Saturday, February 22, 2014

I Want to be a REAL Plant!

So you wanna be a gardener, kid?

If you've ever see the Disney version of Hercules, you'll have an idea of what's been going through my head at the prospect of doing any sort of landscaping.

It's not something I've ever done on my own. My mother is a fantastic gardener herself. My sister worked in a plant nursery. As for me, I hide indoors and go around with a washcloth strapped to my face at the prospect of allergy season. (There's also the running joke in my family about how I'm allergic to sweat, but that's gotten less funny as I've grown older.)

Still, when we moved to the new house, having a bare yard was never something I considered. Plants--both indoors and out--are part of what makes a house, a home to me. It's long past time for me to roll up my sleeves and play in the dirt, even if it means I have to switch around a few priorities like sleeping in to have enough time to care for my plants. (Mom, I have a feeling I'll be calling you a LOT in the coming months.) Also heading to the Philadelphia Flower Show next weekend to look at beautiful flower displays and pick up some plantling-orphans to add to the mix!

Yo ho, yo ho, it's off to work we go...!

I used the Jiffy Peat Pellet Greenhouse to start my seeds off, remembering that much from 4-H club with my mom. Watching the pellets expand really is magically--they grow right in front of your eyes! (If only the plants did that...)

That was the fun part. Now, it's been a lot of sitting on my heels and trying not to water the plants every time I like I need to do something--anything--to get them growing. Finally, I saw greeen! Last post, I mentioned that I had plant babies sprouting and posted a picture from five days to a week from planting. Well, this is the planting tray, T-plus-two-weeks since planting:
Ha-HA! There is LIFE! I am a PLANT GOD!
After they sprouted, I moved them around to the bay window to receive light, and I rotate the tray around every day or so to keep the plants growing more-or-less straight, with mixed results. I'll go through each of these one by one so you can see what I've got now and what I'm hoping they'll grow into.

Morning Glories/Moonflowers

Glorying in my new deer-free location, I plan to resurrect some of my
favorite plants from when we lived in Raleigh, NC. One of my favorites were the morning glories Mom put up by the front door. I'll do something like that here when they're taller than two inches.  As they close at night, I'll plant moonflowers beside them so we have fragrant flowers around the clock.

I soaked the morning glories before planting them, per package instructions, but didn't do that with the moonflowers. They're the only batch of seeds that don't have leaves showing yet, so lesson learned: Soak EVERYTHING with a tough shell before I stick 'em in soil. Both moonflowers and morning glories grow as vines, so I'll have to provide them with a structure like a trellis or train them to grow around the railing by the door to provide them with enough light and space to grow properly.

Four O'Clocks

Named for their tendency to bloom in the afternoon and close by dawn, four o'clocks are the easiest and most impressive plants I've ever helped grow. We just stuck 'em in the ground by the side door at my parent's house in Pennsylvania once the hyacinth were done, and in a month, we had annual "shrubs" that masked the ugly two feet worth of foundation showing against the house. (Mom thinks it was the fertilizer; I thought it was magic.)

Four o'clock seeds are easy to collect and store for the next year. Sometimes, we had seeds sprout halfway through the summer that gave rise to striped flowers when we only had solid colored flowers before. When I was in high school, I learned this was genetics and an amateur version of Mendel's pea flowers with co-dominant genes rather than dominant/recessive combinations. It's still cool to see what color combinations result from the previous year's plants.

Mom said that four o'clocks are a warmer-weather sort of plant, so I'm hoping they'll last the whole summer here in Maryland. Fingers crossed!


*sigh* My poor sunflowers. I knew they were going to grow very tall, but I didn't realize they were going to do so immediately! I can't keep the tray lid on the plants to keep them warm now because their little heads will get smooshed. Nobody seems to be suffering for it, though.

These guys will grow to be four to six feet in height, when all's said and done. They'll be planted out back by the fence to spread some cheer to the backyard, where I have nothing else planned. (Everything else is for the front, I think, unless I end up doing vegetables.) Hmmm... HOA says I have to get permission to grow any tree or shrub taller than four feet. Do you think I'll have to ask them for this one?


Snapdragons were a favorite of mine growing up (and, I suspect, every kid lucky
enough to have them in the neighborhood). That's because if you pinch them in a certain place on the bud, you can make them "talk"! How cool is that?

I've never seen anyone grow these from seed before, so we'll see how well these go. They're supposed to be an annual, so it's not like I can wait for them to "grow up" next year.

Herb Seedlings

Yep, I have a whole bunch of herbs sprouting. Even my rosemary decided to make an appearance, though due to tremendously low germination rates and their preference for warm, sandy, well-drained soils, I wasn't counting on it. These guys will get a special place on the back porch so we can use them in cooking, though I'm tempted to get some adults to avoid Ash & I killing the babies through overuse. (Those savory leaves are still needed by the plants! We can't strip them clean!)


I like to use sage with pork, but you can use it in all sorts of other things, too. In finding a link about this herb, I just learned that cooking "mellows" the taste, so you're supposed to add it when you're almost done. Go figure!


Ohhhh boy, do I love me some oregano. I use it in everything: tomato sauces, soups, pizza, meat of every sort. Dad always said it smelled like pencil shavings to him, so stick your nose in the spice jar and see if you agree!

Oregano was originally a Mediterranean plant, which implies that it's the next closest thing to a desert plant you can find without going into the succulents. This means I'll have to be careful not to overwater it, nor plant it straight into the ground.


Rosemary, too, comes from the Mediterranean region. (There's a reason you find a lot of rosemary and oregano in Italian cooking.) I recently discovered how yummy rosemary is on over-easy eggs, but you can use it in a lot of different ways. One of my favorite ways to cook with it is to use it as a tossing ingredient over french fries, like at the Brewer's Art bar in downtown Baltimore. (Their pork belly is excellent, too, but make sure you get a side of fries!)

It's much simpler to grow this plant from a sprig or cutting instead of from seed. (I wish I knew that before I started this project!) Still, we have one or two brave souls poking their heads out of the ground, so I'll try not to kill these as they continue to grow. (Apparently ignoring them works best...?) Once they're established, they tend to winter well and come back from year to year, so it'll be so exciting to have a rosemary bush I raised from a seed!


Thyme grows everywhere and quickly. Hell, the packet said to just throw 'em around the soil after the last frost and they'd grow from there. Seeing how many have sprouted in such a short amount of time, I'm wondering if maybe I should've done something similar.

Mom said you can use it to grow between pavers and such on a sidewalk as a fragrant, durable decoration. Dad used it as part of meat rubs, particularly his pork roast, but I have a feeling it'd go great with kebabs, too.


Basil is another one of those staples we have in the kitchen. I'm looking forward to making pesto with it for bruschetta and pasta, though it looks like the stuff you dig out from underneath the lawnmower.

Fresh basil is lovely, too, and I enjoy a light summer meal of whole-wheat pasta, olive oil, and basil leaves shredded & sprinkled on top as a side to baked chicken thighs. My roommate liked it so much, she went through my whole spice jar and the entire bottle of olive oil on Fourth of July weekend. (She threw it up later; no word on whether she's had it since, though she swears she still likes it!)


No, this isn't cilantro!
Rounding out our herbs, we have parsley. I'm...really not too sure what to do with parsley, to be honest. Dad likes eating certain types raw. The internet says that you can use parsley in chimichurri, and that you use it in any savory dish like stew. Sooooo right. I guess I'll be experimenting around with some new recipes, then.

And there you have it! All my little plant babies--all my gardening hopes and dreams for your perusal. By no means will I stop there, however. Do you have any recommendations for me on what I should plant this year? I'm thinking about maybe a raised vegetable bed in the back, but that's it for ideas from me. (I know, I'm useless...!) Let me know in the comments, if you would--I need all the help I can get!

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