Working on an herb garden

While the kitties entertain themselves...

{Orange chomps kitty grass first thing after breakfast}

{Roosevelt, taunted by the squirrel who casually plops nuts on his head, does nothing}

I have been toiling away at the neglected left side of the back yard. There we have a nice rectangular border which once housed some sad little rose bushes. Roses are lovely and all that, but not really my thing. Besides, I really want the back gardens to be hard-working and roses are just so... LEISURELY. So I gave them away. Literally, a post on craigslist was flooded with requests. In the end they were excavated by a landscape architect. How perfect.

What I want is an herb border. I want it for food. I want it because it smells amazing. I want it because this is California and it's what. we. do. It's just cool. And I want it to be a nice mix of herbs and decorative plants. Like papyrus:

I have wanted giant papyrus ever since I saw them during a photo shoot for work. They scream California to me (even though they are from Egypt). I suppose my fascination stems from being a midwestern import. The crazy prehistoric plants they have all around here are new to me. Other obsessions: giants ferns and black bamboo. Once I saw hedges made of geraniums. What?! In my hometown (Rockford, Illinois) geraniums are reserved for your grandmother's porch pot. NOT a hedge!

Anyway, I wanted papyrus and I wanted it to be the centerpiece of my herb border. Papyrus likes to sit in water. I do not have a pond, have no plans for a pond and I worried this might be an issue. The internet assured me I could grow it in pots, just no holes for drainage. Pots are best anyway because this plant is invasive, the same as bamboo. I set out for pots and found three amazing black plastic pots at Ikea, two large for papyrus and one small for mint (also invasive).

Then the deal of all deals, two giant papyrus for $14.99 each at Home Depot. I squealed. I had only seen this plant at boutique nurseries with hefty price tags. I snatched them up and wow, they are quite the showstoppers. People asked me about them as I walked to the register, people asked me about them as I walked to my Jeep. And people watched in humor as I set them in the back seat, sticking out the window. I laughed too.

They fit just right in my pots and I adorned them with two variations of potato vine, a purple and a vibrant green for color.

Then I could start to build the border. The papyrus took top position at two midpoints of the box. Mint was then placed in between but off-center. Some of my herbs are already nice little plants, including Mint, Thai Basil, Basil and Curled Parsley. Others I started from seed and they aren't quite ready for the ground:

Here we have Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Sage and Red Basil. I also started some Catnip for the kids. I chose my herbs somewhat based on usage and some for color. The garden can be a little bit leisurely, all work and no play makes a dull border!

While I was at it, I fancied up my hanging basket. The alyssum is supposed to be good for pest control and it smells fantastic.

Here it is, hard at work growing to disguise my old fence. What you can't see is the Kangaroo Paw to the left and what will be a giant fern all the way to the back. Oh my goodness, I love it. Papyrus is right out of a fantasy, a little bit of The Neverending Story here in my backyard


A garden update: those darned pests

While home improvements take a hiatus, our efforts are focused on maintaining the veggie garden. This is more work than I had imagined, but still rewarding and lovely and a pleasure. We are learning, no doubt about it, and what I thought would be a matter of water, grow, harvest, has turned into all out warfare. No, not with my favorite neighborhood squirrel! It's People vs. Bugs. Exhibit A:

That's my broccoli. What was once an adorable little baby, has grown into a pock-faced beast. First thing every morning I come out and inspect the bed, and when Mike wakes up I offer him my status report. On the arrival of these holes, I didn't even let him have coffee! We stood over the leaves scratching our heads, completely bumming.

The internet was our next step. I type in "who did this to my broccoli?!" and there I learn all about the Cabbage Looper. Growl... we head back to the leaves and start turning them over and well, what do you know, green caterpillars in various stages of development going to town.

Cabbage Loopers are common and really not that hard to control. You can literally pull them off and mush (Mike mushes, I carry them to the Green Bin for recycling). Or you can spray. We are opting for an all-organic garden so no pesticides allowed. Mike found a recipe for Garlic Fire Spray, whipped some up and we spray this nearly every day. Cabbage Loopers? Conquered.

The next invasion came in the form of Aphids, black and green. They began with the artichoke. On first site, my barf reflex kicked in. The base of the plant was covered in ants too, charming. This is an ongoing battle. They get the Garlic Fire Spray and repeated doses with the hose. It's amazing! If you can shoot them off the plant with a hose, apparently they die before they can make it back to the plant.

Back to holes. My beans! Now what?! The beans are the biggest failure. I think I bought bush beans instead of pole, because they never even reached the trellis before fading out. I don't know if it was the plant or the insect attack that lead to such a demise. But my attempts to save them were valiant. I was guessing it was slugs. We all know about the beer trick:

Not sure if they just don't like dark beers, are they the PBR type? But no one has landed here (see the weakened beans in the background?).

Next up was copper tape. Expensive business but I'll stop at nothing to save my beans! Copper tape is all science. A chemical reaction occurs if slugs or snails try to cross. It would be a suicide mission and they determine the beans aren't worth it. Of course, we ran out of tape before we could completely surround the box. A friend suggested we round it out with pennies. I hugged her for her genius!

In the end, after Loopers, Aphids and slugs, I relocated what was left of the beans to a pot. I planted seeds for new POLE beans as well as some pod peas for variety, both have promised to use the trellis. And the rest of the garden is moving right along. We've even had a small harvest!

We are loving the Romaine and are down to three bunches. We've also been harvesting spinach, Mike made a dip. Beets, carrots, onions and lettuce are troopers. We have red peppers on the way!

Why are they green? This was a matter of great concern so I looked it up. Oh, they start green and turn red. Phew!

Squash has finally taken over the ugly pot. It has aphids, I'm working on it. But its got crops!

Not sure what's going on with my Earthbox. Cherry tomatoes are insane, but what's up with the sandwich ones? It's not dead though and there are tomatoes on it. Just weird I guess.

All in all, things are doing well here. We have learned a lot and next year will probably be better. But still, this is fun. And we've actually made food! That you can eat! The yard is such a refreshing place to be. We have butterflies, bees, it's starting to smell good. It's our little oasis in the busy, busy city.