Calendula – Calendula officinalis

by Gini Sage

Calendula is a very prolific, easy to grow annual flower that produces orange, yellow, lemon, apricot and cream coloured flowers on long stems. It is native to the Canary Islands, South and Central Europe, and North Africa, and a common sight in most “cottage gardens”. The blooms of Calendula are daisy-like in shape, up to 4 inches across, and are produced from mid-summer to the first heavy frost. They can be used in cut flower arrangements, and the petals are edible, often used in soups, stews and salads.

Calendula is best grown from seeds. They should be sown directly into the garden early in the season and covered with ¼ inch of soil, as they require dark to germinate. They prefer rich, well drained soil, but will tolerate average soils. They prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade. Add plenty of compost, and an all-purpose fertilizer once per month to optimize bloom production. Calendula deters asparagus beetle and tomato hornworms making them excellent companion plants to these vegetables. The plants should be dead-headed to promote longer bloom time. The last flowers of the season, however, should be left on the plants to mature, and drop their seeds, as Calendula will readily re-seed and provide years of lasting enjoyment in your garden.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, November 2007

Growing Cosmos, the Township of Uxbridge Flower

by Gini Sage

Cosmos, the Township of Uxbridge flower, is a bright, easy to grow alternative for you to add to your gardens. This hardy annual is native to Central and South America, and was cultivated by the early Spanish priests in their mission gardens in Mexico. Due to its evenly spaced petals they christened the flower “Cosmos”, from the Greek word kosmos, which means “an orderly harmonious systematic universe”.

Cosmos belongs to the family of plants known as Compositae, and consists of over twenty species. The most commonly cultivated annual species for the home gardener are Cosmos sulphureus and Cosmos bipinnatus. You may easily distinguish between the two, as the flowers of C. sulphureus are shades of yellow, orange and red, with leaves that are long, with narrow lobes and hairy margins. Contrasting with these hot colours, the flowers of C. bipinnatus are cooler colours, varying from the palest white to solid or variegated shades of pink to dark rose. The leaves are finely cut, and are similar in appearance to dill or ferns. The flower form of C. bipinnatus also varies, as the “Seashell” cultivar has petals that are tubular. The range in height for the different cultivars is 25 cm to over 40 cm in height.

In contrast to many other annuals, Cosmos prefer hot, dry sites and poorer soils. To grow these in your garden, you can choose to either purchase boxed plants at your local nursery, or sow seeds in April or May directly into your garden bed. The shorter varieties may also be grown in containers. Thin the seedlings to a spacing of 15 -25 cm apart. Consistent with the site selection, do not over water or over fertilize the plants, as this will result in tall “leggy” plants with decreased flower production. There are no diseases or pests that affect Cosmos, so care is easy. Simply deadhead the spent flowers and they will continue to bloom well into the fall. Allow some of the seeds to fall in your garden, as they will readily self-seed for the next year.

In addition to the beauty of this flower brings to your garden, it will also attract Monarch butterflies. Cosmos also makes an attractive cut flower for your arrangements, and is suitable for drying. With the advantages this flower has to offer, consider adding Cosmos to your gardens this year, and celebrate the Township of Uxbridge.

Article originally published in the “Uxbridge Town Talk” magazine, April 2012

Grape Hyacinth – Muscari armeniacum

by Gini Sage

Grape Hyacinths, or Muscari, are actually not Hyacinths at all. They are members of the Lily family, and are native to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor.

These delicate looking spring bulbs are actually quite hardy, and will naturalize well in almost any conditions. They prefer sunny to partially shaded exposure in moist, but well drained soil. Grape Hyacinths should be planted in the fall, approximately 8 cm deep, for an early to mid-May blossom. They may also be ‘forced’ indoors in the winter. The flower stalks will grow from 15 to 20 cm tall in shades of blue to rich purple. Other cultivars are available with white or pinkish-mauve blossoms. The flowers have a delicate, sweet smell. Like any bulb, let the leaves die back naturally before removing them.

Grape Hyacinths are wonderful companion bulbs to daffodils, tulips and true hyacinths. For those of you who have problems with deer or squirrels eating your bulbs and plants, they will not touch the Grape Hyacinth.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2009

Tip: Iris: Four Months of Bloom

To keep irises blooming in your garden all season long, plant some from each of the following groups:

March/April—Reticulata
April/June—Dwarf and Median
June/July—Tall bearded, tall Siberian, and Spuria

Tulipa spp.

by Gini Sage

Tulips are one of the most beloved of the spring bulbs, available in a myriad of colours, forms and sizes.

The classification of tulips is according to time of bloom, parentage and flower form. For early season bloom, try Single Early (12-16”) or Double Early (12”) cultivars. In the midseason range are Triumph (16-20”) and Darwin Hybrids (24”). Among the late season are Single Late (long stemmed and large flowered), Bouquet (3-6 branches, each with its own flower), Lily-flowered (22” with pointed arching tips on the blooms), Fringed (24”, with fringed petals), Viridiflora (24” with green-edged petals), Rembrandt (streaky colours), Parrot (large, twisted blooms) and Double Late (or peony flowered).

Most of the tulips on the market today should be planted in moist, well-drained soil, 8” deep and in full sun. The newer hybrids should be lifted and replaced after three years, as the bloom quality and quantity will decline in subsequent years. Species or Botanical tulips and their hybrids, which are closer to the original wild tulip, are smaller in stature (6”), and although not as showy as their hybridized cousins, are suitable for naturalizing. They require a fast-draining, light-textured soil that is not too fertile, in full sun, and will continue to thrive and spread in years to come.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2007

Twelve Weeks of Bloom: Sequence of Flowering Spring Bulbs

Early Spring (Weeks 1 to 4)

Common Grape Hyacinth
(Muscari botryoides)

Crocus
(Crocus spp.)

Danford Iris
(Iris danfordiae)

Early Daffodils
(Narcissus spp.)

Glory-of-the-Snow
(Chionodoxa luciliae)

Grecian Windflower
(Anemone blanda)

Netted Iris
(Iris reticulata)

Siberian Squill
(Scilla siberica)

Snowdrop
(Galanthus nivalis)

Striped Squill
(Puschkinia scilloides)

Winter Aconite
(Eranthis hyemalis)

Midspring (Weeks 4 to 8)

Checkered Lily
(Fritillaria meleagris)

Early Alliums
(Allium spp.)

Early Tulips
(Tulipa spp.)

Hyacinths
(Hyacinthus orientalis)

Medium-Cupped Daffodils
(Narcissus spp.)

Species Tulips
(Tulipa spp.)

Summer Snowflake
(Leucojum aestivum)

Late Spring (Weeks 8 to 12)

Alliums
(Allium spp.)

Dutch Hybrid Iris
(Iris hybrids)

Late Daffodils
(Narcissus spp.)

Late Tulips
(Tulipa spp.)

Midseason Tulips
(Tulipa spp.)

Borage – Borago officinalis

by Gini Sage

Native to the Northeastern Mediterranean, Borage is a hardy annual herb that is reputed to lift the spirits, banish melancholy, and impart courage. The leaves are grayish-green and velvety textured, with a thick hollow stem. The nodding bright blue star shaped flowers appear in the spring. The leaves, flowers and seeds of borage are all edible.

Borage prefers full to partial sun, with moist, well drained soil. Plant the seeds in early spring and cover completely as the seeds need dark to germinate. Keep the young seedlings evenly moist. Pinch back the plant at 10 to 15 cm to keep it bushier. Borage will grow from 15 cm to more than 1 m tall. Once established in the garden, borage self-sows abundantly, so thin new seedlings as required. Borage is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes, squash, and strawberries. The flavour of tomatoes is actually improved by growing borage nearby, and it deters tomato worm. Borage may also be planted in pots for indoor harvesting of leaves in the winter. This plant does not like to be transplanted, so sow seeds in the pot they are to be grown in. Indoor plants need lots of light.

In the kitchen, the mild, cucumber-like flavour of borage can be used in salads, soups, steamed, used in curries, yogurt, fish and chicken dishes, tea, summer drinks, and candied for decoration. In Germany, a few chopped leaves are often added to lettuce salads. In China, the leaves are stuffed and rolled like grape leaves.

Article was originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2009

Caraway

by Gini Sage

Caraway’s name is derived from the ancient Arabic word for seed, and has been valued for its flavour and medicinal properties since ancient Egyptian times. It has been found in archaeological excavations dating back over 5000 years, and is mentioned in the bible. In the Middle Ages, the roots were boiled as a vegetable, and the young chopped leaves were added to soups and salads. The seeds were added to breads and cakes during Elizabethan England, and offered to farm labourers after the wheat harvest. Today it is a common ingredient in rye bread, cakes, cheese and many German and Austrian recipes such as sauerkraut and kummel, a traditional liqueur.

Native to northern and central Europe, temperate Asia and the Middle East, caraway has naturalized in North America. It grows as a biennial, and tolerates a wide range of conditions, but prefers moist soils and full sun. The seeds should be sown in summer. Caraway is a decorative plant growing up to 80 cm tall, but be cautious about its location, as it can be a vigorous grower and is self-seeding.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2008

Chives – Allium schoenoprasum

by Gini Sage

The culinary history of chives dates back to ancient China, around 3000 BC, where they were harvested from the wild. Members of the onion family, chives have a much milder flavour, and can be used to replace onions by those who find them difficult to digest.

Both traditional chives and garlic chives prosper in our area. In the kitchen, chives are used most often with soft cheeses, eggs, soups, salads and dressings, and on baked potatoes. Chives lose much of their flavour when dried, but they can be harvested and kept in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Named ‘Infant Onion’, the bulbs may also be harvested and pickled.

Chives are native to Europe, and were introduced and naturalized in North America. They are a hardy perennial, which grows well in full sun to partial shade, forming a clump of thin, tubular leaves. In the late summer, chives form a small light mauve flower. To encourage leaf growth, the flower stems should be removed. Grow in either pots or the garden, in well-drained medium loam. Plant either the seeds in early spring, or divide the clumps in spring or fall.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, June 2007

French Tarragon

by Gini Sage

French tarragon’s name is derived from the Greek drakon, meaning ‘little dragon’, which is most likely a reference to the plant’s serpentine root system.

Historically, tarragon was thought to ward off exhaustion, and this belief led pilgrims during the Middle Ages to place sprigs in their boots prior to starting out. Today it is not used medicinally; however, it is one of the most important culinary herbs in classic French cooking. Tarragon is used to infuse flavour in vinegar, and is a key ingredient in “fines herbs” mixtures as well as sauces such as béarnaise, hollandaise, and tartare. It is almost always used fresh, as it loses much of its flavour when dried. Make sure you do not try to cook with Russian Tarragon, as it has little or no flavour.

French Tarragon must always be started from cuttings or seedlings, as the seed always produces the Russian variety. Since it is a tender perennial, it is best to grow tarragon in pots, and over-winter it indoors. Plant it in a well-drained soil, and place in full sun to partial shade, in a sheltered location.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, April 2007

Oregano – Origanum vulgare

by Gini Sage

The name oregano is from the Greek oros ganos meaning ‘joy of the mountain’, a reference to the cheerful appearance and smell of the flowering plant on Greek hillsides. Oregano is also known as wild marjoram and as sweet marjoram. Although there are a multitude of uses for wild oregano as a medicinal herb, its most common use today is culinary. Oregano is used both dried and fresh, and gives pizza and spaghetti sauces their characteristic flavour. Italian oregano is a peppery, pungent tasting herb, but the further the north it is cultivated, the milder the flavouring. Oregano also gives a strong flavour to bean casseroles, stews, and sauces based on tomato or aubergines.

Oregano is native to Europe and the Middle East. It was collected in Italy and introduced and naturalized in the North Eastern United States and Canada. It is a aromatic perennial, frequently bushy, with erect, hairy and woody stems to 2 feet tall. It grows best in poor soils, preferring drier, well drained sites in full sun. It should be cut back in the fall or early spring, as the young leaves have the most flavour.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, November 2007

Parsley – Petroselinum crispum

by Gini Sage

Both the botanical and common names for parsley were derived from the old Latin ‘Petros selinon’, or Rock Celery. The ancient Greeks honoured parsley as a plant of death, and used it for decorating tombs. The ancient Romans were the first to use parsley as a culinary herb, both for its flavour and its deodorizing properties. Chewing fresh leaves removes the smell of garlic or onions from one’s breath. Parsley is often used to bring out the full flavour of food, and is a key ingredient in the classic fine herbs and bouquet garni.

It is also a rich source of vitamin C, containing more by volume than an orange, and is also a source of iron, calcium and vitamins A and B. Parsley is found most often in either the flat-leaved Italian variety or the curled-leaf varieties. Both are biennials, forming a 2 foot plant the first year, followed by re-growth of the plant with the addition of flower stalks forming umbels of tiny greenish-yellow flowers the second year. Parsley may be grown from seed in the early summer, or from bedding plants. It should be grown in full to partial shade, in a moist, rich soil, either in pots or directly planted in the garden.

Article originally published in the Uxbridge Horticultural Society Newsletter, July 2007