Round Robin: Waiting for Spring

NEWBERG, Oregon–I think I’m suffering from short-term memory loss. That’s the only plausible explanation I have for being so eager to start all over again on the herb garden. It seems like only yesterday that I was utterly exhausted from making repeated trips to the compost pile with the wheelbarrow. Work did not end when daylight failed but only shifted indoors, where I would sit at the kitchen table for hours stripping cuttings for propagation. I remember, in particular, the many rosemary cuttings that not only permeated the air with a lasting, delightful piny odor but also nearly permanently blackened my index finger and thumb with their resin. (It is regarded as a symbol of remembrance in the language of flowers: I had only to look at my hands to remember it.) But time passes, my hands are clean now–or at least the cleanest they get–and I’m already impatient for spring.

Before the first hint of a warm spring day, I’ll be awaiting the delivery of the herbs I have ordered. And I am especially excited to try the seed of Lady lavender, which I expect to find in this issue of The Herb Companion. Imagine a lavender blooming the first year from seed! I had the opportunity to see the plant last year at Nichols Garden Nursery, and I can envision ramifications in the landscape industry: a new herbal alternative to the usual bold color spots of marigolds and bright red salvias.

Speaking of the latter, Dennis Breedlove from Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco informed me that all sages (Salvia sp.) native to Mexico and South America have only two stamens per flower; species having more than two stamens originated in Europe and Asia. Because information on the cultural requirements of the many sages appearing in the marketplace is so sparse, knowing the origin of a plant at least gives me a clue to its winterhardiness here.

Breedlove also helped clear up my muddled mind on the subject of agastaches. Many plants labeled Agastache mexicana are now locally available, but plants in any group are quite variable. They may have different flower colors and different scents (some have anise-scented leaves, some are lemony, and some have no fragrance at all). Breedlove noted that plants of the species available in commerce are ­mixtures of different forms that originated from different locations and at different elevations in Mexico. This genetic variability shows up when you grow this species from seed; you don’t know what you’ll end up with. I am therefore careful to choose plants with the characteristics I desire.

Last summer’s weather was great for nasturtiums as it was cool and wet; I enjoyed them all the way through the first hard frost in November. I particularly enjoyed my canary-bird vine (Tropaeolum peregrinum), a creeping nasturtium with dark, glossy leaves and bright yellow flowers that I trained against the barn as a screen. Although the individual flowers are small, they make up for it with great numbers. That reminds me, I must start my seeds of sweet peas and nasturtiums in the greenhouse now, while the weather is still cool and the day length short. I find that getting them established in 2-inch pots in the greenhouse for transplanting later in the garden works better than direct sowing as I avoid the fickle spring weather and the awakening appetites of slugs.

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