August is the ideal time to be storing fresh herbs for winter use. Although they are much tastier when freshly harvested, there are several ways of preserving herbs that allow you to save them whenever there is a glut. Choose the best quality, disease free material and collect them early in morning on a dry day when they’re packed with flavour filled oils. Soft leafed herbs can be frozen in the ice cube tray, chives stores well this way and parsley keeps its flavour too. Always chop parsley for cooking before freezing as it is impossible to so afterwards, then all you have to do is take out an ice cube and pop it into the casserole, if you are cooking fish, just put the ice cubes into a sieve, let them melt then use the leaves. Paint basil leaves with olive oil on both sides to prevent them from sticking then freeze them without adding water. Herbs like ‘bay’ and sage can be dried slowly in small bunches in the airing cupboard or placed on kitchen towel and dried for a couple of minutes in the microwave, check them every 30 seconds to make sure that they are dried not cooked. Drying gently also concentrates the flavour of leaves like ‘Bay’. Dried herbs should be picked from the stems and stored in sealed jars in the dark to keep their flavour. You can also use sprigs and leaves to flavour bottles of olive oil, they make wonderful presents too. Put the herbs in bottles or jars, cover them with oil and leave on a sunny windowsill, shake it regularly to mix the oils and replace the herbs every two weeks until the olive oil is steeped in their flavour. Adding chopped thyme to ground sea salt adds a good flavour too.
From mid summer when rhododendrons and camellias are forming their flower buds for next year, it’s vital that the compost or soil around them should never dry out or they will shed the buds that have formed or not even form them at all. During dry periods, check plants daily, those in pots are particularly vulnerable and may need watering twice a day with rainwater. The indoor azaleas that you’ve been growing outdoors for winter display need the same treatment too but should be watered with soft, tepid water to avoid shocking them with a chill.
At this time of year, after several months of flowering hanging baskets often burn out, flowers fade, they become scorched, battered, dry and generally exhausted. Boost your hanging baskets and containers by lightly trimming them over to remove flowers and seeds that weaken the plants and stops flowering. Pick them through carefully to remove dead or diseased material and treat any pests. If the compost is dry, dunk the basket in a large bucket or the water butt for an hour to allow the water to soak through then feed with a high nitrogen fertilizer to boost re-growth. Once the plants are revitalised, go back to using high potash fertiliser for the rest of the season to encourage flowers. Happy Gardening