Spring 2023 Garden Rundown
Guys, March is here! Can you believe it? Chunky gardening catalogs are arriving in the mailbox, tempting sales on new seed varieties pop up in emails, and influencer farmers on Instagram share their favorite plants grown in the past year. It's a great time to plan and take stock. Gardening is a hopeful activity; there is always a future to work towards. I'm heading into my 4th year, and I feel unusually confident!
I completed a seed inventory on my living room floor last night and wrote a list of newbloods and past favorites I plan to grow in 2023. I am pushing for more native Northeastern US perennials and plants used in Traditional Western Medicine (TWM) or folk medicine, especially exploring their effects on our skin's health. I'm growing in South Jersey in Zone 7a. Find out your planting zone, and frost dates from Farmer's Almanac here!
New 2023 Botanicals for Skincare
Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata)
The new-to-me variety I'm most excited about! I love the scent of sweetgrass; it's more relaxing, subtle, and luxurious than lavender. Sweetgrass is native to North America, and the range can extend down to New Jersey, but I doubt there are any native populations I'd feel comfortable foraging from; it seems rare. I wanted to grow my patch and create a perennial supply for bad braiding attempts and skincare formulation experiments.
Guidance on how to grow this plant for seed is varied. The general vibe is: growing from seed is more complicated and may take a few years to establish a stable crop. Growing by division from healthy rhizomes is recommended to increase plant stock within a few months.
I purchased my seeds from Strictly Medicinal Seeds, but I have seen sweetgrass seeds and potted plants available on Etsy and eBay, so be sure to search for the best solution for your budget and situation. Unfortunately, like most perennial plants, they do best when planted in the ground, so this grass would not do well in a pot long-term, and I have to find them a nice spot outside.
Once germinated, I hope the seedlings will take off along the back garden fence. That area receives lots and lots of sun, but the roots can stay cool and moist under the woodchip mulch and out of the mower's path.
Sweet Vernal Grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum)
Another fragrant grass! This grass is native to Eurasia and North Africa but is decidedly easier to grow than sweetgrass. Sweet vernal grass germinates in 4 to 5 days and enjoys acidic soil. South Jersey is famous for its blueberries which require acidic soil to thrive. My blueberry bushes are happily thriving in their third year, so sweet vernal grass will do well in the garden, too.
I plan to use sweetgrass and vernal grass to scent my skincare formulations. Extracted into perfumer's alcohol (AKA ethyl alcohol, AKA ethanol), the sweetgrass scent can be carried into body lotion, cooling gel, or facial mist. Propanediol is a suitable scent carrier, too, with the added moisturizing benefit. There are many things to make and try in the new year! Sign up for the newsletter to be updated when a new Developer Diary is published; that's where I post all my formulations and experiments.
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
Another new-to-me herb has roots in England, where the entire plant was once harvested for food, folk medicine, and fragrance. Infusing into ethanol, propanediol, and sunflower oil will give me enough water- and oil-soluble extracts to start.
It is a general tonic used for various herbal treatments because it's benign. The leaves can be used in cooking because they taste sweet. Hence, sweet cicely, I suppose! Decoctions and extracts from the leaves and roots were used to treat gout and other inflammations.
It's also a beautiful flower with fern-like leaves, perfect for an old-fashioned, woodland-style, or cottage garden. They will be happiest tucked into the yard's far corner, provided dappled sunlight from the sycamore trees. Sweet cicely can handle the cold, and that part of the yard gets very cold and windy (probably why I can't get anything to grow there), so I'm hoping for a robust display!
Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
A new-to-me coneflower native to the central US, but I was attracted to the drooping, ghostly petals and had to try growing in South Jersey. I will not use this plant for medicine, primarily because it is threatened and must spread. Instead, it will be planted in the front wildflower patch, where it can handle wind, sunlight, and the occasional dry spell.
I have standard coneflower varieties scattered throughout the yard and garden, and they grow nearly 4 feet tall! Coneflowers smell like roses and attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to the garden. They're an essential and low-maintenance species that I enjoy seeing come up every spring, which means warm weather is ahead!
I enjoy the fluffy-headed 'double-scoop' hybrid varieties popular in garden centers. They come in so many colors! I recommend getting a few to tuck into dry and sunny parts of your yard for perennial color and fragrance.
As it warms up, I spy so many natives in the yard! Please do not mow just yet, wait for the weather to really stabilize, and this will provide food for many pollinators.
Dandelions, purple dead nettle, chickweed, white and red clover, chicory, creeping speedwell, smartweed, and violets are what I see coming up every year. They take over the backyard more than grass, and it's a welcome sight! There's a beautiful amount of variety if we allow it to flourish.
I know many new generation gardeners are moving away from lawns and monoculture and I think it's fantastic! Less work for you, more food for the pollinators, and a healthier ecosystem right on a little patch of Earth!