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Friend, Not Foe
Is there an odd-looking caterpillar on your parsley or some other plant in your garden? Don't douse him with a toxic dust or spray and poison your little Eden! Is he doing any real damage, or just nibbling a leaf here and there? And what will he become: one of the resplendent swallowtail butterflies you've been trying to lure to your flowers? Most caterpillars are relatively harmless in the garden. Plant enough for both them and you, and marvel at their gorgeous diversity. Keep your plants healthy with proper watering and fertile soil. Even the most notorious plant predators, such as aphids, tend to attack plants that are already stressed by poor growing conditions. Rely on your local birds, ladybugs and frogs to keep the bugs in balance. They're better at it and if you make your yard poison-free and hospitable to wildlife, all will thrive.
Herbs That Come in From the Cold
Plenty of perennial cooking herbs, such as sage and thyme, survive cold winters. Thereís no problem leaving them in the ground, as long as you donít mind their loss of leaves. But I do. Whatís winter without sprigs of thyme inside the roast chicken, or sage in skillet-fried cheese sandwiches? These plants must spend the winter in pots in a sunny window not far from the kitchen. Certain tender herbs must share the space too. A pot of bay for seasoning those fortifying soups and stews. Rosemary to sprinkle on roasted carrots. Tarragon and chives come indoors too, after a few freezes~those are needed to trigger new growth.
I bring in small plants, not ones that have become old and woody, and give them a light, not-too-rich potting soil. I set them on a tray of pebbles to make watering easier and to help humidify the dry winter air. (Even Mediterranean plants need winter moisture.) I feed them once a month with fish emulsion, then biweekly when the longer days of February begin, and a fresh new burst of foliage signals winterís end.
Everyone looks forward to the warm weather that spring brings, especially gardeners who are itching for the soil to warm up, dry out and be ready to receive their treasured seeds. While you may not be able to hurry up spring, there are several things you can do to meet it halfway.
First, choose the right place to plant. If you live in a cold area, notice where snow first melts in your yard. Unless leafy trees will eventually shade it, this is the spot. And if the area slopes a bit to the south, all the better. Tilting the garden toward the sun will raise the temperature of the soil several degrees - you might even use a French technique called "ados" beds, where the soil is sloped up against a board on the north side, making the bed tilt sunward. Creating a windbreak, whether it's one you plant or one you build, will have the same effect, because reducing the wind-chill effect in your garden will help it to warm up.
Finally, try laying strips of clear plastic on the soil to warm it. Remove them to plant your seeds, then put them back on and wait for the seeds to bump ground. The minute they emerge, take the plastic off for good. You'll be up and running in no time.
Thyme is a cornerstone of the classic French 'fine herbes.' Thyme is best raised as transplants sown indoors 6 to 8 weeks prior to setting out (with as little root disturbance as possible) after the last spring frost date. Thyme is lovely with eggs, meat, chicken, fish, seafood chowder, traditional Dutch pea soup and in Cajun cuisine. Perennial. Height: 10" to 12".
Average seed life: 1 year
#6240 Garden Thyme|
Also known as English Thyme, our perennial Garden Thyme has
dark, gray-green leaves and pale pink, summer flowers. It is
a terrific culinary variety but also serves as a beautiful,
kitchen garden border planting. Hardiness zones: 4-9. (OP.)
Check out our Herb Garden 101 On our Collections' Page
Packet of 1400 Seeds / $3.25
#6245 French Summer Thyme|
Closely related to Garden Thyme, aromatic French Summer
Thyme has more narrow, pointed leaves with a bit of a gray
tint. The famed culinary thyme from France, it is higher in
essential oil content than other varieties which means more
and better flavor. A bit less hardy than Garden Thyme,
perennial French Summer Thyme will thrive in horticultural
zone 6 and warmer but should be brought indoors in colder
climates once there is a threat of frost. Hardiness zones: 6-9. (OP.)
Packet of 1400 Seeds / $3.25