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Dear Friend and Gardener

Herb Garden for Savor and Beauty

Herb seedlings

Herb seedlings are available everywhere – Rosemary, parsley and basil

Why have an herb garden? Simon and Garfunkel sang about parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, increasing their fame, but this 17th century song just begins to touch on the herbs that can easily be grown by gardeners. Herb gardens are ideal for a novice gardener to tackle and a rich resource for the cook.

To begin all you need is a sunny space with ordinarily fertile soil. You can plant herbs in your vegetable garden or you can make a very pretty herb garden devoted to culinary, or ornamental herbs. My own small herb garden is located along the house foundation and right outside the kitchen door.

Parsley is treated as an annual herb, although it is actually a biennial. With a little luck it will come back its second spring, but will rapidly go to seed which is why most of us plant fresh seed, or buy new seedlings every year. Most people will recognize the two types of parsley, the flat leaved variety which has the best flavor for cooking, and the curly leaved type. I have grown parsley from seed indoors, but it is very slow to germinate. In some areas of England it is said that parsley must visit the devil seven times before it will germinate.

Parsley has been used in the past for many medicinal reasons but today only its power as a diuretic, and its nutritional value that is acknowledged. So remember that all the parsley you use in cooking is adding vitamins as well as flavor and a pretty garnish to your dishes. Parsley makes a pretty edging for an herb garden, or any garden.

sage

Sage

Sage, a perennial herb, was considered a general heal-all while preserving the memory and lifting depression Today it mostly used in the kitchen to flavor recipes including eggs, chicken, lamb, polenta and in stuffings with onions and apples.

Sage is a foot tall perennial that can be grown outside in our area, although over time the stems will become woody and you might want to replace it with a new plant. The texture of the foliage is velvety. The common Salvia officinalis is tender gray-green but there are also purple and golden salvias. It is an essential plant in the herb garden, but it is also a good addition to the ornamental garden.

Rosemary is tender in our region. In the past I have dug up my rosemary and potted it for a winter inside the house. I kept it in a cool room and kept it watered. It came through the winters but was always happy to be back outdoors once spring was fully in charge.

Sometimes I put my rosemary plant right in the ground for the summer, but I often have it grow in a beautiful pot which gives it more presence in the garden.

There are many varieties of thyme. I have only grown the common Thymus vulgaris. This is a low growing and wonderfully spready herb. Here in my new garden I have it growing in front of a low stone wall to make a thyme path and consider it a cousin to the English thyme lawn. In fact, in Heath where our lawn had very dry spots I planted thinnings from the thyme near the house. Those thinnings took root and spread. I did not have whole thyme lawn but it was an important element in the lawn which included dandelions, violets, clover, hawkweeds and other nameless flowering weeds creating what I called my flowery mead.

A busy friend of mine placed a sun dial in her lawn and then surrounded it with varieties of thyme. I don’t know what varieties she had but I have seen gardens with Mother of Thyme which is only three inches tall, silvery wooly thyme only one inch tall, and Elfin thyme which will rarely reach one inch, making a very flat mat. My friend just wanted to be able to say that she had all the time in the world.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are essential herbs in my kitchen, but they are not alone.

Dill and chives didn’t get songs, but they are also essential. I would grow dill even if I never used it in my cooking because I love the fragrance. It always reminds me of my childhood on the shores of Lake Champlain where my grandmother occasionally held a shrimp fest – all the shrimp (cooked with dill) that the extended family could eat. Dill is also a great pollinator plant.

dill

Dill

Dill is an annual, but it can hardly help seeding itself.

Chives are a perennial and the clump will get bigger every year. It is one of the earliest plants to come up in my garden. I can start harvesting the grassy, oniony foliage in early April. Late in the spring it will blossom and those blossoms are a pretty addition to a salad.

Ever since pesto became a staple in our kitchens, basil, an annual, has become a necessity. There is the big leafed Genovese basil I began with, but now there is any number of basils including Thai basil, lemon, cinnamon, Greek dwarf, dark purple opal, and Holy basil. They are delicious in a variety of ways in the kitchen and their different forms make them striking in the garden.

Whether you are a serious cook or not, herbs are a hardy and lovely addition to any garden. Most garden centers sell seedlings and you can set up an herb garden very quickly.

Between the Rows   April 22, 2017

4 comments to Herb Garden for Savor and Beauty

  • I am trying Cinnamon Basil this year. I didn’t get a cinnamon whiff from it so I am not sure what to expect. I love the idea of having all the thyme in the world. ha…

  • Helen Opie

    Once I got brave enough to do it, I discovered that pouring boiling water on my parsley patch really did encourage faster germination of the seed. Maybe parsley began where frequent fires raged and heat is their signal to get germinating.

  • Helen Opie

    Dill pesto is also delicious, especially in winter when it tastes so fresh…as in fresh air, not fresh dill, although it does that, too. Lovely with fish, boiled potatoes, in cheese sandwiches or omelette. ..or almost anything! You need a forest if dill to make it, and where it self sows you probably will get that forest.

    THAT makes me NEED to get out in my garden and be sure to plant a thick patcheck of dill in case last year’s fallen seeds aren’t going to provide enough.

  • Nan

    My chives make me so happy in the spring. I use them almost every day until fall. This year I bought new-to-me basil and parsley varieties – Italian Pesto Basil and Italian Gigante Parsley.

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