February not to be trusted when it comes to gardening

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February 15, 2014 

Oregano can be used in all sorts of ways, even in muffins.

February in the Lowcountry is a planting month for many vegetables and spring flowers that we grow from seed, both indoors and out. Finding room in the house this year for more plants is going to be a problem. The sunny windowsills and tabletops are filled with potted plants brought inside to escape January's icy blasts. When it comes to weather, February is not to be trusted. I shall leave the geraniums, begonias, bonsai and herbs inside, where they're crowded but safe. I'll wait to start seeds of spring peas and nasturtiums.

It's a great time for repotting indoor plants, those that reside indoors all year long. Many are among your favorites, having been gifts from friends. All are unusual, with names like Zamioculcas Zamiifolia, or "ZZ plant." Others with no plant tags surprise us with berries or flowers. There's a collection of herbal plants that was brought in from the herb garden when frost threatened: large pots of marjoram, parsley, small pots of thyme. Herbs set into the ground look to be dead, with the exception of the indomitable rosemary.

It's been called "tenacious thyme," and did you know that there are 19 varieties? My two plants are lemon thyme. I'm going to look for the variety Silver Queen -- it's variegated with streaky cream-edged leaves -- and also thymus praecox, which has a coconut or nutmeg scent. The thyme, variety unknown, that's growing outside between pavers has disappeared. I've a feeling it will come back -- they don't call thyme "tenacious" for nothing.

Herbs that can really take the cold and are easy to grow are oregano, sage, chives, hyssop, rosemary and lavender. My chive plant in a pot out of doors is 7 years old and used, as chive should be, to keep it going. On the nights in January that the temperature was below freezing, I put it in the garage. The lavender, rosemary and sage plants were not protected and lived.

The oregano plant has disappeared. It's not the first time; it may come back. It better, anyhow. Oregano is my husband's favorite herb. Did you know that oregano has the highest antioxidant potency of any herb?

Here are a few ways to use it:

  • Sprinkled on roasted cauliflower

  • In a white bean dip with fresh veggies for dipping

  • Baked into muffins with chopped olives and mozzarella cheese

  • Added with lemon and melted butter when basting grilled vegetables, chicken or fish

  • If it does end up snowing this year, I don't care. My seeds of nasturtiums must go into the ground. They give a wonderful peppery flavor to salads and the flowers can be frozen to decorate butter pads and appetizer trays. The flowers grow climbing or in mounds and do not need to be fed; the plants will grow until hot weather brings them down.

    Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Coastal Lowcountry gardening.

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