Infused Herb Oils

I have always loved growing herbs for use in the kitchen, medicinal teas, and for the pure joy of working with them in the garden. Nothing compares to the aroma of freshly cut herbs. Other than those reasons, my cats really appreciate them, too.

To harvest, I usually cut and hang bundles to dry. In the middle of winter it’s such a treat to grind the dry herbs and as they release their oils, they fill my kitchen with tantalizing odours. I feel like summer has just walked through my kitchen! But what else can you do with herbs? There are many uses of herbs, but this year I decided to try, once again, herb oils. Yep, once again. I have given oils a try before, but without much luck. This year, I stumbled upon a method that finally gave me what I was looking for. I was able to make a lovely peppermint oil that met my expectations.

Just to note, infused oils use much less plant material than essential oils and can be applied to the skin if desired. Essential oils can cause a nasty rash if applied directly to the skin.
Method for Making Infused Oils
Cut fresh herbs and allow to dry if wet. Wet herbs will produce mouldy oils. Pull leaves off plant and bruise slightly in mortar and pestle. Put into a clean jar and fill to the top with oil. I used grape seed oil, but you can use any oil that does not have a strong scent, such as canola or safflower. Olive oil works well for Rosemary or thyme oil, but can become rancid quickly. Screw the lid on tightly. Let sit for about 2 weeks. To make a stronger oil, I repeated the process daily for a week. You will need to strain the herbs from the oil using cheese cloth or fine mesh strainer. I personally like cheesecloth as it catches even the smallest pieces of plant materials. Below is a photo of my peppermint oil and materials I used.
Materials
fresh, clean, dry herbs
Glass jar with lid (preferably not metal)
Motar and pestle
Cheesecloth

Uses of infused oil
Infused oil can be used for adding to salves, lip ointment, and in hair products. How you use them depends on the healing properties of the plants you use. For example, if you are bothered by insect bites in summer, you may want to make a plantain oil to add to a salve. The peppermint oil I made is invigorating and can be used to stimulate. I used my peppermint oil in my diffuser. As the oil heated up, it released an invigorating peppermint smell into the entire room.
In the kitchen herb oils made from rosemary, thyme, oregano, or sage can be added to marinades, sauces, stir fries, or salad dressings. I like to add a sprig of the plant to the finished oil to “dress” it up a bit and it can help with identification of the oil. Herb oils make welcome gifts, as well.

All the good stuff you'll need!
All the good stuff you’ll need!

Canna Lilies

Every year I try to find a new plant to grow. This year it was the canna lily. I noticed them first in the large city planters and then they popped up in a few neighbouring yards. What caught my eye was the huge tropical foliage and the stunning flowers that seem to bloom forever. I was looking for a couple of pots to place on either end of a very lonely bench and came across a couple of pre-planted pots at one of my favourite greenhouses. Yes, I know some will be shocked that I don’t plant all my containers, but I love the fact that greenhouse containers have already had a jump on the growing season and have enough growth to be in full bloom. Instant colour! Each pot sported a lovely canna lily and I thought I’d give them a go.

How do you Grow These Plants?
For those interested in trying them here are a few things I have learned about canna lilies that may help you. First mine were against the front of our house that only receives a couple of hours of sun each day. So they fair well in sun and shade. They loved it when I kept them moist and protested it if they were too dry. Keep them moist, but not wet. They seem to be heavy feeders and did well with a weekly fertilizing of 20-20-20 fertilizer. Canna lilies are not hardy for northern climates and it seems a waste to toss them in the compost after they have grown so well. My game plan is to dig the bulbs out, clean them up and store them in a paper bag with some peat. The bulbs should be stored in a cool place and I believe my basement will do the trick. When storing other bulbs, I make sure I check on them periodically throughout the winter for rot. If I find any decayed pieces, I toss them out immediately.

Flowers? Who would have Thought?
I knew they flowered, but didn’t expect mine would. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure I would provide the appropriate care for them to live so I hadn’t even thought they’d bloom. So here I am in the middle of August and the canna lilies are still blooming! Who knew? About a month ago two stalks emerged from both plants and neither has stopped blooming since. New stalks just seem to grow overnight. The flowers last a few days and then you are left with a seed pod (see photo below). I just prune out the spent flowers and voila! Another flower stalk emerges. If you are looking for a flower that has a long blooming period, the canna lily fits the bill.

Beautiful, but Where Do I Plant Them?
So where would you plant these tropical beauties? I like to watch and study the growth of a plant and having the cannas in pots was a great way to do this. After seeing how they grew in the pot, I got a better idea of how they might work in a garden spot. In pots, the canna lily makes a huge statement. The two I have in pots are, in my opinion, a bit tall. I would try the shorter canna lilies for shorter pots. There are some that are only about 40-50 cm tall and a shorter pot would be better balanced. The pots I purchased from the greenhouse had yellow petunias, red trailing verbena and coral diascia at the base of the canna lily and looked lovely. If you do plant them in a pot, they should have some medium height plants at the base of the canna. Some people plant the taller plant at the back of the pot and this may work well if the pot will always be against a wall or fence. However, I do like to try out different placements for my pots around my yard and usually place the taller plant in the middle of the pot. This way the pot has flowers all the way around it and its placement isn’t limited.
Now the part I love- how would I use them in a flowerbed? I think a row of canna lilies against a fence or along a sidewalk bordered by a fence would create a stunning effect. I would most definitely plant medium height plants in front of the cannas due to the lack of foliage at their base. Maybe one colour of petunias or a variety of perennials with different blooming periods. The canna lilies would bloom continuously and one wouldn’t notice those times when the perennials were between bloom times. Another option would be a bed with canna lilies in the middle surrounded by flowering annuals. However they are used, canna lilies are sure to create interest in the garden.

Canna lilies are making their way into northern gardens here in Alberta. During our short growing season these beauties are adding that “tropical” feel many gardeners seek. I can see the canna lily being a new favourite in my garden for many years. I hope you do, too.

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Canna lily seed pod.
Canna lily in pot.
Canna lily in pot.
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Canna lily flower.

Hostas

Hostas
Every once and awhile a plant comes along that quickly becomes a personal favourite. If if truth be told, I am pretty sure I have developed a secret hosta addiction. When I visit greenhouses, I invariably wander over to the hosta collection and begin convincing myself I need another flowerbed or perhaps that I can find room in the back flowerbed for one more hosta. Whether it is the tropical leaves or the fact these plants have been life savers for shady spots, I’m not sure, but I do know they are one of the most brilliant plants in my yard.

I have two areas where my hosta grow. One is along the back fence where they do not receive any direct sunlight throughout the day. The hosta in this part of the yard do well mostly; we’ll get to that in a moment. In the other area they are under trees and get part sun throughout the day. One might think they would flourish with more sunlight, but, alas, they do not seem to be that robust. Hosta typically grow in zones 3 and up. For years, I have heard how you must mulch them to protect from the thaw and freeze cycles of spring. I really have never worried about this as hostas take so long to come up that by the time their frost-sensitive leaves are up, we are well past any frost dates. Mind you there have been late frosts where you would have been graced by the sight of me running through my back yard frantically covering the fragile leaves of my beloved hostas with old towels and sheets. My plants are in a clay based sandy soil and would surely benefit from a more loam-like soil. I amend my soil yearly with my own compost and additions of peat and manure, but it takes a while to build rich soil.  Hostas like consistent moisture, but not sitting in wet soil. I have a hosta in a drier location and it really hasn’t grown as well. Its growth is stunted, very few leaves, and it flowers early. It’s loudly vocalizing a lack of appreciation for the location despite my efforts to water regularly during dry periods.

I have tried to keep plant tags, but over the years they were lost or taken out promising myself I would create a plant log along with photos. We all know what happens with good intentions… So having said this, here are the cultivars I have grown in my small yard with success. There are literally thousands of different varieties. From miniatures to those that stretch to almost 90 cm; there seems to be a hosta every gardener can love.
Hosta ‘Francee’– hardy, have spread about 2 feet or 60 cm. Produce several stalks with numerous purple flowers. Hummingbirds visit flowers often.
Hosta ‘Antioch’– slower to grow. Liked the slimmer, more pointed leaves. Leaves have touch of white on edges, but brilliant green. Just flowered for first time this year.
Hosta ‘Northern Exposure’– has creamy, yellow edges. Deep green, broad leaves. Has done well in a somewhat exposed area of garden.                                                                                           Hosta ‘Rainforest Sunrise’– lime green centre with dark olive edges, slower growth rate, but well worth it. This plant is a show stopper and adds incredible colour and interest to the garden. This year I have added (yes, I made another flowerbed) the following: Hosta ‘Stained Glass’, H. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’, H. ‘Patriot’,   H. ‘Halcyon’, and H. ‘Fire and Ice’. I will update you on how they do in the spring.

Now I mentioned something about a hosta in my yard not doing well. Generally Hostas are really resistant to pests. Slugs seem to be their only enemy and I have not had to battle slugs in my current location. I have fought slugs and will follow up with a post on how victory was mine against the formidable slug another day. This particular hosta did well last year, but I had noticed slightly wrinkled leaves. In my reading, I have not come across viruses that affect hostas, but it is possible. As well, my mom always said there were weak plants that were never really healthy to begin with. This year the hosta in question barely grew 30 cm, and yet has bloomed with normal, abundant leaves. It is half the size of the hostas it has grown up by. To fight the unseen foe or conquer a site issue, I’ve ensured it was well watered and laid a good heap of compost under it. It has perked up, but I will decide its fate at the end of the growing season.

Below are some lovely photos of hostas my friend Lorraine shared. They are so vibrant and healthy! I love how she has planted different cultivars side-by-side. This really creates depth and interest in the garden. Thank you, Lorraine, for sharing.

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Hello Gardening World!

So why write a blog about gardening in the North? And what is this, “North” I am referring to? Well, the answer to the first question wasn’t as easy to pinpoint as I first thought. No, I had to really sit and think about this one. It had to be that I was passionate about digging in the earth and trying new things every year. Yes, that answers it somewhat, but there is more. What would compel me to want to put it in print? My life is busy enough and I have other interests outside of work that take up my time. Why write it?

While pondering this I realized it is about sharing what gardening does for me as a person and, most importantly, my soul. However, it struck me that every garden I have created is a reflection of me and perhaps, the life experiences I was going through at the time. Every time I work amongst plants, I am creating, I am fixing, or I am building something that never was. I liken this to what an artist does. I express who I am through my garden and, hence, my soul shines through. So if I can bring whatever knowledge I have or create a platform for others to share and express their ideas about their gardening adventures, then I believe writing about my gardening experiences completes that expression of self.

Now that was deep, wasn’t it? I promise you I prefer a little levity when writing. So to answer my second question why I want to blog about gardening in the North, well, that’s where I live. Currently, I reside just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. To say our climate in Alberta is variable is an understatement. It isn’t uncommon for the temperature to vary 20 degrees within one day. Need I say what stress this can place on plants? Northern climates present unique challenges even to the most experienced gardener. Through this blog I hope others will share how they deal with the trials northern gardeners face. As well, I look forward to hearing about favourite plants, success stories and what gardening does for you.

Finally, I have to admit to the two realities of my blog before I log off for today. First, I am not a professional writer as will become evident if you continue to read my posts. While I am a teacher by trade, I have yet to write the great Canadian novel or travel in the same circles as authors. My writing is from my heart and reflects a conversational tone. I guess that is what blogging is about. It won’t be perfect and I am sure those bent upon correct grammatical form will have a lot to comment on. I promise I will aim to do my best and, yet,  still be somewhat entertaining. Secondly, I do not claim to be a plant expert or garden guru. However, I do love to share ideas and have garden/plant conversations. So please share!