Nature’s Perfume, Hyacinth

My memories of my Mom always involve plants and flowers. She sometimes spends her weekend wandering around botanical gardens where she picks random herbs and flowers for her collection.  As a child I often tagged along with her and she never failed to give me a little lecture about flowers.  So as I grew older I learned to love gardening and the beauty you can create out of random flowers and herbs.  I never thought I would have a green thumb until I started planting hyacinths in our garden. Their colors and exotic scent captured my attention when I was randomly checking a flower exhibit.

Hyacinths are a native flower from the eastern Mediterranean.  They grow from bulbs and are known for their heady fragrance.  The Hyacinth head is commonly used to make perfume. It can produce four to six linear leaves and one to three spikes per flower.  In most cultures the flower represents beauty and grace.  In Greek mythology a Hyacinth is a beautiful girl loved by Zephyr and Apollo.  She died in the end which causes the two gods to fight for her even in her death. In the end Apollo made a flower out of her spilled blood. Many said it was because she was so beautiful.  With so much history related to beauty of the hyacinth it was no wonder my Mom planted it generously.

As a child my mom helped me find a spot for my first gardening venture with hyacinths. We found a patch of soil that easily drains; a suitable place for this particular flower.  Although hyacinths aren’t fussy about the soil, they can’t survive without ample sun exposure and standing water.  Fall is the right season to start planting hyacinths.  When planting we made sure that the bulbs are buried 7-8 inches deep and at least 6 inches apart. For better results, we planted the bulbs with their pointed end facing up. We made sure that we watered the flower well so the roots can grow properly in Fall and eventually a full grown flower by Spring. When space isn’t enough hyacinths can also thrive in beds or containers.

When harvesting my mom gave me a few tips to keep the flower well nourished. She said to make sure I don’t cut the leaves off because they provide nutrients to the bulb. The leaves can only be removed in during late summer when the leaves turn. Planting the flowers in containers is also a good idea so you can bring them indoors when they are in full bloom. Hyacinths are a perfect decorative and fragrant flower for the inside of a home.  They provide a soothing scent; nature’s natural perfume.


Brigitte Grisanti

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Chives in a Window Box

Chives are the tinniest species of edible onions. Just like onions this herb grows in clumps but is also grown for its vibrant leaves and flowers. The chive bulb blooms every spring and summer, and then enters a long slumber during fall and winter. Chives come in two varieties; onion and garlic. Both are grown and used in similar fashions. Since it was almost spring planting chives seemed to be a good idea and a good collection to my mini herb garden. So with all this in mind I trotted myself to the nearest home garden store and bought myself some chive bulbs.

After 30 minutes of sorting through some bulb selections I decided to go with the Chinese chive. The Chinese chive has a hint of garlic. After completing my selection I then picked out a couple of window boxes. Although technically the bulbs could be planted in my garden this selection produces small pink and lavender globelike blossoms that will add an extra unexpected touch to my window boxes. For this reason I thought it would go perfectly in my porch windows. Also the chive herb is a natural insect repellent which will help with a variety of insects entering the home through the windows.

Like many herbs chives can thrive anywhere as long as the soil area has good drainage, sunlight and space. Since I selected bulbs and not seedlings I have to make sure that they’re planted properly. Although they’re tiny in size they do sprout nicely so they need room.  To start I purchased organic soil, added aged compost and then added 1-cup of bonemeal per large window box. Remember if you add aged compost and bonemeal you don’t add fertilizer.

Before planting the bulbs into the soil I made sure the soil was moist enough. Chives require a continual state of moisture straight down to the root. They should be watered thoroughly and frequently. I then planted the bulbs in bunches of 5. This was an ideal number as long as they are kept four inches apart. Because chives have a strong root system they aren’t very delicate compared to other herbs. If left neglected for a short while chives won’t die but I wouldn’t recommend that. If neglected for too long it will prolong when they’re able to be harvested.

After a few weeks the bulbs started to show growth into a clump of bulbs. Remember to pinch goodbye those tiny flowers so the plant can produce more leaves. If you don’t mind a sparing harvest then you can leave them and enjoy the flowers (which is what I do). By summer I was ready to harvest my very own chives. The proper way to do this is to cut from outside of the clump to half an inch above soil level. Leaving the half inch in the soil allows the the extra space for the plant to restore itself.   Now I can season my eggs, potatoes, soups and fish with chives anytime I want to simply by reaching out into my porch window box.

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European Influence of Rosemary

Enchanting, colorful and aromatic; rosemary is a perfect ornament to have around the house or in the garden. This is the reason why I love keeping this herb around and why this intense herb is the perfect partner for chicken and lamb dishes. But it’s not just that, rosemary can be paired with vegetable dishes and fish too. At the time I was a relatively new cook and exotic wasn’t a word used to describe my style of cooking. But after trying the rosemary dishes I learned to love it and incorporated rosemary with other dishes. For example, using rosemary in potato dishes is something I discovered at home in the U.S. which turned out to be quite common here.

Rosemary is known as the herb sacred to friendship. It’s a native Mediterranean herb that is used in Italian, French and Spanish cooking. Another member of the mint family this herb has an evergreen shrub that is the same as oregano, basil and marjoram. It thrives mainly near the ocean and it’s no wonder why its Latin name can be translated into “dew of the sea.” What makes this herb special is its unique bittersweet flavor with hints of lemon, pepper and pine, and its collective aroma filled with fir and ocean scents.

My herb fascination in general started when I was traveling in Europe where rosemary is used quite commonly in numerous dishes. So common that when shopping for meat a butcher will typically place a sprig of rosemary in the package. It was upon my return home from that trip that I decided to grow rosemary in my own herb garden. I gathered with my friend Sasha to help me with this project. Sasha was kind enough to teach me how to plant, cultivate and harvest it correctly and I was kind enough to share the stories of my travel with her.

Sasha decided to invite me to her garden to show me how to properly cut the herb since rosemary is easier to grow by cutting and layering. We picked a new growth from Sasha’s garden and snipped about 2 inches and we removed the leaves from the bottom inch of the sprig. We then dipped the tip into a rooting hormone and placed it into a container where we had our dampened seed mix. Sasha made sure the starting soil mixture was sterile and well-drained. I took this container home with me where I made sure to mist the cuttings regularly.

After about 3 weeks I noticed the roots were starting to grow so I transferred the cutting to a bigger pot and placed each cutting approximately 3-4 inches in diameter apart and pinched off the top for branch development. Like most herbs rosemary thrives in warm indirect sunlight. With enough sunlight, good drainage and air circulation my cuttings were soon a bush. Depending on its variety rosemary can grow up to 6 feet tall but the standard height is usually 3 feet. Its leaves were small grey-green pine needles and it had small flowers that bloomed in a variety of colors.

At the time they were ready for picking I started using them in a variety of home cooked dishes. My preference is always to use it fresh. However, if you decide to dry your rosemary instead make sure to dry it whole. Do not take the needles off the spring because this will cause the rosemary to lose its natural oils. This brings me to another type of use for rosemary which is medicinal, but I will be saving those details for future posts on essential oils!

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Coriander Versatile Herb Worthy of a Place in My Home Garden



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Cilantro, dhania, chinese parsley – these are the other names of coriander, which remains a favorite herb of mine ever since I started my own garden. Aside from that, I had good memories of my mom and grandmother preparing delicious dishes with it while I was still very young. I can still remember its faint aroma wafting through our dining room as we sat and feasted on our holiday dinners. It definitely reminds me of nothing but good memories!

Coriander is edible from root to tip. However, the most commonly used parts are the leaves and the seeds. The former are usually added to dishes, sauces, or salsa as garnish, as its aroma and taste quickly disappears when exposed to heat. The seeds, which can be ground, crushed, or added whole, can be cooked with sauces and meats to make food more flavorful.

This herb’s bursting flavors, aroma, and versatility in the kitchen makes it the choice of many chefs and homemakers like my own mother and grandmother. I myself continue my own mother’s legacy by using coriander in my own culinary exploits, which is why I am motivated to grow this herb in my garden and be able to add it to my kitchen concoctions while still fresh.

Like other herbs, it’s best to use seeds to grow cilantro. I remember my mother telling me that transplanting this herb is not an easy job and would only “shock” the plant itself – which is not a good thing if you want to have a healthy cilantro specimen growing in your own herbal backyard.

The secret to cultivating cilantro is to make sure the area where it is growing is cool, especially when the soil temperature goes up to 75 degrees. So I make sure it’s safe

from the harsh rays of the sun by growing it early in the spring or late in the summer. Aside from ensuring sunlight is filtered, I also see to it that the seeds are spaced correctly to give each plant enough room for growth.

My mother also told me that preparing the soil is important. This includes putting enough mulch so the seeds stay cool because the mulch locks in the moisture and keeps weeds from growing. She also told me that if I want my cilantro to be leafier, I should put in nitrogen fertilizer and cut off some of the flowers when they sprout. I don’t cut off all the flowers so my garden still looks a bit colourful and pretty.

Taking care of this herb is not hard, although there still are pests and some plant diseases I need to protect my cilantro patch from. I do this by spraying my herbs with a soap-and-water solution, which discourages aphids and whiteflies. I also put a fence around my garden to keep rabbits (they love to eat cilantro!) and other animals out.

When my cilantro is about 6 inches tall, I cut the plant from its stem at ground level when I harvest it. I sometimes dry it or freeze it to preserve its aroma, but, despite this, little of its essence remains. So I sometimes just get the herb that I need when I need it to maximize its herb-y aroma, the way my dear mother and grandmother did.

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A Haven from My Mom’s Hands



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Most days, as long as the weather permitted, my mom loved to spend as much time as she could in her garden which was located at the far end of our yard. If you didn’t find her inside the house completing typical daily chores, you would most likely find her in the garden pruning her flowers and pulling those stubborn weeds. She never minded the sun on her back or the wind in her face. Connecting with nature in her garden was a passion worth the exposure for her.

Everyday around 7 in the morning, right after she finished making breakfast for us kids, she would go to her garden to attend to her flowers. Roses, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, geraniums, daisies, orchids and others; she had them all. Sometimes you could hear her talking to them like she would to a real person. She would often mention to me when the wind was blowing and her flowers would sway she felt they were communicating with her. She certainly felt in tune with them and paid attention to every growth and change pattern.

What I liked most about her garden was its vibrant smell; the fresh perfume smell that all the flowers released when in bloom. During summer, when the day is its longest and the sky is magnificently clear, you can see all the colors of the flowers complement each other with the strong light from the sun. The combination of a rainbow of colors and a variety of such wonderful perfumes that made you feel relaxed and happy. The appearance of the garden was also entrancing because it was so artistically designed it caused you to stare at it for long periods of time carrying your thoughts to wishful places.

I remember her making sure each season that the flowers for that season were prevalent in her garden. She would care for them meticulously and they were the most beautiful among all gardens in our neighborhood. Each season she would plant each variety with eagerness and it paid off. She labored endlessly until the planting was perfect. She told me that gardening relieved her stress and made her days lighter regardless of what else the day brought to her. That was fine with us kids because as long as she was able to keep up her garden she was happy and content with all that we did.

I didn’t mind her devotion to her garden because as a little girl I loved flowers. As the flowers became too abundant in the garden that’s when she would start cutting them (or as I would say as a little girl, picking them). Most ended up in the house in all of our rooms, and some were given to the local church or relatives. When there were special events in our family they always came to my mother to request flowers. She was known for her arrangements and felt a great pride and need in the family because of this. We have many pictures of her with the arrangements. When you see all the pictures together they tell a story of her life.

Now as an adult when I want to feel positive and relaxed, I sometimes go to a corner in my mind where it places me in her garden. Whether sitting or walking around her flowers, or remembering the perfume smells I enjoy myself in the lovely memories.

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Bonding and Basil


Photo Credit: Love to Know


Is it because of its aromatic leaves that smell like anise, or maybe its variety of flavors that make me crave more? Whatever it is this herb has me hooked to its lemony-mint flavor. I still remember the first time I tasted it. That first taste was in my Mom’s now famous mozzarella, tomato and pesto sandwich. Right after that first taste I was immediately intrigued by its flavor.

Basil is known as the king of herbs by many cooking authors. The use of basil can be traced back to the time of Constantine. Its from the Greek word “basilues” which means the “king.” Basil is considered the “king of herbs.” Originally from India, this herb was cultivated 5,000 years ago as a medicinal herb which according to the herbalist John Gerard “can cure a scorpion’s sting”

So what makes this herb special? It has this distinct flavor which is dominantly lemon and mint, but also has a hint of cinnamon and licorice. The combination of these flavors makes me salivate. If I had to pick one herb as a favorite from my Mom’s garden there is no doubt that I would choose basil. Basil is prevalent in Italian cooking. Growing up Italian this is all I’ve known my whole life so it’s no wonder I love basil so much. Il sou delizioso!

Before I moved from home I asked my Mom to teach me how to plant basil. As you know fresh basil is always handy when you are concocting something exotic in the kitchen. My Mom and I started picking several varieties of basil that I wanted. For sweet spicy I chose cinnamon basil and for lemony flavor I chose lemon basil. For home decoration I chose the purple basil which is perfect for its pungent scent and flowers.

So what’s the proper way to grow basil? Most people will just plant it right away without even knowing how to. Without proper knowledge your basil will not survive. My mom mastered the art of herb planting and made sure to fill the pot with equal measures of vermiculite, perlite and peat. We made sure too that there were no air pockets before we dampened the mixture with water; a perfect environment for the seeds to germinate.

We dropped a couple of seeds in our small pot and covered them with soil. Basil is not a big fan of standing water, so planting the seedlings in well-drained soil will keep it growing. We used the plastic wrap to keep them moist and placed the pots where the seeds could get enough sun. For basil to thrive it needs warm air and sun so we planted the seed indoors before the last spring frost date and kept them there. They need about four to six weeks. But if you live in tropical countries planting the basil outdoors is no problem.

After 5 weeks I was so happy to see the first green tendrils peeking through the soil. This is my queue to remove the plastic cover. I lightly watered the sprouts twice every day and transferred the seedling to a bigger container when it was a few inches tall. Once basil has two sets of leaves it’s about time to transfer it. Make sure the seedlings are 6 inches apart. Frequent pinching is encouraged so when I see blossom flowers appearing from the buds I happily pinch them so leaves can come through.

Now I’m excited that I can make my own pesto spread for a variety of delicious sandwiches. Also, I found a great article on “50 Things to Make With Pesto” from the Food Network website. It was a great find and I hope sharing this love of basil with you turns up some new wonderful dishes you will enjoy!

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Colors of Chrysanthemums


Photo Credit: Lehman College

Nothing brings back the innocent memories of a summer romance like chrysanthemums. Its dusty musty scent never fails to bring back allot of happy memories of young love. Memories when I spent one lovely summer in Australia visiting my grandparents. It was the Fall of ’99 when I first set my eyes on its lovely colors and stroked its delicate petals. A boy who lives across my grandparent’s farm gave it to me as welcome present. I can still remember how the smells made my heart skip a beat, and how my cheeks turned red when I accepted it. Like a shy 15 year old, I pretended by playing it cool but seriously my inner goddess was doing some back flips from excitement.

After spending a month long vacation in the land down under, I had to say goodbye to that boy who gave me those gorgeous chrysanthemums. I grew pretty fond of him as we spent most of my vacation discovering new places and chasing butterflies in gardens. He took me to his family’s flower farm where we spent our time admiring a wide array of flowers and learning a thing or two about gardening. I never thought that I’d have a knack for gardening but after that Summer in Australia I found myself making a small garden of my own, of which chrysanthemums were among the first flowers I planted.

The best time to plant the “mums” (the name most people call them) is during Spring time. Spring is the season where they can fully bloom when planted in full sunshine. Flowers like mums need to acclimate to the soil, so they can grow strong roots for Fall harvest. Just like any flowers, the mums have many varieties. The varieties offer a multitude of delightful colors, height, size and time of bloom. Each variety has its own charm, needs and uses. I chose the “decorative” type of mums so I don’t have to buy flowers to perk up my room. These types of mums have long and large petals which often last for several weeks.

I decided to grow chrysanthemums in front of our house where they can get more sunlight. Providing the mums enough water is very important, but be sure not to drench them. The perfect time is during the morning so there is a plenty of time to dry during the day. Avoid watering at night and when the sun is at its hottest. A little fertilization is not bad and a little pinching of the new growth will help them grow into a healthy rounded shape. With enough patience and tender loving care I was greeted with many amazing colors, a reminder of my perfect summer.

Fun Fact: Did you know that chrysanthemums originated in China? Yes, they were first cultivated as a flowering herb in the 15th century. They didn’t reach the United States until 1798.

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Mom’s Special Love for Common Daisies


My mom is very fond of growing flowers that have wonderful colors complimenting one another. I noticed the first flowers she fondly took care of were common daisies called Bellis perrenis. These daisies are originally from Europe. Today they are found in America and Australia. What’s beautiful about these flowers is that they can bloom for a long time; they can even grow in during winter time if properly cared for.

I remember Mother’s delicate handling of her daisies. Every morning you would see her sweeping off old leaves that had fallen on the ground. She would also pull out weeds that began to grow on the ground too. Even though daisies are among the most low-maintenance flowers she still sees to it that they’re well taken care of with extra special care. And in return, they’d bloom in beauty and dance with the wind.

I was very much intrigued by the loveliness of her flowers that I asked her to show me how she takes care of them. My mom, being a green thumb, shows them her love by cultivating their soil frequently. She would dig right through the soil slowly in order to not hit the root with her trowel. She would then take out unnecessary things growing inside around the roots like weeds or the roots of other plants. To help with roots not growing into the area of another planted flower they shouldn’t be planted too closely together. Daisies should be planted 18” to 24” apart.

She would also remove rocks so that they would not interfere with the proper growth of the roots. Then she would pour in the fertilizer, but only in the early stages of their development. This would help nourish the soil for the flowers to grow healthy. The fertilizer should be phosphorous rich. Next she would water them just enough because Mom said some flowers don’t need much water to grow and Daisies were among those flowers. Lastly, never forget the mulch that will keep the soil moist so that the water is retained over long periods of time.

Flowers are considered to be one of life’s living items that continue the life cycle of the plants surrounding us because of the seeds they produce and spread. During historical times when flowers were grown for more than just beauty Daisies were revered. People would grow them for medicinal purposes. My Mom’s Daisies were not only a source of loveliness they were also a source for many homemade remedies she used. One homemade remedy was for coughs. She would boil daisy leaves and would drink it as tea. She claimed this tea also served as a remedy for a low appetite. She would also make Daisy infused oil which she applied to sprains, bruises and places where she had aches and pains. She claimed they had mild anti-inflammatory affects.

Of all of the flowers that Mom grew Daisies is the one I remember the most for healing. So whenever I don’t feel well I can have my Mom close to me by using something she taught me as a little girl. Each flower she grew brings me a wonderful memory and this is my best memory for Daisies. What’s your best Daisy memory?

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For the Love of Sunflowers


The sight of blooming sunflowers, the crispiness of the air and the sweet smell of ocean breeze; yep, its summer once again! As a child this is the season of the year where I spent my days playing in an open field in my grandparent’s farm. I still remember how fascinated I was to see the endless plantation of sunflowers and get lost playing within it. Indeed, no flowers can ever represent summer better than sunflowers.

So after that summer I begged my mom to teach me how to grow sunflowers in our backyard. As a child I know that it’s going to be a big responsibility to start my own sunflower haven, but I just can’t leave my grandparent’s farm without taking piece of that place with me. This flower never fails to bring a smile to my face so when my mom said yes to me growing them that was the start of my summer experience with them. It was a summer filled with laughter and colors as my mom and I bonded closely during the lectures and caring of the sunflowers.

Beautiful yet resilient and tough, sunflowers are fairly easy to grow when you find the right place for them to thrive. The sunflower loves long and hot summers which describes me pretty well, and are attractive to bees and birds. Sunflowers and blue skies go hand in hand together. My mom and I chose to put my little piece of summer in the north side of the garden for full sun exposure. Sunflowers need lots of sun and space to create the scenic effect one sees when driving long distances and observing them in open fields.

Because they’re not very particular sunflowers flourish in slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline soils (pH 6.0 to 7.5). We picked a location that shelters the seeds from strong winds, an area just along the fence so people can admire it. The seeds should be sown 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart after the threat of frost has past and the temperature is reaching 60 degrees. My mom made sure that we applied 3 to 4 inches of mulch layer to conserve moisture and to prevent the seeds from being taken by strong winds. To encourage deep rooting, I watered the seeds thoroughly but not frequently and just a light application of fertilizer.

If your sunflowers grow too tall be sure to support them. Bamboo stalks are a good option. Our backyard made a dramatic change from being empty to being sun-filled patch of sunflowers along the fence line standing straight.

I can’t end my story of sunflowers without sharing how I made sunflower seeds. Before rubbing the seeds off the flowers they must be dried. Once dried you rub the seeds off and soak them in salt water overnight. Take them out of the water the next day, dry them off and then bake them in the oven at 250 degrees for 4 hours. Eat and enjoy!

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Holiday Herb Sage


Thanksgiving will never be complete without a turkey, and a turkey will never be as great without sage rubbed on it. A word of culinary wisdom from my Grandmother who loves to host Thanksgiving dinner for the family every single year. I was about 10 when she introduced me to the comfort herb of sage. Now that I have my own family I always make sure to use sage on my turkey but also a pinch in my stuffing. Sage is so good that I often use it in my routine poultry dishes in small amounts too.

A mediterranean native, sage was considered in ancient Rome to have substantial healing properties. Back in the days where herbal treatments were primary medicine, sage was used for digestion of fatty meats and labeled the official Roman pharmocopeia. With its camphor-like aroma, sage is an antiseptic, astringent and tonic herb that is used to suppress perspiration, lactation and relaxes spasm. And not just that, its a perfect anti-depressant and improves liver function. With all these herbal benefits and culinary functions I decided to grow my own sage and have it handy whenever I wanted it.

Sage is not just an ordinary herb, like cacao its also a powerful antioxidant and antibacterial. Its culinary use came about during the Middle ages when it was used as a preservative rather than a spice. Since sage can break down fats into food, this herb in today’s kitchen is one of the most essential spices. Its fragrances varies from lavander, sweet fruit to aromatic balsam smell. Like any herbs it also thrives in sunny weather and prefers in dry and rocky slopes. So I chose an area of my garden where it can get the much needed sunlight and good drainage.

Although seeds are good to start planting sage, but to get high-quality sage is to get it from an establshed plant. So I asked a friend for some cutting and plant it from a well-drained soil (1 -2 weeks) with 20 to 30 inches apart. I chose a spot near cabbage and rosemary, and my friend reminded me to keep it away from cucumber. The soil’s temperature is also important, so I made sure its in between 60 to 70 degrees farenheit. I waited for it to grow between 12 to 30 inches in height before harvesting it.

Caring for sage is not that hard as other plants. Thanks to good drainage, root rot can be avoided. A common disease by too much moisture around the roots. Just like what they say, prevention is better than cure and way effective than pest control. With plenty of air circulation and space, I can relax and watch it grow. Now I just have to wait so I can have my very own turkey stuffing.

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