Loads of gardening articles and books proclaim that it is easy to grow herbs indoors however it is my experience, and I bet it’s yours too, that most herbs are fine during the summer months but many take a real beating towards the last half of winter. The conditions inside a typical apartment or house during the winter months are just not very conducive to picky plants. If you’re like me you’re probably doing most of your indoor gardening around south-facing windows that are cold and drafty above with the occasional blast of mega-hot and dry baseboard heating from below. Trying to keep finicky sweet basils and rosemary alive between these two extremes is too much for my self-esteem and my sanity so I’ve opted to accept that the tricker herbs are out until spring and have spent the last few years seeking out and experimenting with herbs that can hack these bipolar conditions.
I was given a cutting of Broadleaf thyme (Coleus amboinicus) last summer with the promise that it would root easily and grow like crazy. It has delivered and more! Broadleaf thyme is an unbelievably fragrant, low-growing herb with succulent, broad leaves and a soft, velvety texture. It goes under several names (more on that below) including Cuban oregano, Spanish oregano, and Indian borage but is unlike any thyme or oregano plant (or borage for that matter) you have ever seen. The plant is a tropical perennial and will not survive a cold winter outdoors, but taking a cutting or two to grow in a pot is as easy as snipping off a chunk with a pair of scissors and popping it into some water or moist soil. I offered mine nothing but neglect in the beginning, forgetting about it amidst a boatload of other gardening duties and it STILL grew and flourished. This plant is definitely a trooper!
Grow It: I have found that mine seems to do well in the sunniest spot available. The leaves are still a tad too pale which indicates that it can withstand more direct light. I’ve been growing mine in a standard tropical potting soil with a bit of sand thrown in for extra drainage and a touch of vermicompost at potting time for added nutrition. Like most herbs I add water only when the soil is just dry. Reduced winter light might cause the plant to grow leggy (tall and unhealthy) so be sure to pinch back the top set of leaves (you can use your fingers) every once and while to encourage a bushier growth. Unlike many herbs it will not go dormant so you can keep harvesting the leaves all year long.
Using: Broadleaf thyme has an exceptionally pungent flavor and smell. It is most commonly chopped up fresh and added to black beans or served with fish dishes and curries. I have also heard that it is commonly used in Jamaican jerk seasonings and salt cod. It is used to flavor beer and wine in India and some people put its antibacterial and fungicidal actions to work as a medicinal tea. I tried it this way and didn’t mind it although I found the boiling water brought out the stronger thyme flavor and reduced that hard-to-place fragrant smell that is so strong when you rub the leaves.
The Name Game: Here we go for another round of Name That Plant. I always try and check as many references as possible and cross-check for mistakes so I can give you the correct name but this one is going to take additional research. As mentioned above this plant is not short on common names and is regularly listed under two different Latin names, Coleus amboinicus and Plectranthus amboinicus. Some citations suggest that Coleus amboinicus is the old name, with all names, both Latin and common being interchangeable for the same plant. Others state that Coleus amboinicus is the Latin for broadleaf thyme which has larger leaves and that Plectranthus amboinicus is the Latin for Cuban oregano which has smaller leaves. I honestly can’t find any definitive answers and have decided to offer both options here. I personally lean towards the second option.
I posted back in October about my new-found culinary interest in dandelion greens and a few of you have been writing to ask where I got the seeds. In my case the dandelions have been coming up all on their own in my community garden. If you’ve got the short-leaved variety and you’re looking for a long-leaved variety I would first suggest looking around where you live or asking your friends since dandelions and their seeds are all over the place. There are a lot of people out there who would be happy if you suggested pulling up a root or two from their garden.
I looked into it and have compiled a very short list of companies that are selling online. If you know of anyone else please comment.
I know that this cute little product has made the rounds in the design and gardening world so I know I’m probably not showing you anything new. I have been resisting the charm of the Eggling since I first heard of them because I generally do not support this kind of product no matter how cute. My reasons for blacklisting such products are simple: they aren’t appropriate vessels for growing healthy plants and as a thrifty gardener I am inherently against promoting excessive gardening product purchases. I mean, why buy a fancy porcelain egg meant to look like a real egg when you can just use a real egg — at no additional charge! Gardening for the first time can be a bit daunting. I am all about reducing some of that pressure in any way possible. And inevitably the eventual demise of what began as a fun try at growing something leads to the new gardener’s assertion that they just don’t have a green thumb. And so they give up.
So I generally stay away from promoting this kind of product or buying one for myself. Because even though I know how the story will end, I am a designer at heart and I can’t help but be drawn in by pretty things anymore than the next person. So cute! And simple! And pretty!
However, my spouse just came back from a short work trip to Southern California (no jealousy here) and surprised me with a thyme Eggling as a treat. He knew I would never buy one for myself and thought it might make an interesting experiment for the site. He’s heard me talk publicly about gardening enough (and read the book) to know that if anything was going to endure the hardships of such a small space it would be thyme. I’m very proud. Sigh.
I know it’s unfair of me to judge without personal experience so I plan to give this little one a go and will post updates here as they occur. In the meantime I am eager to hear about your experiences with this product. Please add your comments below.
p.s In an effort to light a fire under my ass I’ve elected to participate in NaBloPoMo here on YGG. There are plenty of day-to-day gardening experiences that I could be sharing here but many topics slide and become outdated before I get a chance to write.
I am finally accepting the fact that winter is coming and I had better enjoy fall (despite all of this horrible rain) while it lasts. One of the gifts gardening has given me is the ability to look at the landscape and plant life around me with new eyes. I started to look with a new perspective as a way to better understand my plants and their needs. I have found that closely observing a plant growing in the wild has lead to really “getting” something that was formerly unclear or missing in my care of a specific plant. And watching the way the plants grow and spread in different conditions has inspired me to rethink the way I design and plan a garden. But over time I also found that a little bit of knowledge can turn a landscape that was formerly dull, overlooked, and taken for granted into something fascinating and full of wonder. Those tiny observations seem to create a domino effect to learn more. I should add that photography has only added to that because as my way of seeing has changed, so has my approach to documenting what I see changed.
It may seem cheesy — y’all aren’t going to laugh at me right(?) — but I have fallen in love with the grassland, beach, and marsh areas on The Toronto Islands and have taken to documenting the changes that occur there with the seasons. It’s fascinating to see how the plants differ growing in such sandy soil. I like the stark, vertical direction of the landscape. Plants seem to grow up rather than overtly puffy or outward. I am slowly learning the identities of some of the previously unknown plants. I took the majority of these pictures on a beautiful Fall day a couple of weekends ago. If you know the name of a plant or disagree with my identification please post.
Panic Grass (Panicum virgatum) aka Switch Grass
I believe this is the same plant, taken last year.
Bullrush (Typha latifolia) aka Common Cattail
It seems like they’ve been revitalizing this beach area. Further up the hill there are several native wildflower species that I don’t recall previously.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus). One of my favourite local herb plants used for throat conditions and coughs. It is also a beautiful and very structural plant that looks great in the winter. A few have grown as volunteers in my street garden and I have let them go since they also do very well in drought conditions.
Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) They grow all over one particular section of the beach, putting out their fluffy seeds at this time of year and then remaining as clusters of sculptural shells. I had pickled, immature milkweed pods a few years ago and they were very tasty.
Goldenrod (Solidago) These also grow on the beach among the milkweed. They are very short and tiny in comparison to the goldenrod that pops up wild in my street garden.
Guest post by Amy Urquhart
Today I got around to grinding up my dried herbs. Why? Because I found a great deal on a coffee bean grinder at Loblaws…$9.99! It worked really well.
Each weekend lately I’ve been harvesting from the garden whatever edibles I can. I managed to bring in almost all of the sage I had growing, along with all of the thyme and a bunch of mint, too. I hung them up in little bundles on an old wine rack in our laundry room. Today I found they were all nice and crunchy, so I brought them upstairs to the dining room, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work separating all those mint and sage leaves from their stems. The sage leaves came off very easily with a satisfying little snap as they popped off the stem. The mint was a bit more problematic, though. I basically just had to crunch whatever I could into a bowl. The stems were much more unwieldy. This is an herb that would do better if you cut the leaves off the stems before drying.
Herbs ready to be ground.
At some point I hope to get ahold of an old window screen, so I can spread leaves out on it for drying. For now, the hanging bundle method will have to suffice.
The new grinder did a bang-up job of whizzing catnip, mint and sage. I kept the catnip and mint around the consistency of tea (since I intend to use the mint as tea) but ground the sage as finely as I could. It smelled wonderful, and I inhaled a little catnip, but found it extremely satisfying to pour the contents of the grinder into a Ziploc bag, marking the contents as I went. I feel like I’ve moved on to “Advanced Gardening” now that I’m harvesting everything!
Of course, Farley had to help, too.
He just has to get in the middle of everything!