filet beans

Barbara Pleasant

                                                                    Garden Writer

June 2015

'Tis the season for harvesting and drying tea herbs, which is pleasurable duty indeed! The apple mint is having a good season, and this year I've added several novel tea plants to my harvest list -- raspberry leaves, slices of rhubarb (they give a lemony tang) and a smattering a unopened buds from the Rugosa roses.

But the darling of the season is valerian, which perfumes the air with its sweet vanilla fragrance. It smells so good that you don't want to stop working, so the garden stays nicely weeded in June!

Fragrant valerian flowers, in bloom this month 
Question of The Week: 

I’m new to indoor gardening in Montreal. I set up a plant light with T5 bulbs but I’m still confused about a few things. The seeds I’ve started so far are: arnica, valerian, yarrow, patchouli, wormwood, marshmallow, queen anne’s lace, evening primrose, elecampane, marigold, lady’s mantle, and wood betony. 


How many hours a day should I keep the plant lights on? Do I need to water both the bottom and the top?  Also, I didn't know I should start with only 2-3 seeds and sprinkled a bunch inside each little compostable cow pot. Hoping I still have a chance with them.


Oh, dear! Except for the marigolds, you have chosen some very difficult subjects! While all of those herbs DO make seeds, they also propagate themselves vegetatively, by growing new plants from well-nourished root buds. A root bud with roots attached is a much more advanced organ than a germinating seed, so you will always get a bigger, better plant by choosing a start, or rooted cutting, rather than seed when starting hardy perennial herbs.

Annual herbs including basil and dill are much easier to grow from seed, because this is the natural way for annuals. Their life cycle calls for them to sprout, grow, and develop mature seeds for the next generation, all in one growing season.   

Perennials have a different agenda: Survive the first year, then develop a root strategy that helps them live forever. For perennials, seeds are often an afterthought.

Not trying to get personal, but from the looks of your plant list, I think you would really enjoy working with scented geraniums as year round indoor plants. Here's a Canadian source: 

Scented geraniums are wonderful plants to grow under lights through winter, and you can put them out on a patio or deck in summer. Swish your hand through the leaves, and the fragrance will repel mosquitoes, at least for a while. Anytime you like, you pinch a leaf and breathe in the aromas. Some scented geraniums can be dried for their fragrance, and all bloom when they are in the mood.


As for your cultural questions, think perfect weather. Simulate rain from the top twice a week, and don’t worry about bottom watering until the plants have roots. Twelve to fourteen hours a day of light is good, more than eighteen is too much. If you have too many seedlings, use tweezers to pull out all but two of them from each pot. The germination rates for herbs and wildflowers is often quite low, but you may get lots of marigolds!

Looking for something I’ve written, but can’t remember where? I know the feeling! In attempt to bring order to the chaos of hundreds of articles and blogs, I’ve set up Pinterest boards of my work. The categories range from permaculture and pollinators to growing onions and garlic. I hope you find my Pinterest guide easy to use and more enjoyable than reading through long lists.

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Thank you, Garden Writers!


Recently I received word that both my long-running Gardening Know How column in Mother Earth News and my GrowVeg Blog won Silver Awards of Achievement from the Garden Writers Association. I must be doing something right, among them working with the great creative teams. I am especially grateful to Cheryl Long, editor-in-chief at Mother Earth News, whose gardening passions run as deep as mine, and to Jeremy Dore at GrowVeg, who never runs out of great new ideas.

Barbara Pleasant
Blue Ridge mountainsei


Floyd, VA, USA

Near Roanoke on the

Blue Ridge Parkway

cat with hollyhocks
Magnus, who bears a family name from my Swedish ancestors

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