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The world of herbs
March is the time of the year that many of us are anxious to `get outside,' spruce up our yards and start planting gardens. However, lack of space, rocky or poor soil, or physical restrictions may prevent tiling the earth. Container gardens free you from an earthbound garden and provide all the benefits, i.e., fresh herb's, vegetables, and the beauty of flowers, with a lot less work.
Just about anything can serve as an attractive container thus allowing your imagination to run wild. It lets you use any sunny part of your yard, especially helpful if your yard is mostly shade trees and depending on the container, gives you the option of bringing your plants indoors, therefore, extending the growing season. Portable containers should be clean and have the ability to hold enough soil and water with reasonable drainage, as not to impair plant growth, (crushed rock works well on the bottom of the container if there are no drainage holes). If the container you choose is straightforward as a clay pot, you can always frame the pot with unique objects. A large low profile clay pot, planted with spring bulbs and framed with a large conch shell is a simple display but very effective. Other examples are a coal scuttle, old cookie tins, wooden or metal wash tubs and a vintage wooden tool kit. A hollow tree stump and a terra-cotta chimney flue work well but are not easily moved. One of my personal favorites is a terra-cotta strawberry pot. Once you've found the perfect container, compliment it with plants/flowers that `complete the look' both in color and texture. A strawberry pot with its side openings planted with small cascading or bushy herbs that will hang down attractively such as thyme, sweet marjoram, creeping rosemary, oregano and winter savory, complimented by upright or mound shaped herbs planted in the top opening, i.e., basil, parsley, sage and lavender. Keep well watered, fertilize once a month and keep the herbs clipped and compact. Bring the pot indoors in winter months to prevent cracking. If you have room, you can enjoy the herbs year-round. Try a combination of herbs and flowers for a pleasing effect. Begonias of various colors work well with herbs.
If you live in an apartment or housebound, you can still enjoy fresh herbs. A hanging basket in a sunny window is the answer. There is a wire basket the right size to suit your location. Line a wire basket with 1 1/2 inches of unmilled sphagnum moss. Place a shallow layer of moist potting mix on the moss. Now you are ready to plant the first layer of herb seedlings. Remove seedling from the pots, shake off dirt and wrap roots in moist paper towels and poke the seedlings through holes in outer moss layer around the perimeter of the basket. Add another layer of soil mix and repeat until basket is full. Plants need to cover the top of the ball. Usually takes one to two months for plants fill in to complete the ball shape. Use a slow release fertilizer or fertilize every two or three weeks with an organic blend fertilizer to keep herb ball vigorous. Cut back plants when necessary to maintain the ball shape. The basket serves as a beautiful decoration as well as supplying you with fresh herbs for cooking.
A exquisite example of a container garden can be found at Wave Hill, a public garden, 675W. 252nd St. Bronx, New York. Watering troughs, of various sizes and shapes, are staged to resemble a craggy landscape overlooking the Hudson River. The stone troughs are planted with alpine mixtures which include allium, draba and artemesia among others. The troughs tend to collect moss and lichens, only adding to the effect. You can purchase `new' troughs at selected garden centers ranging in price from less than fifty dollars to several hundred dollars dependent on size and design. If you're ambitious enough you could cast your own using designer James Hicks basic mixture of two parts cement-three parts peat moss and three parts horticultural perlite, adding enough water to achieve the consistency of moist `cottage-cheese'. Pour mixture into a form you designed and let dry for at least a day.
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