Easy Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream

Zucchini CupcakesIf you have fresh or canned pumpkin, try this sweet seasonal dessert! These pumpkin cupcakes are something the whole family will love, and they are so easy.
If pumpkin is not available, you can also use shredded zucchini, carrot, or mashed sweet potato in its place. Gather the following ingredients and preheat the oven to 350° F.

Cake Ingredients

  • 1 package (18-1/4 ounces) spice cake mix
  • 1-1/3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin or fresh processed pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 chopped walnuts (optional)


In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, water, oil and eggs. Beat these ingredients on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium for another 2 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin, raisins, and walnuts. Line a cupcake pan with muffin cups. Fill the cups a little over half way with batter.
Bake the cupcakes at 350° for 18-22 minutes. Before removing from the oven, test a cake with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, they are done. Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan. They must be completely cool before frosting. Be sure to add a generous amount!

Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting

  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons whole milk


For frosting, in a small bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and enough milk to achieve a spreading consistency. Add the frosting to a piping bag, and pipe it on to make it look extra pretty.

Processing Fresh Pumpkin

Fresh pumpkin and winter squash make recipes taste better. Small pie pumpkins are easiest to process because of their manageable size.
Begin by cutting your pumpkin in half and cleaning out the seeds. (Set aside the seeds for roasting!) Place the pumpkin halves face down in a large pan filled with 2 to 3 inches of water. Set the pan on high heat and bring the water to a rolling boil. Once boiling, take the heat down to a low boil, and allow the halves to steam for 20 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Allow the halves to cool before scooping.
If the pumpkin is stringy, puree it in a food processor until smooth. Processed fresh pumpkin is great for baking or adding to soup.

Tangy Mediterranean Potato Salad

Tangy Potato SaladLooking for the perfect side dish for your next barbecue? Try this tangy Mediterranean potato salad that incorporates a wide variety of veggies straight from your garden.
Not only is this recipe delicious, but you can also show off what you’ve been growing! Fresh corn, basil, and tomatoes are three summer ingredients you may be able to harvest for it.


  • 1 pound small yellow or red new potatoes, quartered
  • 2 fresh ears of sweet corn, cooked and cut from the cob.
  • 4 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and add enough water to just cover them. Bring the potatoes to a boil. Cook them at a low boil until fork tender, for 15 minutes. Drain and cool the potatoes before cutting them into quarters.
Add the potatoes, corn, torn basil leaves, and tomatoes in a large bowl. For the dressing, combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, shallots/onions, Dijon mustard, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and shake well—making sure the lid is tightly secured. Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and gently incorporate all of the ingredients.
Pour the salad out on a large serving platter and sprinkle with feta cheese and basil leaves. It makes 8-10 servings. Enjoy!

Ask for Fafard Products by Name

Fafard 3B Mix and Complete Potting Mix packs on top of soilCan’t find Fafard® or other Sun Gro products at your local garden center? Interested in carrying Fafard? Then please call us at 1-800-732-8667. We will work with you to find a solution!
Fafard® products are quickly being sold across the United States at a garden center and hydroponics store near you. And it’s easy to see why. Sun Gro has production locations and distributors all across North America, so we can provide the best product to our customers from regional hubs. What’s more, many of our products are OMRI Listed and Veriflora Certified, so you can feel confident that you are growing with the best.
Want to be part of the action? Then request our top-quality growing products today!
If you are a retailer ready to join the thousands of other happy Fafard® vendors, please email us here.

Spectacular Summer Flowering Bulbs

Orienpet Lily 'Pontiac'
The Orienpet Lily ‘Pontiac’ is a subdued stunner. (photo by Jessie Keith)

As perennial favorites, hardy bulbs are unexcelled at providing sudden swaths and splashes of vibrant color, whether in the open garden or in containers. And that goes for summer as well as spring (and fall and winter!).

Summer Lilies

Consider the lilies, for example. The voluptuous, richly hued blossoms of these fleshy-bulbed perennials are just the thing for alleviating the dullness that sometimes descends on the post-spring garden.

Asiatic Lilies

Early summer welcomes the typically flat-faced, upright, freckled blooms of the Asiatic Hybrids, which flower in warm hues of yellow, orange, red, and pink, as well as white. Numerous narrow leaves clothe their sturdy, 1- to 4-foot stems. Hundreds of Asiatics have been introduced over the years, including the famed ‘Enchantment’, whose orange, dark-speckled blooms still frequently appear in bouquets.

Arisaema ciliatum
Arisaema ciliatum has both fantastic flowers and foliage.

Oriental Lilies

Arriving somewhat later, the Oriental Hybrids carry the delicious fragrance and rosy-or-white, purple-flecked, often gold-emblazoned coloration of their two primary parents, Lilium speciosum and Lilium auratum. The large, waxy, bowl-shaped flowers with slightly backswept petals open on 2- to 4-foot stems, which are rather sparsely set with relatively broad, green to blue-green leaves. Nodding to outfacing flowers are the rule, but some cultivars have semi-erect blooms (including rose-red, white-edged ‘Stargazer’).

Trumpet Hybrid Lilies

Blooming alongside the Oriental lilies (but usually above them, on 4- to 6-foot stems), Trumpet Hybrids are noted and named for their huge, spicy-scented, funnel-shaped blooms. Notable selections include the African Queen Strain, which flowers in various shades of cantaloupe-orange. Prone to toppling because of their colossal proportions, Trumpets often need staking (or a sheltered position) to keep them upright. In recent years, the Trumpets have been interbred with the Oriental Hybrids to create a popular new class of showy-flowered hybrids, the Orienpets, which add to their usefulness by having flop-resistant stems.

Species Lilies

Among the many Lilium species well worth growing are Turk’s cap lily (Lilium martagon) – which has parented some beautiful hybrids of its own – and Eastern North American natives such as Canada lily (Lilium canadense) and wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum).

Lilium 'Ladylike'
The colorful Asiatic lily ‘Ladylike’ is in warm hues of red, gold and pink. (photo by Jessie Keith)

Growing Lilies

Whether species or hybrid, most lilies do best in full to partial sun and a fertile, humus-rich soil. Or grow them in deep containers fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend. Unfortunately, all lilies have two potentially mortal enemies: viruses and the dreaded red lily beetle. Many hybrids and species shrug off viruses, but all are red-lily-beetle-susceptible, and any lily planting in a beetle-infested area will need protection, either by hand-picking or by spraying. Releases of parasitic wasps in Rhode Island have resulted in dramatic local reductions of red lily beetle numbers, so there’s hope that this bête rouge will soon make its exit.
Lovely and varied as they are, lilies are far from the only valuable hardy summer bulbs. Other worthies include the following bulbs for summer.


Crocosmia hybrids, with long, curving midsummer spikes of dazzling, often fiery-hued blooms that attract hummingbirds. Although hailing from southern Africa, these sun-loving perennials include a few hybrids hardy to USDA Zone 5 (such as the smoldering orange-red ‘Lucifer’). Plant their crocus-like corms in rich soil that doesn’t dry out in summer.

Allium obliquum
The pale chartreuse-yellow drumsticks of Allium obliquum appear in early summer.


Several species of Lycoris, East Asian bulbs which bear clusters of fragrant amaryllis-like blooms on tall, naked stems that magically arise in mid- to late summer. Far too rarely seen in gardens or catalogs, hardy Lycoris are most often represented by the lilac-pink-flowered Lycoris squamigera. Other showy hardy species include gold-flowered Lycoris chinensis; creamy-yellow Lycoris caldwellii; white Lycoris longituba; and white, rose-striped Lycoris incarnata. All produce strap-shaped leaves in spring, which die back months before the flowers appear. Hardy Lycoris remain almost unknown in American gardens, despite numbering among the most beautiful summer-blooming perennials. Their narcissus-like, fleshy-rooted bulbs store poorly, contributing to their obscurity. Purchase freshly dug or container-grown bulbs, and plant them in good soil in full sun or light shade.

Hardy Arisaema

Numerous East-Asian species of Arisaema, the genus that also includes Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). Their hooded inflorescences range from bizarre to beautiful, and their spoked or lobed, compound leaves are often equally remarkable, and sometimes gargantuan. Perhaps the queen of the tribe is Arisaema candidissimum, which in early summer sends up a large, ivory-white, green-streaked hood surmounted by an enormous, broadly three-lobed leaf. The flowers cast a faint, sweet scent. These Asian Jacks tend to want more sun than the native, and less winter moisture. Mark the places where you plant their tubers; they may not break ground until late June.


A host of ornamental onions. In most cases, summer-blooming alliums grow from slender, scallion-like bulbs and have persistent, grassy leaves (unlike the early-dormant spring-blooming species). Lovely but little-known summer alliums abound, including Allium ramosum, a white-flowered beauty which blooms earlier and self-sows much less rampantly than the otherwise similar garlic chives (Allium tuberosum); Allium togashii, an August-blooming pixie with bright lilac-pink heads; and the elfin, blue-flowered Allium sikkimense.

Rock Gardening for Beginners

Callirhoe involucrata
Callirhoe involucrata is a charming, heat tolerant summer bloomer for the rock garden.

Rock garden plants have an elfin, seductive charm all their own. Hailing from windswept, mist-shrouded summits, rocky slopes, craggy coastlines, and other picturesque and often challenging habitats, they somehow embody the mystery and majesty of their native haunts. Make their acquaintance and you will almost certainly yield to their spell.

Clematis fremontii
Clematis fremontii is an unusual, attractive species fit for rocky garden spaces.

Just about any garden can accommodate at least a few of these beguiling rock-dwellers. Moreover, their diminutive size and their preference for rocky niches make them some of the best subjects for space-challenged gardens. Tucked into a patio wall, or nestled in a clay pot, or associating in an alpine trough, they excel at bringing character and ornament to garden nooks and crannies. They even work well in urban settings.

Growing Rock Garden Plants

Getting them to grow happily in a domesticated habitat is another matter. To simulate a boulder-strewn mountaintop can be a bit of a trick if you garden in central Manhattan. Fortunately, many popular rock garden plants are relatively undemanding, taking well to most well-drained soils (although varying in other requirements such as exposure and soil acidity). As for the fussier types, most do well in humus-rich, nutrient-poor, gritty soil that stays moist in spring and cool and relatively dry in summer. A little Fafard® Sphagnum Peat Moss makes a fine amendment for gritty soils in need of added organic matter. Of course, almost all rock garden plants do best (and look best) in the company of rocks, which buffer their roots from heat and their stems from cold and dampness.

Building a Rock Garden

If you garden in coastal or upland New England or the Rockies, your unamended back yard may make the perfect rock garden habitat. In less craggy regions, however, some modifications may be necessary. To create a large rock garden habitat on well-drained but stone-free soil, bury large flattish rocks at a slight upward angle with their tips exposed. Place the rocks in such a way that they suggest the edges of an underlying rock ledge. Surface groupings of a few rounded boulders also work well.

Sisyrinchium idahoense flower
Sisyrinchium idahoense offers delicate starry flowers over grassy foliage.

Build small rock gardens from scratch by burying rocks in mounded growing medium, or by sandwiching the growing medium between stone retaining walls. A mixture of equal parts topsoil, coarse sand or grit (such as calcined clay), and Fafard compost makes an excellent medium for many rock garden subjects. The same mix can be used to create growing pockets in existing stone walls. For a micro-garden that can reside on your patio or at your doorstep, buy or make an alpine trough – a tub-shaped planter specially designed for alpine plants (see how to build and plant one at this link).

Easy Rock Garden Plants

Among the seven best plants for beginning rock gardeners (or any rock gardeners, for that matter) are:
1. Fan columbine (Aquilegia flabellata) and other dwarf members of the genus Aquilegia. Hummingbirds adore them.
2. Campanulas, including Carpathian harebell (Camanula carpatica) and Dalmatian bellfower (C. portenschlagiana). Both do well in full to partial sun and any not-too-soggy soil.

Dianthus gratianapolitanus 'Grandiflorus'
Dianthus gratianapolitanus ‘Grandiflorus’ is an easy charmer for early summer rock gardens. (image by Jessie Keith)

3. Cheddar pink (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), alpine pink (D. alpinus), and others of the Dianthus tribe, featuring grassy leaves and fringed, spicy-scented flowers. Most prefer full sun and alkaline soil.
4. Beardtongues such as hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) and pine-leaf beardtongue (P. pinifolius). Hummingbird favorites, they thrive in sun, acid soil, and low humidity.
5. Lewisia cotyledon and its many beautiful selections and hybrids. This native of Northwest mountains loves cool, gritty, lime-free soil, and an east- or north-facing slope.
6. Phlox stolonifera, P. divaricata, and other low-growing phlox. The two mentioned here are best in partial shade.
7. One of the most beautiful Eastern woodland natives, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), which occurs in nature in shady, rocky habitats. Double-flowered forms (such as ‘Multiplex) are especially beautiful, and relatively long-blooming.

Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex'
Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’ is a double-flowered ephemeral ideal for spring rockeries.

Fafard Supports Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR)

Plant a Row for the Hungry LogoSun Gro Horticulture and Fafard are proud sponsors of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and their Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) program. Through the donation of row markers, media and other fundraising materials, we have helped PAR become a more viable part of communities nationwide.
The Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) program was launched in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association and the GWA Foundation as a public service. Their garden communicators encourage readers and listeners to plant an extra row of produce yearly and to donate the surplus to community food banks and soup kitchens. It has been a very successful program. According to the GWA: “Since 1995, over 20 million pounds of produce providing over 80 million meals have been donated by American gardeners.”
When everyday gardeners take action, great things can happen. Learn more about becoming a part of the PAR program today, or upload a PAR brochure here.

Small Trees Fit for Yard & Garden

American fringetree
The American fringetree is a small, shrubby tree that offers a cloud of soft, ivory flowers in spring.

Small trees are useful things. Although lacking the lofty majesty of tulip poplar or silver maple or European beech, they compensate by being a good fit for yard and garden. Majesty is all well and good in a large city park or country estate. More modest properties, however, call for something that can coexist peaceably with nearby landscape elements such as perennials, dwellings, power lines, and neighbors. Happily, many tree species– including some of the best ornamental plants for American gardens – are of just such a size (20 to 30 feet or so).

Euonymus carnosus fruit is colorful in fall.
The fruit of Euonymus carnosus is bright crimson.

Glossy Euonymus

As is true for all ornamental plants, the best small trees offer something at every season. Case in point: glossy euonymus (Euonymus carnosus). This East Asian native starts off spring by bringing forth handsome pale-yellow-tinged leaves. They deepen to lustrous dark green in summer and turn gleaming maroon-red in fall. Flat lacy clusters of creamy white flowers veil the tree in June, followed by plump fleshy seed capsules that ripen to rosy-pink. In late summer, the capsules split wide to reveal bright orange seeds that stand out against the smoky fall foliage. Greenish-gray, silver-grooved bark provides a pleasing winter feature. Unlike some others of its tribe, glossy euonymus appears to produce few volunteer seedlings and is thus not considered an invasive threat. It is well suited to sunny or partly shaded sites in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9.

Chionanthus retusus fruit
Chionanthus retusus bears clusters of berry-like fruits of concord blue later in the season.

Chinese Fringetree

Flowering at about the same time (and hailing from the same region) as Euonymus carnosus, Chinese fringetree (Chionanthus retusus) envelops itself in late spring with fleecy white flowers that cast a light sweet fragrance. The best forms of this rather variable species possess a single-trunked, vase-shaped habit and beautiful cherry-like bark that flakes and furrows with age. The dark glossy green leaves turn yellow in fall. Individual trees produce only male or female flowers, with female trees ripening a profusion of deep-blue fruits in fall (if a pollinating male is available). Chinese fringetree’s shrubby American cousin, Chionanthus virginicus, is similarly lovely in flower and fruit. Both make excellent specimens for sunny or lightly shaded gardens from zone 5 (or 4 in the case of Chionanthus virginicus) to 9.

Peking Lilac

Like the best forms of Chinese fringetree, those of Peking lilac (Syringa reticulata ssp. pekinensis) are worth growing for their striking bark alone. The peeling, deep-coppery-tan, silver-dotted trunk and branches are eye-catching year round, but are particularly arresting in winter. Fragrant, frothy white flower clusters in late spring, amber fall color, and a round-crowned, single- or multi-stemmed habit add to Peking lilac’s all-season value, as does its exceptional cold hardiness (zones 3 to 7). It flourishes in full sun and fertile, medium-textured soil.

Magnolia salicifolia has ivory spring flowers that appear before the foliage.
Magnolia salicifolia has ivory spring flowers that appear before the foliage.

Small Magnolias

Numerous magnolias make excellent subjects for small gardens. Among the best of these is sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), an evergreen to deciduous, often multi-trunked beauty occurring from the Deep South to coastal Massachusetts. Charming in every season thanks to its fresh green leaves and smooth gray bark, it is particularly alluring from late spring through summer, opening a succession of cupped, creamy-white blooms that fill the garden with a heady perfume that hints at lemons and roses. Southern, evergreen forms of the species (known botanically as variety australis) do best in hardiness zones 7 to 9, but a few (including ‘Henry Hicks’) are hardy and evergreen into zone 5. Cultivars (such as ‘Milton’) of sweetbay magnolia’s deciduous northern race are usually hardy through zone 5. All types do well in well-drained, humus-rich soil (I recommend amending soil with Fafard Premium Topsoil and Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss before planting) and full to partial sun. Other worthy small magnolias include umbrella magnolia (M. tripetala), anise magnolia (M. salicifolia), Yulan magnolia (M. denudata), star magnolia (M. kobus var. stellata and its hybrids), and the yellow-flowered ‘Elizabeth’. This list is far from exhaustive.
The above are but a fraction of the small hardy trees that offer multi-season interest. Many more are to be found among the stewartias, dogwoods, maples, buckeyes, mountain ashes, and hornbeams, to name a few. Gardeners with limited space have a nearly limitless variety of suitably sized trees at their disposal.

Corydalis: A Charming Spring Shade Perennial

Corydalis malkensis
Large swan-white blooms grace the cheerful Corydalis malkensis.

Endearing little sprites that carry flocks of dainty, spurred blooms above clumps of ferny divided leaves, tuberous Corydalis (crested larks) are among the most valuable early-spring “bulbs” for shade. These low-growing perennials have long been known to horticulture: the most familiar of the tribe, Corydalis solida, has been kicking around gardens since at least the sixteenth century. But in the last few decades, a multi-hued array of new species and cultivars has entered cultivation, taking the genus into exciting new territory.

Corydalis come in a veritable rainbow of colors
Corydalis come in a veritable rainbow of colors.

Spring Corydalis

The genus Corydalis also has a non-tuberous side, comprising several dozen perennials or annuals that grow from fibrous roots (rather than from swollen underground stems) and that remain in leaf all season (rather than disappearing shortly after bloom). These fibrous-rooted corydali include several species that are well worth a place in the ornamental garden – among them Corydalis lutea (now Pseudofumaria lutea), known for its profusion of yellow blooms and self-sown seedlings; and Corydalis flexuosa, whose luminous blue flowers and notorious heat intolerance have caused much lusting and despair among eastern North American plant enthusiasts. None of them, however, blooms in in early spring in hues ranging from blue to purple to bright red to pale yellow to white. For that, you’ll need Corydalis with tubers – especially Corydalis solida.

Corydalis ornata
Delicate blue flowers grace Corydalis ornata in spring.

Native to woodlands from southern Scandinavia to northern Spain to the Ural Mountains to northern Greece, Corydalis solida assumes a dizzying variety of colors and forms across its vast natural range. Until relatively recently, gardeners had to settle for the most common, rather nondescript purple-flowered forms. No longer. A wealth of cultivars in a broad and tantalizing range of hues now populate the pages of bulb catalogs. Among the oldest and most renowned of these new-wave corydali is the brick-red ‘George Baker’, one of a pack of red- and pink-flowered selections hailing from the mountains of Transylvania. (Caveat emptor – bargain-priced tubers sold under Mr. Baker’s name are often imposter seedlings bearing dingy-red blooms.) Other outstanding cultivars from the sunset side of the Corydalis solida color range include deep rose-red ‘Cantata’, rich lilac-pink ‘Sixtus’, and soft creamy-pink ‘Blushing Girl’. At the violet end of the spectrum are pale-lilac ‘Ballade’, denim-blue ‘Compact’, icy bluish-white ‘Evening Dream’, and the aptly named ‘Purple Beauty’. Milky-flowered ‘Snowstorm’ and the floriferous, late-blooming ‘White Knight’ are among the best white-flowered selections.

Corydalis solida 'George Baker'
The bright red flowers of Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’ are a real standout.

Most Corydalis solida cultivars readily self-sow (with the assistance of seed-dispersing ants), their seedlings often reverting to the muddy purple floral tones of the wild species. Remove such seedlings to keep them from crowding out their more colorful parents.
The world awaits a yellow-flowered Corydalis solida (reputedly such forms exist in the wild). Crosses with the sulfur-bloomed Siberian native Corydalis bracteata sometimes occur, however, their offspring (known horticulturally as Corydalis × allenii) producing pale creamy-yellow, lilac-brushed blooms and fetching, deeply cleft leaves. Corydalis bracteata and its fellow Siberian Corydalis gracilis also make excellent yellow-flowered garden subjects for areas that have long, cold, snow-locked winters.
Woodland Corydalis are habit-forming. Once you’ve discovered Corydalis solida and its hybrids, you’ll want to have a go at the many other garden-worthy species – perhaps Corydalis malkensis, with its voluptuous, gaping, swan-white blooms; or Corydalis kusnetzovii, which flowers in a beguiling shades of pale pink; or one of the brilliant-blue-flowered East Asian species (such as Corydalis ornata and Corydalis turtschaninovii). All thrive in partial shade and humus-rich soil; amend sandy or heavy soils with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Organic Compost or Fafard Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss.
Real corydalis addicts will also want to explore some of the Central Asian species, which are typified by pink or white, chocolate-nosed flowers, blue-green foliage, and a preference for sunny, gritty-soiled niches that stay relatively dry in summer (such as a rock garden or trough). As with the woodland Corydalis, they present a wealth of delightful possibilities for the early spring garden.

The pretty Corydalis x allenii 'Enno' is a subdued but attractive variety for the spring garden.
The pretty Corydalis x allenii ‘Enno’ is a subdued but attractive variety for the spring garden.

Spring Herb Gardening

A fresh pot of spring parsley
A fresh pot of spring flatleaf parsley ready for the picking. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

Spring is full of small revelations: the smell of thawing earth, the sight of early crocuses and the taste of the season’s first herbs. Some of those herbs are old standbys like chives, parsley, dill and cilantro. Others, including lovage, chervil and sorrel, have an equally long history, but are less well known today.

Now, as last frost dates gradually pass and gardens begin their annual emergence, it is time to start annual herbs indoors and watch as outdoor perennials and self-sown annuals begin sprouting in beds and borders. If you are new to herb growing, take the plunge and grow a few varieties from seed. The sooner you start, the sooner you will reap spring’s first and tastiest harvest.

Cilantro blooms
After cilantro blooms in spring, it sets coriander seed. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

Spring Herbs in the Parsley Family

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is the best known member of Apiaceae, or the Parsley Family. It is biennial and available in curly and flat-leafed varieties. The green sprigs are such ubiquitous garnishes that it is easy to forget the distinct “green’ taste note that they add to all kinds of dishes. In classic French cookery, parsley stars in the traditional aromatic herb mixture known as fines herbes. It also makes a great breath freshener.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) or sweet cicily is another fines herbes component that also enlivens the luxurious flavor of Béarnaise sauce. Less celebrated than its relative, parsley, chervil’s delicate flavor combines parsley, citrus and licorice notes. The annual plant’s deeply dissected leaves have a similar lacy appearance.
Unlike many low-growing herbs, perennial lovage (Levisticum officinale) stands tall in the garden, often growing to six feet or more. It emerges in spring, bearing leaves with a celery-like flavor that intensifies through the growing season. The leaves are best eaten fresh, but the seeds can be ground to flavor winter dishes.
Fragrant annual dill (Anethum graveolens) is nearly as tall as lovage, sprouting up to five feet in spring. Best used fresh, the feathery dill leaves enhance spring foods, from fish to eggs. In the garden, those same leaves feed swallowtail butterfly larvae. Start sowing dill outside just before the last frost date and continue planting once a week until the last week of spring.  This should provide enough dill for both humans and butterflies.
Cilantro (Coriander sativum) is another lacy-leafed parsley relation, often used in Latin or Asian dishes. Some people seem hard-wired to hate it, while others relish the taste. The leaves of the annual plant are best used fresh and the aroma and flavor combine green notes with a discernable soapy undertone. Cilantro seeds are known as coriander, though in Europe and elsewhere, the leaves also go by that name.

Chives offer a mild, sweet onion flavor that adds freshness to dishes. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

Multi-Talented Chives

Perennial chives (Allium schoenoprasum) belong to the same strong-flavored tribe as onions and scallions, but the taste of the grass-like leaves and bulbs is more subtle. All parts of the plants are edible and the purple-pink flowers make a colorful addition to salads. A happy stand of chives quickly outgrows its boundaries, so be prepared to divide regularly.

Spring Sorrel

Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is a perennial leafy green with a lemony flavor. Its spade-shaped leaves are mild tasting early in spring and more assertive later on. Used for both medicinal and culinary purposes since ancient times, sorrel is a traditional ingredient of European spring soups. It is hard to find, even in farmers’ markets, but easy to grow.

Planting Spring Herbs

To get a jump on spring, start herbs indoors at least a few weeks before the last spring frost date. Use small containers filled with quality seed-starting mixtures, like Fafard Organic Seed Starter. Distribute seeds evenly over moistened potting mix and cover with a thin layer of additional mix. Place pots in roomy plastic bags, seal and provide bright indirect light. When seedlings appear, remove the bags and check daily to make sure the soil remains moist. Thin seedlings, if necessary.
Before transplanting to outdoor containers or garden beds, move the young plants to a porch or other shady, protected location, to allow them time to acclimate to outdoor conditions. Then choose a porous potting mix, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix, or amend beds with a rich soil additive such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. Good care will ensure an early and bountiful harvest.

Herb boxes
These box planters are great for spring herb growers. (image care of Maureen Gilmer)

Garden Planning 101

Kniphofia 'Border Ballet' in garden
Remember that many great gardens have been planned on scrap paper and built on a shoestring. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

In February, home gardens may be covered with snowdrops or blanketed with snow, depending on climate zone and the whims of Mother Nature. Either way, it is time for garden planning. New ideas are ready to break dormancy, even if the outdoor plants aren’t quite there yet.
Fafard Premium Topsoil packSomewhere there is a vast garden planning spectrum, with places on it for all of us who love to dig in the dirt. The meticulous planners are at one end, plotting layouts, bloom times and expenditures in careful detail every year. They keep excellent records and can tell you precisely how much they paid for a new lilac in 2002 and the exact day that it produced its first blossom. The seat-of-the-pants gardeners are at the extreme opposite end. These are the people who make every garden decision on the fly. When spring arrives, they get in their cars and create highway havoc by braking suddenly in front of every alluring garden center display. Often these mercurial individuals go on to jeopardize their credit limits by making extravagant impulse purchases of plants, tools and garden décor. No matter where you are on the spectrum, a little planning is a good investment.

Dream Big

Define your dream garden in words or images, even if your vision goes way beyond your current means. Great gardens or landscapes begin with big plans. The same goes for plant lists. When you first page through paper or online plant catalogs, flag anything that catches your eye. The process will help you understand the colors, shapes and plant types that you love best at this particular stage of your gardening career. It will also speed you through the end-of-winter doldrums and pave the way for the list-whittling and prioritizing you will do down the road.

Some of the best garden ideas have been inspired by “borrowed” landscape elements. Start Your Garden Plan

Think about your entire landscape, including hardscaping, structures and established plantings. Decide what you want to keep, modify or eliminate completely. Even if you are starting with a property that has been completely cleared, at least one landscape element is already in place—the view. For better or worse, the view of your own property and that of your neighbors, is part of the existing scheme. Some of the best garden ideas have been inspired by “borrowed” landscape elements. Some even better ones have sprung from the necessity of hiding something ugly.

Plan a Garden You Can Manage

Get a realistic grip on your gardening/landscape resources. This includes your discretionary time as well as money. Figure out how much of both you have available for garden-related expenditures and tasks. Your dreams may include large, color-themed beds and borders, with razor sharp edges and hundreds of linear feet of precisely clipped hedges. If your reality includes about an hour a week of garden maintenance time, you will either have to hire someone to do much of the work, stretch out your plans over a long time frame or redefine your goals.

Making Arrangements for Your New GardenWinter Landscape

Once you have defined your vision and resources, it’s time to move ahead. Do you have the time and/or money to make big changes, like removing a mature tree or building a water feature? If so, get contractor recommendations from friends and family and call contractors for quotes. In spring, landscape professionals and builders have full calendars. Starting early ensures that your jobs will be on them. If smaller DIY changes are more your style, figure out how best to accomplish them. Sketch out planting schemes or designs, either on paper or with the help of online gardening tools. Whittle down plant wish lists and, if possible, order plants that you won’t be able to find at local garden centers. Many vendors offer early bird discounts to gardeners willing to order at the end of winter. Make a list of the basic supplies you will need, including new or replacement garden tools and products like Fafard Premium Organic Compost and Premium Topsoil.

Garden Limits

Imagination has no limits, but most other resources do. If money is a problem, borrow tools or buy them cheaply at garage and tag sales. Plan to divide existing perennial plants and ask friends if they will share divisions or cuttings from their gardens. Start annuals and edible crops from seed. If your soil is bad or non-existent, plan a container layout using repurposed vessels. Remember that anything that can hold a quantity of damp dirt can serve as a plant pot. Start small, with a simple plan, and add to it as time and finances permit. Remember that many great gardens have been planned on scrap paper and built on a shoestring.
Planning ahead lets you make the most of whatever you have and gives you a jump-start on the gardening season. It is also an excellent tonic for the winter-weary soul.

Planting during gardening season
Planning ahead lets you make the most of whatever you have and gives you a jump-start on the gardening season. (Photo by Jessie Keith)