Tag Archives: basil

friday garden roundup

After finishing my coffee and reading some of the newspaper this morning I took a quick survey around the yard.


Honey bush (Melianthus major) is a South African species that I’ve had for a couple years now. Although it responds to watering with a lot of spunky growth, it’s also good with minimal additional watering. I have two sprinkler heads in the garden, and this plant gets by on the overspray from one of the heads after it’s made the sages and tangerine tree happy.

The maroon flowers unfurl from the branch tips in spring and dry to these brown spikes. I’ve left them on the plant to help me decide if I like the way they look or not. The bed they’re in in has a lot of mounding plants, so the spikes give some vertical interest.



The leaves are heavily serrated and are the main reason for growing the plant. Here they are, with shadows, and backlit by the morning sun. They look a little fierce, but they’re actually soft, like rubber. They do have a bit of an unpleasant odor if you brush by them. Combine that fact with the plant’s eventual size–six to twelve feet–and you’ll see that it has “dramatic background plant” written all over it.


The melianthus grows next to a bromeliad that truly is nasty and spiny. (I’ve mentioned this plant before…) Pretty though, even when it’s not flowering. And it takes next to no water when grown in mostly shade.


Next to the honey bush and bromeliad, in a planting that spans two or three continents, is a young manzanita, Actostaphylos Dr. Hurd, shown here in a detail highlighting its exfoliating bark. Although one of the faster growing manzanitas–it’s grown eight inches since February–this still isn’t a plant for the impatient. Currently it’s exactly one meter tall, and will hopefully hit its design height of ten feet before I’m back diapers. Eventually it’ll make it to fifteen feet or more.


In the front of the same bed, next to a sprinkler head, are some basil cuttings that I’ve posted on before. Six weeks after planting out, the largest plant is maybe eight by eight inches and is big enough for me to consider taking an occasional snip for the dinner table. In a month I should be ready to make batches of pesto.


The final photo isn’t my garden, but looking across the street, where they’re installing plastic turf. The neighbors are responding to our new water restrictions by mixing synthetic grass with palm trees. The look will be something like the wet Hawaiian paradise they had before.

But I do worry that synthetic grass, even if it looks something like the real thing, does nothing to address people’s fundamental expectations of what a garden should look like in a fiercely dry climate. And in my most uncharitable moments I think that installing plastic grass is like treating heroin addiction with methadone. And to this gardener, installing something as dead as plastic grass lands with a thud as loud as the one created by the infamous 1978 remodel of a Sunset Boulevard mansion by a Saudi sheik that featured planters full of plastic flowers.

But hey, they’re doing what makes sense to them, and they will be reducing their water use.

basil season

I love my drought-tolerant herbs, but I couldn’t imagine summer without one that likes a little more water to do well: basil.


Last year, I shared that when I buy a bunch at the grocery I usually cut off the ends of the stems and place them in some water on the counter. Basil hates being refrigerated, and this often keeps the bunch fresh for as long as you remember to refresh the water.


It’s a nice countertop bouquet. But often the stems will begin to root in the water. After a couple weeks or so, once the stems are approaching an inch long, you can transplant the little plants into the garden.

Give them a little shade the first few days to ease the transition out into the real world. If the cuttings are transplanted when the nights are 55 to 60 degrees or warmer, they’ll take off and give you enough basil so you won’t have to buy any more basil for the rest of the season.

You probably won’t know the exact variety of your basil, and you won’t have access to all the varieties you might find in an herb specialist’s catalog. (The Thyme Garden, for instance, lists 29 different basils.) But for all-around tomato-friendly summer cooking, the basil you’ll find in the stores works great.

Last night we had dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant that served us an interesting kind of mint as part of the meal. We didn’t eat all of it and I pocketed what was left, thinking that what works for basil is sure to work for mint. Since mint has such an ability to take over your garden and your life, however, the new plants will have to adjust to life in pots.

a basil bouquet

Basil bouquet
Basil bouquet
Basil is one of those herbs that doesn’t do well stuck in the refrigerator. Whenever I buy a bunch I get out a little vase, fill it with water, and help myself to however much of the bouquet I need for a meal. (It helps to pull off the lower leaves so that only stems sit in the water.)

Basil rooting in water
Basil rooting in water
Kept in a bright spot in the kitchen, the bouquet will begin to sprout roots. That’ll help keep the basil fresher. And if you have any left after a couple weeks, you can set the rooted cuttings out in the garden. Instant basil plants. Just add water.