Friday, July 21, 2017  



Gardening with Herbs



Adding Brilliant Color, Intriguing Textures and Good Taste to your Garden

by Karin Andrews
select Photos by Judy Ripley

As a child I remember spending countless hours in a magical place, meandering my way down elegant and serendipitous garden paths filled with a myriad of cultivated delights. The smell of lavender beside me, climbing roses above me and creeping thyme underfoot still beckons me, as I visit this magical place often through photographs and memories long since made but not forgotten.

The visual impact of my grandmother’s garden (as astounding as it was) seemed dwarfed by the scent of rosemary and lavender co-mingled with roses, lily of the valley, mint with raspberries and basil wafting heavily through the air alongside heirloom tomatoes, petite French cucumbers and every type of lettuce imaginable. The introduction of herbs to my grandmother’s landscape heightened the pleasure principle and at the same time provided natural deterrents to deer, rodents, insects and diseases.

Everything in her garden, seemed so thoughtfully placed, from the boxwood wall that surrounded a portion of her garden, to the well placed pergola’s and hedges that provided architectural interest.

As form always follows function, in architectural endeavors, these features also helped to collect and retain the scent of flowers and herbs as they co-mingled on a warm summer day, at the edge of dusk or in the early morning hours.
My grandmother’s pantry room was as lovely as the garden itself, for it was here that the fruit of her labor was preserved and displayed like glistening jewels or hung from the rafters like fine art. Jams, jellies, dried flowers, dried herbs, flavored vinegars, dried and canned fruit, pickles of every sort and vegetables of every kind provided a lavish bounty all year long. The food she prepared was always a delight — as she believed that presentation was equally as important as taste.

I have been able to pass on to my own daughter some of the things that my grandmother taught me about plant cultivation and the use of herbs as a compliment to the garden and in the kitchen.

All of this brings me to the main subject of this article, which is the transformation of your garden from mundane to sublime, with the practical addition of herbs and edible flowers to your landscape and garden. The finest cuisine in the world relies on the freshest of ingredients—including herbs. They are the joie de vivre of the culinary kitchen and the ultimate multi-taskers when it comes to good looks, good taste, and usefulness in the garden.

Adding Quality to Your
Palette and Your Life—

As we lead busier and busier lives, we often find that we have less and less time to tend our gardens or find pleasure in them. Culinary herbs are one of the most rewarding, lowest maintenance and least expensive ways to transform your patio, kitchen and your life. They are easy keepers and the ultimate low maintenance plants. Whether the area you have to work with is large or small, several acres or a patio, herbs can enhance your surroundings with a variety of textures, scents, colors, habits and tastes that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

With so many benefits, herbs are notoriously easy to propagate and grow. Give them the right kind of soil, tend them on occasion and they will graciously reward you in ways you never anticipated. The companion planting of herbs among roses, fruiting vines, fruit trees, flowers and in the vegetable garden can have a profound effect on the overall health of the garden as well. They will cut down significantly on unwanted visits from deer, rabbits and an assortment of insect pests—above and below ground.

With that said—let’s consider some of the more noteworthy herbs commonly available and their value in the garden.
Common Herb Varietiesto try—

  •  Basil is an iconic herb, most often associated with Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. It is cultivated around the world and available in a myriad of flavors, colors and growing habits, ranging in size from 5” to more than 3’ tall. Basil is an outstanding repellant for mosquitoes and grows well in pots. It is the ultimate companion plant for tomatoes both in the garden and on the table drizzled with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In the garden, basil will release secretions (exudate) into the soil which increases neighboring fruit production.

    Intriguing flavors to be found include: lime basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil, licorice basil and more. Lower growing varieties can be used as edging for the garden or grown in pots. Some varieties will grow tall and statuesque, while others will mimic small boxwoods. Taller varieties like Queen of Sheba, Thai Siam Queen or Holy Basil are breathtaking accents in the perennial garden as well. Basil should be used often. You can also re-seed more than once during the growing season (weather permitting).

    Basil prefers a rich, well-drained soil and will stand up well to hot Virginia summers. It is not tolerant of cold and should be grown as an annual. Basil is easy to grow from seed – directly sown in the garden when the soil warms or started in pots. Seed tapes are available if you wish to use basil as edging in the garden or plant it in rows. Do try different varieties as a way to appreciate basil’s many unique flavors and strong anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Borage is a striking garden plant with lovely edible blue flowers that taste like cucumbers. It is an excellent companion plant to strawberries, tomatoes and squash. It is also a natural repellent to tomato hornworm. Borage stands about 18” – 30” tall in the garden and can be quite floppy without support. It prefers a light, dry to normal soil and is very easily grown from seed. It will also freely self-sow.
  • Chamomile packs a big punch for its size and is a small perennial herb with small daisy like flowers and dark ferny foliage. It is beautiful when grown in pots or with other plants. It is a deterrent to cabbage worms and also makes a good companion plant for onions and leeks. Chamomile’s anti-fungal property also helps to prevent the “damping off” of nearby plants in the garden.
  • Cilantro is a member of the Parsley family. It is most often utilized in Mexican, Latin, Thai and Indian cuisine. There is no “in between” with cilantro—you either love it or hate it! Cilantro seed is known as the spice coriander and is used heavily in Indian cuisine. Both cilantro and coriander have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Dill is most often associated with Scandinavian fare. It makes an excellent culinary compliment for salmon and other fish, ribbon sliced sautéed zucchini and cucumber salad. It is notoriously easy to grow from seed. It’s lovely color and striking chartreuse blooms makes it a striking standout in the garden, on the table or in a flower arrangement. Dill seed is also widely used in a variety of dishes like potato salad, coleslaw and is a major ingredient in Old Bay®.
  • Fennel has one of the most distinctive flavors of all the culinary herbs. It was one of my favorites right out of my grandmother’s garden. It is easily grown from seed and will self-sow. This is one of the most memorable herbs in any garden for its lovely ferny asparagus like fronds and its delicate anise flavor. It is commonly used in liquors, candies and pastries.
  • Garlic, Chives and Onions are known to repel rose beetles and act as a deterrent for aphids. The ornamental varieties of onions are striking, particularly when planted in groups. Grow them liberally around your roses to keep aphids and other destroyers at bay! Allow some of your garlic, chives and onions to go to seed and you will be amazed at the lovely flowers they produce. Cut them and they will come again.
  • Lavender is iconic in the South of France, where it permeates the countryside of Provence. It can be easily propagated from cuttings to create low hedges. Lavender will thrive on a little bit of neglect and prefers a sweet sandy soil. It will not tolerate overwatering. Lavender is under-appreciated as a culinary herb here. In the south of France, however, it is a major component of Herbes de Provence (which is the correct French spelling). Thyme, savory, wild thyme, rosemary, chervil, bay leaf, fennel seeds and oregano are also found in this iconic herbal mix.
  • Mint comes in a plethora of flavors, colors and scents. It is refreshing and a delight to the senses for a variety of reasons. It will spread throughout your garden with wild abandon and makes a weed proof—insect free ground cover—if you have the room. Peppermint oil is well known for easing the severity of headaches.

    Intriguing varieties of mint to try in your own edible landscape include: Chocolate, lemon, apple, grapefruit and pineapple mint, along with spearmint, peppermint and the beautifully ornamental catmint. Curly mint is one of the strongest pure peppermint flavors and is striking in the garden. Use mint often and you’ll keep it tidy. Try planting different varieties in different pots and grouping them together or apart on your deck or patio.

     That ole’ southern staple consumed on Derby Day and across the South throughout spring and summer, would not be nearly as enjoyable without the addition of this highly aromatic and flavorful herb. A good Kentucky bourbon, mint from your garden, crushed ice and sugar shaken together and poured into julep cups will lead to a most enjoyable afternoon in the garden. Mint also makes a lovely garnish for fresh berries and crème.
  • Oregano is evergreen here in Virginia where I have grown it in large urn pots on the kitchen patio. Oregano possesses strong anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It repels insects and also improves the growth of other plants around it. It makes a lovely ground cover if you have the room and is easy to grow from seed or division. It is important in Italian, Greek and Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Rosemary is a beautiful shrubby perennial herb that will root easily from cuttings. It prefers well-drained, average garden soil and will tolerate extremes well. Deer and rabbits absolutely despise rosemary which makes it a must have for the garden! It is one of the great workhorses of the herb garden and will grow to at least three feet wide and tall if it is used often and cared for properly. It is a major component in Mediterranean cuisine and enhances the flavor of everything it comes in contact with. It also lends itself well to container gardens and topiary applications.
  • Sage can create a stunning focal point in the garden with its woody stems, interesting colors and variegated combinations. It will grow overly woody and lanky after the third year, which makes it an excellent candidate for the ever-changing container garden. Pineapple sage is particularly lovely when planted in combination with other herbs and flowers. A host of ornamental sages are also very useful in the landscape. It is most often used dried and rubbed between the fingers before storage – hence the name “rubbed sage”.
  • Thyme and creeping thyme is a must have herb for the vegetable and flower garden. It lends itself well to use as a ground cover, spilling over the edge of pots, retaining walls and as a fragrant carpet down garden paths. Thyme is excellent when used as a cover for the “bare legs” and “knobby knees” of taller herbs, trees and plants. Thyme is also known for relieving muscle spasms.

The tangible and intangible benefits of adding herbs to your landscape—

The introduction of herbs to your kitchen garden, landscape or patio will add a whole new dimension to your landscape and your life in tangible and intangible ways. Moments spent with friends and family over memorable meals or with children or grandchildren, in the garden, will create memories that last. There is nothing quite so stimulating or relaxing as the scent of flowers and herbs as they co-mingle together. A garden filled with herbs is an oasis for the soul in a busy world. The addition of herbs to your garden will add precious time to your enjoyment in the garden, vitality to your life and zest to your palette. Why not begin adding brilliant color, texture and good taste to your garden today!