Vervain – Grow Your Own Vampire Repellent

Vervain - Grow Your Own Vampire Repellent

The myth and magic of Vervain ( Verbena officinalis ) has been embedded in human culture for 1000’s of years. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, all had beliefs about the powers of this plant. In the Middle Ages it was used as a key ingredient in a mixture for protection against demons. Of course in modern times, with our massive body of scientific knowledge it is used more often as a Vampire Repellent…. live and learn !


Weekend Reader – Fall Herbal Teas, More Vitamins From Your Vegetables, a Herb Podcast and a Wasp from 1914

Stonecrop, Mount Arrowsmith October 2016

Stonecrop, Mount Arrowsmith October 2016

Happy middle of October, this week everyone seems to be planting garlic,  collecting leaves, and dodging raindrops.

I found this article in the  good old Mother Earth News Four Herbal teas for Autumn .

Always on the lookout for interesting “functional food” information, I found this article at Treehugger – Vegetables that are better cooked than Raw. I really like the tag line for the Treehugger site “decadence through simplicity “.

If you have to do a long drive or are looking for something to listen too while raking the leaves, check this out out A Way to Garden Podcast on Herbs.

Since I work on a small herb farm on Vancouver Island , looking for other small herb farms around the world is a hobby of mine, here is one that is also on an island – Herb Farm on the Island of Tasmania.

For the science and bug loving crowd here is a story about  a wasp species that hasn’t been seen since 1914 – Weird Science Topic – the wasp is back.







Overwintering Rosemary on Vancouver Island

Rosemary thriving unprotected near the beach at Genoa Bay BC November 2014

Rosemary thriving unprotected near the beach at Genoa Bay BC November 2014

My wife and I both love to use Rosemary for cooking, so over the years I have tried many different strategies for keeping it happy through the cool, damp, dark Vancouver Island Winters.

Key Points to Consider

Rosemary is considered a half hardy perennial in our climatic zone, so unprotected outdoor overwintering is a bit of a gamble.

Unlike many other perennial herbs, Rosemary stores very little energy in it’s stem and root tissue, it has to produce food for itself by photosynthesizing all year round, so it needs light even in the winter.

Rosemary does not like having wet feet, but benefits from moisture on it’s foliage.

Rosemary is damaged in the winter by cold temperatures and wind that produce low humidity conditions that desiccate and damage it’s foliage. Extreme cold temperature will freezes it’s roots.

Overwintering Strategies

Cultivar Selection

The first line of defense is choosing a more winter hardy Rosemary cultivar, the standard recommendation in this area is a variety called ‘ARP’, originally from ARP Texas, it is considered to be considerably more cold hardy than most, however I (personally) don’t like the flavor or aroma of ARP Rosemary. Another variety that overwinters well on the herb farm is Northcot.

Site Selection

Pick a location, with lots of light, shelter from the wind, and excellent drainage. The cold dry winds are going to come from the north and sometimes the west. If you are lucky enough to live near the sea your Rosemary will benefit from the moderated ocean side winter temperatures and higher humidity.

A Note on Mulch

I am not keen about mulching around Rosemary, the benefit would be added insulation over the root zone, the risk is possible root-rot causing moisture retention.

Consider Container Growing

Growing your Rosemary in a large pot is great strategy as you can move it into an unheated or lightly heated greenhouse, cold frame or covered porch. If you want to take it right inside your house and grow it in a bright window be aware that it will require regular misting to compensate for your dry indoor air and your Rosemary plant may trade insect pests with your house plants which can be tricky !

Extreme Care

I grow my Rosemary in large pots that are located on a sunny deck by the kitchen door all spring, summer and fall. Then I move them into an insulated unheated shed and put them under a florescent light fixture that contains 1 cool white and one GE “daylight” bulb.
They light is on 12 hours per day and I get to pick fresh Rosemary all winter and have lots of cuttings for propagation in the early spring.

Care Free Solution

The last, and maybe best strategy is ” don’t worry be happy ! ” and grow your Rosemary as if it is an annual plant. Just buy a new plant every spring. I have seen lots of fantastic Rosemary plants at the early spring “Seedy Saturday” plant and seed exchange sales at very reasonable prices.

Weekend Read – Recipes, Limestone and PH Control, Fall Cuttings on Vancouver Island, and the Weather




October Storm over Vancouver Island

October Storm over Vancouver Island

Here is a review of interesting horticultural experiences and  news from the past week that I hope will enjoy !


I found this great site with Recipes that feature herbs  by the American Herb Society.


Soil Mixes for Plant Growing

For those of us inclined to a more scientific approach here is an extensive article on Peat Moss, Compost , Limestone and PH Control.


Fall Herb Propagation Tips for Vancouver Island

The September 1 – Nov 1 time frame is really good for perennial plant propagation by division and cuttings because:

a) Generally a less busy time of year for plant growing, compared to the “spring rush”.

b) Summer heat has passed , so less sun, heat and misting issues.

c) Plants started this time of year are bigger, better and ready earlier than plants propagated early spring.

d) If for some reason the fall cuttings don’t take, you get a second chance in the spring.

e) Additional bottom heat is always beneficial for cuttings, however this time of year there is a natural tendency for the soil to be warmer than the air.

And Finally the Weather !

We have been having quite a storm over the last 24 hours,  click here for an interesting real time update.

Overwintering Bay Laurel on Vancouver Island

A flush of new spring growth on a Bay Laurel

A flush of new spring growth on a Bay Laurel

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) is an evergreen tree native to southern Europe. It has a long history as a culinary and sacred herb. Growing this wonderful Mediterranean herb on Vancouver Island is not difficult, but it requires a little extra care to get it through the winter.

Key Points to Consider

Bay is considered a half hardy perennial in our climatic zone, so unprotected outdoor overwintering is a bit of a gamble.

Young Bay plants, less than five years old, are considerably less hardy than mature plants.

Bay is shallow rooted, so heavy frosts may damage it’s root system.

Bay foliage is damaged in the winter by cold temperatures and wind that produce low humidity conditions that cause the leaves and smaller stems to die back.

Overwintering Outdoors

The first line of defense is to select a sunny protected area with well drained soil for your Bay plant. In the winter, mulch to help protect the root system from frost.

If temperatures are expected to go below -5C cover the entire plant with frost cloth or burlap to help protect the foliage.

Plants may suffer cold or wind damage to the current season’s growth, which can be pruned out in the spring. If the worst happens and a ground-planted bay seems to have all of it’s foliage killed off, prune it back and be patient, there is a good possibility that it will put up new shoots.

Potted Bay Laurel that is going to be kept outdoors, should have the entire pot buried in a sheltered corner of your garden. Then mulch and cover it as described above.

Overwintering Indoors

Potted Bay Laurel that can be moved indoors should be kept in an area that does not go below -5C and near a window for a bit of light. Water your indoor bay very sparingly ( 1 – 3 times per month ), do not fertilize it and keep an eye out for pests. While we are on the subject of Pests, it is also advisable to carefully check over your Bay and remove any pests before bringing it inside. While inside keep it well away from your houseplants to minimize an exchange of pests.

Well that is all for this year …. Happy Holidays !

Vancouver Island Frost Watch


According Farmer’s Almanac Naniamo gets an average of 171 frost free days, and the frost free growing season starts on April 28th. Further south in Victoria the average frost free date is April 19th. Expect a first frost around the beginning of November.

Of course many vegetable and herb plants can tolerate frost. Here is listing of Frost Tolerance of Vegetables to help you get started.


It is always interesting to see how Vancouver Island compares to the rest of Canada for frost free dates and growing season length, here is a handy table put out by the Farmer’s Almanac for various Canadian cities.