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THE GRASS FAMILY (Gramineae): lack petals and sepals because they are wind pollinated and do not need to attract insects. The flowers typically have 3 stamens, and the ovary consists of 3 united carpels forming a single chamber. It matures as a single seed called a grain, and the flower is contained by modified leaves called bracts. These are the chaff that is later winnowed out of harvested grain. All cereal grains belong to this family, including wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley, millet and rye. The aromatic oils found in grasses are air-cleansing, calming, sedative, restorative, and refreshing. The grass family has a variety of medicinal benefits, including a respiratory disinfectant, a circulatory and digestive stimulant, and a skin tonic. These plants deodorize the air, calm digestion, and cleanse and balance the skin.

Grass species that grow in Zone 7 include Lemongrass, Citronella, Palmarosa, and Vetiver.

PLANT PROFILE: LEMONGRASS: (Cymbopogon citratus): Lemongrass is an aromatic grass that is packed with a strong citrus flavor and aroma. In the garden, lemongrass forms a tall, grassy clump that is 3 to 5 feet tall. It thrives in full sun, and rich, well-drained soil, and should be planted 24 inches apart. Provide a steady supply of moisture for best growth, and don’t let lemongrass roots dry out. When grown in the garden, lemongrass can reach monstrous proportions, with its cascading leaves growing three to five feet tall and reaching three feet in width. The plants can be repeatedly harvested throughout the growing season to increase yields.

Lemongrass is used medicinally and adds a pungent lemon aroma and flavor to tea. The inner stem base is used in many Thai dishes and soups. It is a popular beverage tea and everyday home remedy for some of the most common health complaints, including headaches, stress, indigestion, insomnia, coughs, colds and flu.

Lemongrass Tea Recipe: By the Wanderlust Kitchen: Ingredients: 4 cups water, 2 cups roughly chopped lemongrass stalks, 1/4 cup sugar, and Lime wheels for garnish.

Instructions: Bring the water to a boil over high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the lemongrass and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the tea for an additional 5 minutes. Strain the stalks from the liquid. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator and pour over ice.

THE LILY FAMILY (Liliaceae): have six plain or strikingly marked petals that are often trumpet-shaped, sitting atop a tall, erect stem with narrow, long, lance-shaped leaves. They come in many beautiful colors, including pink, gold, red, orange, and white. Lily species that grow in Zone 7 include:

Asiatic lilies: bloom first in early May or June, right after peonies. They are not fussy as long as they are grown in well-draining soil. They are the shortest type of lily, growing to 3 feet tall, and come in many colors, from pastel to tropical. They don’t have much of a fragrance, but they do add bright color to the garden.

Easter lilies: are most commonly grown indoors as a holiday plant. They are typically forced into bloom around Easter, in March or April. Outdoors, they are better suited for warmer regions of North America, where they can be planted in the garden after blooming has finished.

Oriental lilies: have that famously strong fragrance. They are tall and stately, growing to 4 feet tall, and tend to grow more slowly, often blooming about the time when Asiatic lily flowers are fading in mid- to late summer.

Trumpet lilies: are similar to oriental lilies, producing many blooms with a nice scent. Their flowers tend to be smaller and more closed, like a trumpet, than those of other lily species.

PLANT PROFILE: STARGAZER LILY: (Lilium orientalis): Stargazer Lilies are upright plants that grow to 6 feet tall and have strong stems that rarely need staking. The lance-shaped leaves alternate up the stems, with the lower ones often falling off as the plants grow taller. In mid-summer 4-12 flowers are produced on the end of each stem. The flowers are an elegant combination of pink, red and white with reflexed tips and long stamens with heavy orange anthers. The mainly crimson petals are edged in pink and spotted with darker red. The satiny flowers have a strong, pleasant fragrance, and make excellent cut flowers, however, the orange pollen can stain clothing and skin, so if used as cut flowers it is advisable to cut off the anthers. Once all the flowers on a stem have finished blooming, cut the stem just below the inflorescence, leaving a much foliage as possible, to make sure all the plant’s energy is directed back into the bulb.

The stargazer lily provides aromatherapy which is a relaxation therapy offered by the smell of the flower. The benefits of stargazer aromatherapy include calming the unrestful mind, lifting a lethargic mood, easing stress, help with symptoms of depression, and inducing a deep and restful sleep.

THE MINT FAMILY (Lamiaceae): are characterized by square stems, paired and simple leaves, and two-lipped and open-mouthed tubular flowers. Mint Family species are easy to grow, sun loving, and drought tolerant. Many have purple or blue flowers, however, there are also species with red, orange, yellow, pink, and white blossoms. The foliage is often as attractive as the flowers, with interesting textures, fine hairs, and colorful markings. Members of the Mint Family are extremely important plants for pollinators, including honey bees, which make good use of the abundant pollen for food, and nectar-rich flowers for honey production.

Mint family plants are used in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, incense, insect repellant, household cleaners, potpourri, and sachets. Members of the Mint Family are also medicinal plants, thought to cure indigestion, headaches, insomnia, and many other ailments. Mint species that grow in Zone 7 include: Basil, Bee Balm, Catnip, Hyssop, English Lavender, Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Spearmint, Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Self-Heal, and Thyme.

PLANT PROFILE: LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis): Lemon Balm is a cooling and drying nervine herb with a strong lemony smell and a milder lemony and pleasant flavor. This popular mint family plant produces thick beds of fragrant leaves that emit a delightful scent that permeates the garden. Medieval beekeepers rubbed crushed Lemon Balm in their hives to encourage nesting. Lemon Balm loves the sun, and after a season of growth, provides a winter’s supply of lemon balm leaves for tea.

Lemon Balm soothes anxiety, nervousness, and depression. It is a nervous system trophorestorative that tonifies and repairs the nervous system. Lemon Balm makes a delicious tea, either from fresh or dried leaves, and a tasty infused honey.

Lemon Balm Tea Recipe: Makes 1/4 cup tea blend, enough for 4 cups.

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons dried lemon balm, 1 tablespoon dried oat straw, 2 tablespoons dried, seedless rosehips, 1 1/2 teaspoons dried orange peel, and 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender.

Directions: Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

To make tea: For 1 cup of tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 rounded tablespoon of the tea blend. Cover and steep for 20 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey.

ZONE 7 VEGETABLES: Zones 7 to 10 are considered warm climates, and gardening activities are determined by heat, not by cold. During the hottest part of the summer, only a few vegetables will thrive, but during the rest of the year, gardeners are able to plant and harvest almost continuously.

Gardening in zones 7 to 10 can be even more challenging than gardening in the North because planting times vary, depending on the crop. Northern gardeners may grumble about the long winters, but that cold weather does a lot to minimize insect and disease problems. Fungal diseases, such as late blight, do not survive harsh winters, but they do survive in the southern states. Gardeners in the South need to seek out locally grown seeds and plant varieties that have been bred to resist the pests, diseases, and heat that can cripple northern-tier varieties.

In zone 7, cool-weather vegetables can usually be planted outdoors in early February. These crops include arugula, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Plant corn in March. Then, in April, plant the warm-season crops: beans, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.

Late-summer and fall offer zone 7 gardeners a second chance to plant. The trick is to wait until the really hot weather has passed, but not wait too long or the plants won’t have time to mature before the cold and dark of midwinter. Cold-hardy plants can be planted in late August, September and even early October.

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