Summer is the time of year for me to kick back, slow down a bit, and enjoy all of the hard work I’ve put into my garden. One of my favorite ways to do this is to bring the dining experience outdoors.
To do this you have to be willing to deal with some challenges: the weather being one; and, of course, insects. Now there’s not much I can do about the weather, but when it comes to dealing with the bugs, there are plants and plant derivatives that provide a safe and pleasant defense.
Pelargonium citrosum is a scented geranium and is also known as “mosquito plant” because of its ability to repel mosquitoes. Pot up a few containers for the deck or patio and enjoy the soft purple blooms and wonderful lemon scent. Break a leaf, bend it and rub the oil on your skin for an all-natural topical insect repellent.
1. Plant one or two mosquito plants in a large container, at least 12 inches apart.
2. Ensure your soil is light and well drained, preferably on the dry side. Avoid too much fertilizer; excess nitrogen reduces the fragrance.
3. Trim back this vigorous grower regularly, and shape into any form you choose.
Another way to repel insects naturally is to use citronella candles. The candle wax has been blended with the same oil used in the torches, and they come in a variety of sizes and containers. I like to put larger ones in galvanized buckets around the garden where my guests will be having dinner. Small votive candles make an enchanting addition to the dinner table.
By using citronella, your al fresco dining experience should be a more pleasant one without those uninvited guests.
Lemon thyme, lemon balm, catnip, lavender, basil and peppermint — when crushed and rubbed on the skin — also have insect-repelling properties.
Citronella is an aromatic oil that’s derived from a tropical grass which is a close cousin to the same lemongrass that’s so popular in Asian foods. As an oil it’s long been prized for its fragrance and insect repelling qualities.
You can use this oil by burning it in torches. When lit, the atmosphere they create is perfect for outdoor dining and entertaining. I make my own version of tiki torches using bottles that would otherwise be discarded.
• Citronella oil
• Glass water bottles or wine bottles
• Bottle caps or washers
• Gravel or marbles
To Make the Torches:
1. Add gravel to the bottle to give it weight and stability. It also looks good and displaces the amount of citronella oil you’ll have to put in the bottle. You can use marbles or other solid objects as well.
2. Drill a hole in the bottle cap and push the wick through it. This will help to keep the wick stable. You only need about ¼ inch of the wick coming through the bottle cap at the top. Another option is to use washers. No matter the size bottle you have, you should be able to find washers that allow you to accommodate the wick through it.
3. Pour the citronella oil into the bottle. A funnel comes in handy! You will want the wick sitting in about 2 to 3 inches of oil.
4. Place the wick in the bottle and screw on the cap or washer. The wick should be held in place tightly.
5. Wait a few minutes for the wick to draw the oil up to the top so that you can light it.
These little tiki torches are easy to make and will look great adorning your garden and table for an outdoor party.
P. Allen Smith is an author, television host, and conservationist. His show Garden Home airs on WKNO and AETN. You can watch Garden Style on KAIT and KPMF. Smith uses his Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, to promote the local food movement, organic gardening, and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. Tours of the farm may be booked at www.pallensmith.com/tours.