Herb Gardens Thrive All Year Long

lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)

lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)

Thanksgiving should serve to remind Valley gardeners of our good fortune, especially at this time of the year.
Above all, we should be thankful that the ground in the Valley never freezes. This means that any time we are inspired to go outside and plant, we can do so. When much of the country is shoveling snow, we continue to mow the lawn. In the fall, when much of the country is wrapping frost-tender plants in blankets and mulching the ground to retain heat, we are deciding whether to plant primroses or cyclamen in our winter gardens’ shady places.
We should be thankful for the ability to germinate vegetable seeds every day of the year. Without much effort, we can harvest salad for the dinner table nonstop. In the Valley, vegetable seeds can be planted 365 days a year and will sprout within 10 to 14 days in all four seasons. My only recommendation would be to make sure lettuce gets full sun in fall and winter, while in the spring and summer it can be planted in full to partial sun exposures. Radishes, carrots, beets and other root crops can also be sown virtually year-round in the Valley. Parsley is another nonstop grower. Even cherry tomatoes, planted in late summer or early fall, will produce fruit throughout the kind of mild Valley winter we have come to expect in recent years.
Fruit from tropical trees is also available year-round in Valley gardens. If you have a fondness for avocados, plant one pebbly skinned black Hass variety (harvest is spring through fall) and one smooth-skinned green Fuerte variety (harvest from fall through spring), and you can make guacamole any day of the year. By planting one Washington navel orange (harvest from December to May) and one Valencia orange (harvest from March to August) tree, you will have a backyard supply of juice for breakfast nine months out of the year. Finally, Lisbon and Eureka lemon trees will allow you to make lemonade in all four seasons.
Herb gardens are also year-round affairs in the Valley. Some of the most outstanding herbs are woody perennials grown as trees, shrubs, hedges or ground covers with a minimum of care.
Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) has the strongest lemon-scented leaves of any plant and grows into a 6-foot shrub.
The bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), from which bay leaves are harvested, will reach a height of 20 feet or more as a specimen tree, although it can be kept pruned as a hedge at whatever size you wish.
The native California bay (Umbellularia californica), inedible but highly aromatic, is similarly useful as either tree or hedge. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), of Mediterranean origin, is a drought-tolerant perennial that is available in both shrub and ground cover varieties.
The common myrtle (Myrtus communis), another Mediterranean herb, will eventually grow into an 8-foot tree with smooth, mottled bark, sparkling white and gold flowers, purple fruit, and aromatic, diamond shaped leaves.
Last but not least, there are scented geranium varieties — lemon, peppermint, apple, chocolate, rose, nutmeg, etc. — that have found happy homes in Valley gardens.
When it comes to year-round color, Valley gardeners express thanks for bougainvillea, “Balcon’ ivy geraniums, bedding begonias, lavender and crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii). Trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis) is nearly always in bloom in either mauve or white. And as time goes by, ever more nonstop blooming rose varieties are being developed, especially floribunda, shrub and miniature types.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) look their best during the first two weeks after they leave the nursery, so make sure you find plants that have just arrived and have not been lingering for days on the supermarket shelf. Put them next to a bright window and keep soil evenly moist but not saturated. If you want to plant outdoors, wait until mid-February to do so. In the Valley, poinsettias planted in the ground must receive good light but be protected from afternoon sun in order to survive.

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