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Into the Garden: Herb gardens spice up containers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Container gardens are the perfect setting for herb gardening. The same "thriller/filler/spiller" planting method works with herbs just like it does with flowers: The thriller provides height and a focal point in the center or back of the design; the spiller trails over the side of the pot; and the filler fills in the space between the two.

Bonnie Plants, a national source for vegetable and herb plants for years, suggests planting two or three herbs in a large pot that is at least 14 inches in diameter, preferably larger as bigger containers are easier to keep watered in the heat of summer. Or, you can plant each herb in a 10-inch pot and group the pots together.

Plant the herbs in a premium potting mix. There are fertilizers available that are designed specifically for herbs and vegetables.

Bonnie suggests these themed combinations:

"Mamma Mia": These fresh herbs will help bring out the Italian cook in everyone. Plant in a terracotta pot to carry out the Old World theme. Use Greek columnar basil, rosemary or Italian parsley, Greek or Hot & Spicy oregano.

"Basil Lover": Try a variety of fresh new basil flavors all in one container. Use Greek columnar or sweet basil, purple or Thai or cinnamon basil, spicy globe or boxwood basil.

"Happy Hour": Whether it's for iced tea or iced mojito, try lemon verbena, rosemary, spearmint or a collection of flavored mints, including orange, apple and chocolate.

"Souper Duper": These savory herbs are the perfect addition to soups and stews. Plant sweet basil, rosemary, Greek oregano and German thyme.

"Flavor Fiesta": Plant this combination of herbs popular in Hispanic cuisine -- cilantro, onion chives, Hot & Spicy oregano and spearmint (also known as Yerba Buena).

Bob's Market teams with HGTV

Bob's Market and Greenhouses Inc. announced it will team up with HGTV, Agricola Management Group and Dummen USA to sell the HGTV Home Plant Collection. Being launched nationwide in 2013, Bob's Market is one of just 375 retail locations across the United States to take part in a May 2012 "soft launch."

The debut collection features mixed plant varieties in complementary color families that are matched in timing for balanced growth and consistent color. The annuals, mixed containers and hanging baskets are designed to perform well in gardens and outdoor living spaces.

"Expressions" includes four separate collections -- Confetti Craze, Friendly Fusions, Sassy Sweethearts and Big & Bold -- all of which are available as individual components in quarts, mixed together in gallons, and also decorative containers and hanging baskets.

Risk of deadly virus

I received an email about the weather recently and thought it was just another gardening message. But as I read more, I realized this study out of Washington State University might be of interest to anyone who works in their homes or gardens in our valley.

It's been a while since cases have been reported in West Virginia, but the recent death of a Washington state woman has triggered a word of caution about a microbe related to the virus that infected her.

The hantavirus -- a pathogen carried by deer mice and spread to humans by tiny particles kicked into the air -- often asserts itself in spring, particularly during a dry spell that follows a period of heavy rainfall, said Hector Aguilar-Carreno, virus researcher and assistant professor at WSU's school for Global Animal Health and the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology.

In July 2004, two cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome were identified in Randolph County. One was a wildlife science graduate student trapping small mammals and the other was a cabin owner who removed mice from his cabin.

"People are at greatest risk when they enter sheds and other closed-in structures with poor air circulation that have been infested with deer mice. It's important to take precautions to prevent infection," said Aguilar-Carreno, who has spent most of his career researching zoonotic viral diseases (those that spread from animals to humans).

In this case, the animal is the deer mouse that harbors the hantavirus but doesn't get sick. People become sick after breathing in virus-laced dust stirred up from the mouse's dried saliva, droppings or urine.

"It's not that people should be alarmed, but they should be watchful," he said.

Hantavirus has become a household word since it was identified in the U.S. during a 1993 cluster in the Southwest. But how to prevent contracting it isn't yet common knowledge, said Aguilar-Carreno. Precautions range from sealing holes and gaps in buildings to spraying disinfectant on dead rodents and rodent droppings or nests, he said.

There is no vaccine and no cure for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Medical treatment must be given before the infected person becomes gravely ill.

Once a person is infected, it takes one to five weeks for symptoms to develop, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors the disease nationwide: "We do know that if infected individuals are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, they may do better," says the agency website.

Diagnosis is tricky. Muscle aches, fatigue and fever make it hard to distinguish from influenza, according to the CDC. But four to 10 days after those symptoms surface, the infection becomes full-blown as fluid leaks into the lungs and patients struggle to breathe. Fortunately, if people suspect they've been exposed, a blood test can be done to confirm it before they move into the critical stage.

Not all deer mice carry the hantavirus, and the number that do seems to vary each year based on environmental conditions, said Aguilar-Carreno.

For example, more rain produces bumper crops of vegetation that the mice eat. This results in higher populations of babies, increasing the likelihood that more mice are spreading the virus.

Which means people are more likely to encounter the hantavirus, said Aguilar-Carreno. During a dry spell, "someone sweeping or moving boxes in a space inhabited by deer mice can stir the contaminated particles into the air," he said.

"Because hantavirus cases tend to increase when the weather warms up, people should take precautions," he said. "While the disease isn't common, it is serious, if not lethal."

For information, contact Hector Aguilar-Carreno, WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, 509-335-4410, haguilar@vetmed.wsu.edu.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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