Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
July, 2003
Regional Report

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This monarda is as decorative an herb as one could hope for.

Herb Gardening Today

Herbs are often decorative as well as being, by definition, useful plants. Sometimes the old herbs identified centuries ago are no longer so frequently used for their original purposes, but they are still grown today because they are so ornamental. Vinca minor, foxglove, dianthus, and monkshood come to mind here, along with countless others.

Culinary herbs, on the other hand, are certainly still used and can also be attractive in the garden. Thank goodness the edible herb world is not limited to the tiered set of matched glass bottles confined to a rack in the kitchen with that mysterious label: "Herbs and Spices."

There is just no substitute for freshly harvested home-grown herbs, as many a cook and happy diner will attest. For example, if you grow and use your own basil or bay leaves, your spaghetti sauce will never be the same!

Fragrant Herbs
Many herbs are fragrant, with scents ranging from sweet to pungent. Just imagine the scent of lily of the valley, or lavender sachets, or chamomile tea (or a mint julep). These scents bring a special essence into the home and into the garden. Working in an herb garden on a sunny day, surrounded by the fragrances, is pure delight.

Anything Goes in the Herb Garden
Sometimes, we raise herbs alongside our flowers or vegetables. Sometimes, we segregate them into their own production area to facilitate harvest. We might mix all kinds of herbs together and plant them informally and with an eye on decoration, or we might design a traditional four-square pattern, or perhaps a more elaborate design, such as an intricate knot garden with formal edgings and clipped hedges.

And do not be led astray thinking herbs include only wispy little green plants. Roses are herbs of long standing, lavender is a silvery sub shrub of substance, and rosemary certainly turns woody with age. Scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale) is an oddity and anything but wispy. Many trees and shrubs -- from junipers to sassafras -- could be included in an herb garden, depending on your criteria.

Herbs for All Sites
If selected to suit the site, herbs tend to be easy-to-grow plants, dependable and reliable in the garden. Often, we think of herbs as needing a sun-baked, dry garden area, but that is not necessarily so. There are herbs suited to nearly any location from a wet sunny spot to dry shade to the windowsill.

At my house, we keep things simple. We use old galvanized washtubs to grow a few herbs by the kitchen door. Mint (always best contained to keep it from running roughshod through the garden), assorted thymes, sage, parsley, basil, lemongrass, and so on all grow happily there within easy reach of the scissors. Now if only they could inspire the cook!

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