Speaking of mint, check out the unique and gorgeous flowers on the ‘Lemon Mint’ plant. I purchased this particular variety as an impulse buy in early spring when herbs were 3 or 4 for $10 and I couldn’t steer my bike in the general area around known garden shops without popping in for “just a peek” and then finding myself tentatively and rather unsafely riding home with a basket full of something-or-other.
All of that just to say that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I bought this plant except that I was working on an expanding collection of mints and I’m constantly on the lookout for a lemony herb that can rival the fresh lemon zip of Lemon Verbena. I can tell you right now that despite the name ‘Lemon Mint’ doesn’t even make it into the parking lot of the stadium that holds the ring where possible contenders would go head-to-head with the mighty Lemon Verbena. It might make it onto the highway that leads to the parking lot of the stadium or maybe the fallow field next to the parking lot of the stadium but that’s only because I’m feeling generous.
But I digress.
So it turns out that the plant commonly referred to as ‘Lemon Mint’ is in fact a type of beebalm, Monarda citriodora to be exact. I noticed that it looked kinda odd (square, tought stems) and rather un-mentha-mint-like when I purchased it but REALLY started to notice a problem when the first flowers bloomed. This is another fine example of why common names are misleading. Monarda citriodora is in fact a member of the mint family but is not what you picture in your mind when you think mint. It is also commonly called: Lemon bee balm, horsemint, lemon bergamot, plains horsemint. This non-mint mint cousin prefers a sunny location but doesn’t mind a little bit of shade which is why it hasn’t keeled over from its current position in the shadiest spot of my community plot tucked in alongside the ‘Ginger’ and ‘Mojito’ mints.
Now that I know the true nature of this plant I plan to move it to a slightly sunnier position in the garden. As far as use goes the plant is most commonly brewed up as a tea or added to salads. The mint name is misleading since it does not have a refreshing minty taste (or much of a lemon taste for that matter) but has a much stronger, muskier, thyme/oregano flavor better suited to savory meals than summery beverages. I picked the flowers shown in the photo above several days ago and they have been thriving in a vase in my kitchen since without showing signs of wilt or petal drop.
There are roughly five mint varieties in this bouquet including clockwise from top right: Chocolate mint, Pear mint, Ginger mint, Lemon Mint (with the crazy flowers), and Mojito mint (not seen).
Mint has got to be the most abundant herb in the garden and as this year’s mint harvest picks up speed I’ve been trying to find ways to use up last year’s dried stock. Today I mixed up a batch of Claudia’s Mint Lemonade but added my own zip with a dash of dried lemon verbena and a tiny pinch of dried stevia to sweeten.
Both were brewed in a tea pot (a new Bee House pot purchased at Soko Hardware in San Francisco) along with the mint and added to the lemon juice once cool. I threw in some fresh orange mint clippings and two orange slices before putting the pitcher in the fridge to chill. I’m not a lemonade fan but my spouse Davin says that the addition of mint tea to the lemonade dilutes some of the tartness of the lemons (without adding much sweetener) and makes for a more refreshing, thirst-quenching drink.
A little red and sort-of white for Canada Day courtesy of my rooftop garden. We were hoping the ‘Whippersnapper’ would be ripe and ready for eating by today’s national holiday — some celebrate with a two-four of beer, over-sized sparklers, and things that explode, we get excited about ripening tomatoes — but it looks like the first almost-there tomato could use a day or two more. Based on when I started the seeds and planted out this still qualifies it as the fastest growing heirloom determinate I have ever grown.
I am growing three ‘Whippersnapper’ plants this year: one in an upside-down container (seen in photo), one in an upright container, and one in-ground at my community garden plot. Based only on growing experience and without a taste or texture test, this variety is poised to knock ‘Sunrise III’ out as the reigning cherry-sized, medium-small (the plants are bushing but seem to need a container that is about 1 ft-1.5 ft deep) determinate champion. And it’s not a hybrid which means I can save the seeds!
I’ll let you know how it makes out in the categories of flavor and texture when the time comes.
This is one of those ideas that is insanely simple yet effective. Grow a couple of lettuce varieties with pretty leaf shapes and bright colours. Put them together in a container that sets off their leaf colours or grow them in individual pots of a contrasting colour. In this case I have two leaf lettuce varieties with very curly leaves and contrasting colours (‘Ruby’ and ‘Henderson’s Black-Seeded Simpson’) set off by a black metal container. Hint: Chartreuse and yellowish greens always looks good when paired with deep reds or purple.
The key to keeping lettuce happy on a hot deck is to move the container to a less intense spot when the heat of summer kicks in and make sure to keep the soil moist — they’ll get bitter faster if they experience too much drought. You can cut each leaf off individually (remove from the outside if you want to keep a nice rosette) or just chop the whole thing off about an inch or so from the soil line and set the plant aside (somewhere less visible unless you’re comfortable with the stubby bits on display) until it grows back a second harvest.
By the end of the second round the leaves are usually too bitter to eat. Don’t toss it out into the composter just yet! You can still get some use out of your lettuce by setting the plant into hotter sun (don’t forget to water!) and allowing the plant to bolt. Bolting is when a plant produces flowers and then seeds prematurely in a mad rush to reproduce itself when the growing conditions become too extreme. This is usually caused by the increasing heat of summer and intense sun. The colour will often deepen in hotter sun and some lettuce varieties will grow into crazy, alien towers with pretty flowers perched on top. Don’t bother trying to eat it at this point since it will taste horrible and ooze a gluey substance when cut, but it makes a very cheap and easy bright spot when set amongst boring edibles like tomatoes and potatoes.
Yesterday afternoon I brought home a first harvest from the four different kinds of hardy sage (Salvia officinalis) I’ve got growing at the community garden. It’s not much, just a handful of clippings that I pinched off to make the plants grow bushier but it’s more than enough to make a whole lot of delicious scrambled eggs. I removed the flowers because I moved the flowering plants from my former plot earlier in the season and would rather they put their energy to getting well established and making lots of lush and tasty leaves than making babies so-to-speak.
- Garden sage – Your standard, cold hardy, culinary sage. I am making it sound dull here but really you can’t beat the standard variety when it comes to hardiness and productivity. I grew a bunch of plants in my planter box a number of years ago and they survived for years getting larger and more prolific every season. This variety flowers like crazy after its first season — I like to snip a few off to put in a vase on my desk but you can eat them too or brew them into a tea. Leave a few in the garden where they will attract lots of pollinators and beneficial insects.
- Purple Sage – I find this one to be less cold hardy than the garden sage but it will survive outdoors in colder climates if you give it lots of chance to establish itself and provide mulch or winter protection. I have grown it in the past and it never seems to get as large and bushy as the garden sage but the dark purple colour is just so pretty and makes a great contrast to the golden and tricolor sages. I am a sucker for just about anything purple in the garden.
- Golden Sage – This variety seems to have the same issues as the purple but the chartreuse splashes in the leaves are hard to resist. Chartreuse is my other colour weakness. I’ve got the chartreuse/gold version of just about every herb (oregano, marjarom, etc) in my community plot this year.
- Berggarten Sage – Similar to garden sage but with a dense, low growth and big, soft, oval leaves.
I have a fifth tricolor plant growing in a pot on the rooftop deck. I find the coloured sages are best for pots because they tend to stay on the smaller size and develop a really interesting topiary look if you remove the lower leaves and allow the plant to grow a woody bottom stem.
p.s Yep, those are my dirty fingernails in the photo above. Thanks to Davin for taking the photo.