortunately, it was a long time coming this year. The last two years we have been blessed with wonderfully pleasant weather in May and June, instead of the early onslaught of searing blue skies and unrelenting high temperatures. This year the colors were more vibrant in the lavenders, the rockroses flowered much longer than normal, and I was able to delay the inevitable dragging of the hoses for an extra month or so.

But, just as I would like to shut down and hammock under the old oak, my garden is humming the loudest. The plants are growing faster than a two-year-old; and the bees, insects, and butterflies are nosily going about their business. I have never seen so many bumble bees making themselves at home in my Lavender. From early morn until dusk, the plants are absolutely covered with bees. And, since it is the large Lavandins like Grosso and Provence that are at the peak of bloom, there is a lot for the bees to be happy about. Our fields are literally quilted with varying shades of purple. The bees don't bother me, though.  In fact, I like them. They add movement and sound to my garden, and make me think that more things are in balance in my garden than not. When I harvest my Lavender, these foragers of pollen graciously move out of my way.  I always make sure to leave plenty in the field to sustain their large population. 

July is not only the peak of season for my Lavandins (Lavandula x intermedias), it is also the perfect time for Oreganos, both ornamental and culinary. Culinary Oreganos are great kitchen plants but, it is the pinks and purples of my Ornamental Oreganos that are striking in the garden. Sought after for bouquet and wreath making, Showy Pink Oregano and Marshall's Memory Oregano produce bushels of cut flowers. while Hopley's Purple Oregano produces fewer flowers, but has a color that is a rich dark purple.

The white flowers of the Culinary Oreganos can also be used in dried flower arrangements. Mixed with Manchurian Baby's Breath, Powis Castle Artemisia, Lamb's Ears, and even good old fashioned Garden Sage, the Oreganos and Lavenders will take you a long way toward some great dried arrangements. But, you still need the punch, the dab of color, the reason to make a wreath in the first place: you need the WOW factor.  Statice (the brightly colored flowers in the wreath at right)provides just the right touch. I started growing Statice four years ago and I can't say enough good things about it. Even though it is not a perennial in colder climates (it is a Zone 8 plant), it grows quickly and can provide a decent harvest when it is  planted in early spring in colder climates.

I have been lucky to have two mentors who have taught me much about dried flower arranging over the years. Rosemary of the Squaw Valley Herb Gardens loves to explore a new plant to see if it will be the next great dried flower, and Connie of Squaw Valley Soap Works has more creativity in her little finger than I have in my whole brain. One of her fun new projects has been to fill wall pockets with dried flowers.

They both love to explore my garden. I call it my jungle. Since my goal is to grow and document the ins and outs of every plant we sell, I don't really use a lot of what is out there.

It is enough for me to have grown it and watched it mature, I am first and foremost a gardener.  It is a good thing to have so much bounty in the garden that even after friends take bushels away, the garden is still overflowing with clouds of Oreganos, drifts of Lavender, swales of Gaura, and countless Black Eyed Susans. Oh, and then there is the mauve blooming Germander, the spiky lavender flowered Society Garlic, the Catmints, the Miniature Roses and so on. Guess it makes dragging the hoses worthwhile. Summertime gardening may not be easy but it is perhaps the best season of all.

For more information on how to use fresh flowers from your garden to create dried arrangements, visit our Wreath Making Workshop online.

TIL' NEXT TIME,

HERB