Hot Plants

My rosemary is recovering.

I nearly did it in this summer. The combination of July’s heat wave and my relapse – the first of which coincided with and seemed to have a hand in the other – both put forth their best effort to snuff the spiky, resinous life from it.

It had seemed to be holding its own in the heat, and then one morning before breakfast I looked out the kitchen window while washing my hands and noticed it had become yellow, dry, and sickly-looking. Nothing else looked that great around that time either – the sage was getting leggy and sunburned, and even the mint looked a bit peaked. The two basil plants I’d put in the week before everything went south with my health and the weather had looked so green and hopeful when they first went into the ground and had been promptly chewed down to the roots by the local roof rats.

And I, my fever roiling, having lost another five pounds I didn’t have to spare, and only able to summon the energy to shower every third day, caught a dim glimpse of my reflection in the pane’s glare as I replaced the oversized cake of olive oil soap in its wood and wire holder with a small clatter and lathered my hands in an unconscious rhythm.

I wasn’t looking so hot either.

I always wanted to grow rosemary, and Fresno was my first real chance. My mother-in-law, a formidable gardener who has the sort of graceful, unstudied-looking yard full of exuberant azaleas and lush greenery that is the result of more than 20 years of diligent, thoughtful work and smart plant choices, told me that in the mid-Atlantic, where I grew up, there are two ways to overwinter rosemary.

“You can bring it inside and kill it, or you can leave it outside and kill it.”

Not so Fresno. I’ve been amazed to see rosemary, huge boxwood-sized amounts of it that clearly take the better part of a decade to grow, acting as a hedge. You could roast all the potatoes in town and not use half of a plant that size. And you can hardly find one – let alone two – ways to kill it. It loves this climate.

So I’ve been growing some in a container since last summer. I probably should have moved it out of the sun somewhat when the heat wave came, but I never had the energy to do it or direct Chimp to do so. Really, he didn’t need another thing to do, what with trying to keep me fed and somewhat comfortable and from constant tears. When I asked him about its fading appearance, he told me he was watering the plants; even constant watering wasn’t enough to prevent ill effects from that streak of 115-degree days.

After the heat broke, after that string of ten days during which I didn’t leave the house, after I got back the ability to sit up, and bathe, and stand for a minute or two, I started watering the plants again from time to time. It wasn’t much of an herb garden this year. It seems like I was too busy with and tired from a schedule full of research projects during the spring, and I hadn’t gotten around to planting dill or summer savory or parsley or cilantro or even basil early on. But I did have what had overwintered – the sage, and the mint, the two kinds of thyme, the Greek oregano, the winter savory – and the rosemary.

Week by week, the rosemary sheds a few more of the yellow leaves it was nearly overcome by. I find them in the chips and on the ground around the container when I turn the hose toward it. I set the sprayer on “jet” to blow out the webs that the spiders seem to love to build in it, and a few more dead leaves come off. The fiercely propelled water raises its piney fragrance, and I run my hands through the plant, plucking off a discolored piece or two and picking up its aromatic gum on my skin in the process. I bring my hand up and inhale deeply.

I’ve seen this plant through a summer and a winter and another summer. Actually, that’s not quite right – I’ve watched this plant through that time, and I’ve given it a bit of supplemental water and a better-than-average soil. It keeps going, den of weaving spiders and heat waves notwithstanding. It is made for this place. I wish such adaptation and resilience for myself.

Volunteer Plants & Other Garden News

Volunteer Plants & Other Garden News

I was gone for a week and some weeds came up here and there – mostly just purslane and oxalis in the planting bed that has the majority of the garden – but additionally there were four weedy-looking things, three of which had gotten quite large, in the bed where we most recently buried a batch of compost. I yanked three of them out this morning and then realized I smelled a familiar smell from their foliage. I looked at the roots of the plants and realized that one still had a seed attached to it. It looked like a melon seed, which, though possible, seemed unlikely, since it’s been quite a while since I’ve bought a melon. No organic ones around in the winter, really. Then I brought the “weeds” up to my nose and gave them a good sniff, and realized I had just pulled out three pretty well-established volunteer cucumber plants. For those of you not aware of this bit of plant-relative minutiae, cucumbers are part of the melon family. Back in the ground they went, but I think I’ve done them in. I’m bummed – but there’s one left I didn’t pull out which I can tend to. And the next cucumber I buy, I’ll be sure to dry and put some of the seeds in the ground.

I’ve occasionally seen corn seedlings coming up there, also from the compost, but those I’ve just pulled up – seems like too much bother to try to get corn going. All of this may be an indication that my compost isn’t “cooking” at as high a temperature as it should be in the bin, but – oh well.

Speaking of sprouts, I tried to sprout some of my coriander seeds before I left for Chicago, thinking I might be able to get out of buying seeds or plants to put in the garden, but they didn’t germinate. I would guess that they’re irradiated. Looks like I’ll just have to buy seeds.

In other garden news, pretty much all of the tomatoes seem to have some small fruit on them now. They are still going like gangbusters. One sprouted what seems to be a new major branch while I was gone and scaled the rosebushes. I have knit it into the cage as best I can. Another is rapidly approaching the top of the privacy fence. I suspect that I was supposed to pinch these tomatoes back at some point to force more of the plants’ energy into the fruit. I may have small finished tomatoes.

One of the mystery pepper plants I got from Dovey has three good-sized banana pepper-looking fruits on it. It’s the one getting the most sun, the one that wasn’t being eaten alive by the encroaching tomatoes until I wrestled them into cages – the rest have blossoms but no obvious fruit yet, except for one very small greenish-purple pepper. The habaneros are all looking far more robust than when I left – they’ve put out a new crop of leaves and are harboring what look like the beginnings of fruit.

And what’s going on in the mint cage match, you ask? Believe it or not, the chocolate mint and the spearmint are horning in on the Italian oregano, which looks like a 90 lb. weakling in comparison. The marjoram is sending out shoots where it has been pinched, but it still is excessively leggy. I pinched back the chocolate mint again today. It’s a sneaky bugger. It had already put a runner halfway down the side of the cedar tub it’s growing in in an attempt to get into the ground. I snipped that off and a batch of other runners too. I haven’t been able to figure out much to do with the chocolate mint – every time I pinch it back, its very strong aroma convinces me that it would be great in homemade ice cream, but I lack an ice cream maker. It’s too characteristic a peppermint smell for me to want to substitute it in the places I usually use fresh spearmint.

I pinched back the basil, too – it was starting to put forward a few tops, though none of them had blossomed yet.