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9:03 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Herbs fresh from the garden enhance meals

Most every landscape is able to grow some herbs; the higher the elevation, the sweeter or more savory the herbs' flavors. And most herbs are as easy to grow as they are easy to use. I just spent the week fishing with the guys on Lake Powell. A freshly picked bag of oregano and mint went into the cooler I packed. I'm here to tell you that freshly caught fish sautéed with a few onions, peppers, and fresh oregano is an incredibly tasty meal.

Fresh spearmint, or any kind of mint for that matter, adds such zing to iced tea. Fresh mint with club soda, a little squeeze of lime, then topped off with orange juice is oh-so-refreshing on a hot day.

Basil and cilantro are two of the most popular local herbs and more difficult to grow than most. It's all about timing with these heat-lovers, and neither likes the least cold night. Consequently, when most of us are in the peak of our spring planting frenzy, the temptation is to include these two warmth lovers into our gardens. But it's too early for them to go into the ground. Summer weather does not arrive until after Memorial Day, so planting these two popular herbs in spring is too risky for them. Waiting until June to plant summer loving plants will meet with far greater success. As I said, gardening is all about timing.

Easier to grow herbs are tarragon and rosemary. Keep both in mind when powering up the grill for chicken, pork, or shrimp. Here's a terrific rosemary skewer idea: from a large upright rosemary plant, harvest some long, strong sprigs to use as skewers. The herbal aroma coming off the grill is as nice as the tasty meal that follows.

Herbs are easily grown directly in the ground for yearlong harvest. They are so hardy many can be grown at the bases of trees to take advantage of the drip irrigation being used to water the trees. Thyme, oregano, chocolate mint and lavender are very tough and require similar water requirements as your established trees. A sweeter herbal flavor is the pronounced benefit of herbs planted in the midday shade of a tree.

Here's some good news for those of you over-run with rabbits, javelinas, and deer: Animals don't like herbs. They are so disliked by these pests that I've used them as deterrents in my container gardens this year. Instead of using a dracaena spike to accent a geranium bowl, I've used society garlic. The garlic scent repels javelinas and rabbits. The foliage resembles a tall grass with even taller lavender colored flowers that are really striking. This showy garlic plant is perennial so you won't need to replace it every year.

More good news: Bugs don't like herbs either. If aphids, mites, grasshoppers or caterpillars have been problematic to your yard, try herbs. I can't remember the last time a customer came in with bugs on their herbs. Not sure what to do with a great herb like bee balm? Simply enjoy the tall pink flowers that look great in any landscape. Enjoy the beauty first, and then later experiment to make a soothing tea with the leaves.

It's OK to mix and match edible plants with the flowers in your yard; in fact, I enthusiastically suggest you try this technique. Trailing oregano at the front edge of a container, the silvery mass of lavender, or the fern-like foliage of parsley look good when planted with a pot full of flowers. Herbs, herbs, herbs - can you tell I like to grow herbs?

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Facebook question: Do you know the name of a great-looking tree that has pink flowers on it right now? It looks like a shade tree with leaves on the smaller size.-Ed, Prescott Valley

Answer: The purple robe locust has been over the top this spring. This truly is a wondrous tree from the mountains of Arizona. Xeric in nature, it has a very low water use habit. An excellent shade tree, it grows to 35 feet high with far fewer issues than other shade trees such as willows, cottonwoods or sycamores. Its many desirable characteristics are the aspen gold color in fall, its cooling shade in summer, and in spring those incredibly purple-to-pink flowers that resemble grape clusters. Beyond a doubt, this tree has it all.

I've used two purple robe locusts to shade my back patio area where we often entertain family and friends; this spring, the trees have been loaded with more flowers than leaves! I coax a deeper purple flower color by applying the recommended feeding of my All Purpose Plant Food, 7-4-4, and a dose of "Soil Sulfur" early each spring. This treatment really makes for spectacular, eye-boggling flowers.

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Next Saturday, June 11, kicks off the mountain gardener summer series of classes. The first class is "Proper Water Techniques for a Healthy Landscape." You'll learn that it takes less water than you might think to have a landscape to admire. On June 18, the series continues with "Maximizing the Harvest of Herbs & Veggies." Classes begin at 9:30 a.m., and take place, rain or shine, in Watters' back greenhouse.

Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.

Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through www.wattersonline.com. See Ken's personal gardens at www.facebook.com/wattersgardencenter.