BY CONNIE COTTINGHAM
Pick Up Some Herbs at the Nursery or Plant Sales
If you have that spring gardening bug, March and April are great times to go to seminars, garden tours, plant sales, and nurseries well-stocked with plants. Just make sure you reserve enough time to spend in your own garden!
Herbs are easily found at every plant sale and nursery. If you think herbs are only for cooks and herb gardens you are cheating yourself out of many positive features of this group of plants.
Herbs are often drought tolerant
Rosemary, oregano and thyme are native to rocky coasts of the Mediterranean (among other places). They are tough little plants that can take it dry. Lavender does best in places where it receives less water and drains faster than most plants would prefer and does great in containers kept a little dry.
Herbs are often evergreen, low and spreading
Oregano and thyme are some of the best low, spreading herbs, creating a nice groundcover that looks and smells wonderful in a flower border or along a sidewalk. When creating planting beds, consider herbs as a beautiful low evergreen groundcover. Now the only problem is which one? There are not only many kinds of herbs, but many varieties of each. You can find lemon thyme, lime thyme, variegated thyme, Dot Wells thyme, caraway thyme, oregano scented thyme… the list is extensive.
One tough plant is Creeping Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’), a thirty inch wide, twelve inch high mass that chokes out weeds while elegantly tumbling down a dry slope.
Common rosemary is a nice evergreen accent in the garden with tiny blue blooms that makes a great accent in a vegetable garden design.
Here in Georgia, herbs with low, dense growth, such as thyme, can succumb to mildew and root rot unless the plant also has excellent drainage and airflow. These herbs are great for containers, raised beds and slopes.
Herbs are fragrant
What is the one thing that repels deer? Strong scents! So if you are looking for something that is deer resistant, look to the herbs and their close cousins (bee balm, ornamental alliums, ornamental oregano).
Also, the fragrance is great for the gardener. Weeding the herb garden is a pleasantly scented task and quick to do since herbs’ dense growth chokes out competing weeds.
Butterflies love herbs
Fennel is a host plant for the Black Swallowtail. Dill and parsley are also great butterfly plants, so plant enough to share (or just plant one plant for the butterfly larvae) and don’t rush for the chemicals when you see one plant covered with caterpillars; they are just butterflies-to-be with voracious appetites.
Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is the only plant that supplies food for the larvae of one of the most beautiful and largest butterflies in the world—the Monarch. Without milkweed, the Monarch will die. Incidentally, Milkweed sap is also a folk remedy for warts. Massage a little on the wart several times a day.
Herbs are great for cooking and crafts
Of course you could grow herbs because fresh herbs are great to cook with, but it’s also impressive to cook for dinner guests by first harvesting the herbs you grow, or add a sprig of mint to ice cube trays to create pretty ice for the tea. I have met men who first started gardening because growing their own herbs impressed dates. The flavors of fresh herbs are wonderful. We are fortunate to live in a place where many herbs can be grown year-round. Once you have mature herb plants you may also start drying herbs, making teas, and creating herb crafts.
Herbs are easy to grow
Give herbs a sunny spot with good drainage, and they are relatively carefree landscape plants. They often are pest resistant and out compete most weeds. Beware the mints, which also out compete your flowers and lawn. I would recommend growing mints only in containers.
Many herbs are perennial for us. Annual herbs include dill and basil (absolutely my favorite herb flavor), which should be planted about the same time as the tomatoes. Parsley does better in cooler months and is a great host plant for the swallowtail, so enjoy that with your pansies from fall to early spring.
Adding herbs to your landscape adds more than flavor to your cooking. Visit your local nursery to find a selection of herbs to add to your garden this spring.
Connie Cottingham and her husband Bruce garden on five acres in Athens. She is a freelance garden writer and a registered landscape architect, and enjoys being a member of the Athens Area Master Gardeners and Green Acres Garden Club. Follow her blog at conniecottingham.blogspot.com.
FUN TIP FOR KIDS
Have kids trace their name or initials with a finger in bare soil that has been prepared for seeds, and then let them carefully cover the letter area thickly with chive seeds. Cover seed with thin layer of soil and sprinkle water carefully. Soon the name will appear in green, with a magical effect. When about six inches tall, you can begin clipping tops for cooking. They will die down if allowed to flower, but will come back following year.#