Adventures of an Aspiring Plant Lady: The Plague

And so it happened. My herb garden hath perished.

You read about it online: desperate plant owners anonymously posting grainy, poorly-framed photos of shriveled leaves and wilting plants on every gardening forum they can find, seeking answers and advice from someone...anyone. But you never imagine it will happen to you.

Unless you're me, and then you're amazed any plants in your care were able to cling to life for even this long.

From what I could gather from the unknown experts on my little collection of potted herbs suffered thrip damage, an apparently-common bug that eats away at the herbs with which you're meant to be cooking until the leaves wither and the stems rot and your oregano is a mere shadow of what it used to be.

This isn't the aforementioned herb garden, but it honestly might as well be. // Hudson Valley, 2016

This isn't the aforementioned herb garden, but it honestly might as well be. // Hudson Valley, 2016

But there's hope. Although the thyme and oregano are too far gone, the basil, rosemary, and spearmint have - with a little bit of work and quite a lot of google searching - somehow managed to hold on by a thread (a very minuscule thread, but a thread, nonetheless). I've learned a couple of things along the way - mostly what not to do - but learning is learning and that's all that matters.

  1. For starters, always pay attention. One of the easiest ways to deal with pests and diseases is to catch them early. Check in on plants regularly and make a note of even slight changes in the coloring or texture of leaves and stems. Different pests create different kinds of damage, but generally any splotchiness or pinched texture means that something is making a snack out of your potted friend. To test for thrips, specifically, hold a white sheet of paper beneath the leaves in questions and tap the top of the leaves. If thrips are present you'll see very small, almost translucent bugs on the sheet of paper. And if you see very small, almost translucent bugs on the sheet of paper read here to see what you should do next.
  2. Another way to save yourself the pain of watching your lovely herb garden wither away is to prevent pest damage. Periodically rinsing or wiping your plants will help keep bugs from settling in and inviting their neighbors over for dinner, and prevent dust from building up. You could also (and should also) use some form of pest control. Chemical-laden bug sprays are less than ideal (because you're hoping to eat the herbs and also because chemicals...). There are several natural options out there but I use a homemade neem oil spray. If you're wondering why the herbs still died it's because I forgot to use it for, oh, about 6 months.
  3. Keep trying! Plants die. It happens. If I've learned anything from commiserating with other amateur indoor gardeners online it's that everyone deals with this. Plants are susceptible to pests, diseases, over-watering, under-watering, over-heating, freezing, too much pruning, not enough humidity - honestly it's amazing that any plants are alive right now at all. It takes some time to figure out how to properly care for plants, and when one plant door closes, another plant door opens. Or something like that...

And - for those of you on the edge of your seats wondering how all of my other plants are doing - all is well. My philodendron plant continues to sit on the top of my bookshelf as an example to all of the other, under-achieving greenery. The two tiny bird's nest ferns I impulse-bought in the checkout line of Trader Joe's are holding up, as are a handful of succulents. And I recently purchased two new plants - a parlor palm and a dieffenbachia. Both are *supposedly* easy to care for, but we'll see how this goes. 

Rosemary & Thyme Herb Butter

I've always loved baking. In high school I spent weekends making cupcakes and cookies (you know, like a normal 15 year old), and started college dreaming of one day opening my own bakery.

Although I've changed course quite a bit, I still spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In an attempt to become a more knowledgeable home cook I've been working my way through Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food. A proponent of farm-to-table cooking long before it was a trend, Alice Waters seeks to create memorable meals by finding quality, seasonal ingredients and cooking or preparing them simply. In the book she not only provides hundreds of recipes - from homemade vinaigrette dressing and apricot jam, to roasted chicken and sautéed brussels sprouts - she also offers tips for keeping a well-stocked pantry and uses each page as an opportunity to teach. It's a wonderful place to start for anyone looking to brush up on their cooking and baking basics, and everyone should just go buy it already, geez.

Since I've recently been gifted an herb garden I was excited to try my hand at making a butter using fresh-cut herbs. The recipe below is based on the one in Alice Waters' book, but has been slightly adapted to suit my own tastes. Enjoy.

rosemary & thyme herb butter

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Melt half of the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the herbs, slowly mixing for a couple of minutes until fragrant. 

Let the mixture cool in the fridge until or on the counter until room temperature.

Once cooled, add in the rest of the butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice, to enhance the flavors. 

Pour into a bowl or small container, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.