H - Herbs
Every gardener has a different opinion about how things should be done. An example is a favorite saying from one of my good gardening friends: "You get three gardeners in one room - fist fight!". While I don't completely agree with Gerry - I know that there is always more than one way to approach a subject. I hope that we can provide you with some useful information, and some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
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An unusually clear photo of The Garden Commando

Simple Herb Garden -Part 1

By The Garden Commando

Lemon Thyme
Photo by Louise Peacock Copyright reserved

The subject of Herbs is vast, and could not possibly be covered in a small space - so in this section, we are going to deal with a basic herb garden, which will combine beauty with four basic, useful culinary herbs. 

Starting a simple herb garden
You can start a very simple herb garden just with the good old standards: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. 

These plants as well as being excellent culinary herbs, are very attractive and can be planted so as to form a decorative bed. 

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
The most common two types of Parsley are Italian or French Parsley which has plain, smooth leaves, and Curled Parsley which has the familiar tightly ruffled, fine foliage, and which is the type used as a garnishing sprig on your plate (usually). 

Used in cooking as a garnish, or to add a subtle flavour to soups, stews, salads and fish,  finely minced Parsley with a touch of chopped Celery leaf, also provides a somewhat salty taste.  Medicinally, Parsley has diuretic properties and is used as a tonic tea. Some people believe that Parsley has the ability to help drain excess fluids from your body and is therefore beloved of dieters!  Chewing a few Parsley leaves can even help to sweeten the breath, according to some herb experts. 

Parsley is a hardy biennial, but is usually treated as an annual. You should keep it pinched or clipped back to discourage it from going to seed (which it will, if you are not observant); unfortunately, when that happens it loses much of its beauty, becoming leggy and straggly looking. 

Curled Parsley can be planted in neat clumps throughout the bed, or it can also be used for an edging. It does not grow very tall - 6 to 8 inches, and looks very attractive as a border. You can snip pieces off for the kitchen without spoiling its looks. 

Sage, Common Sage  (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is a strongly aromatic, woody perennial plant. Because it is so strongly flavoured, a tiny amount goes a long way in most dishes. One cook book advises us to leave Sage till the last ten minutes of cooking, to avoid "over-saging", especially in soups and stews which tend to cook for a long time. The common uses for Sage are in stuffing and gravy, but it is also delightful chopped finely and mixed sparingly with cream cheese, or sprinkled over mashed potatoes, tomato slices or Bruschetta. Use finely minced fresh sage if making fresh rolls or bread. 

Sage was used extensively in the old days as a cough remedy or an astringent (helps night sweats),  but Sage should be taken medicinally in extremely small doses, and only with the advice of a naturopath or an accredited herbalist. 

There are many different types of Sage, but not all are hardy in our zone. Common Sage has soft, gray-green foliage and produces spikes of soft purple flowers in  the early summer. This type will survive our winters (usually), but resist the urge to go out and cut back the branches in the early spring, to "tidy up", since you may damage the plant. Wait until you see signs of growth, then carefully remove just the dead tips of the branches, and any that are weak or straggly looking. 

Some of the more interesting varieties, such as Pineapple Sage (with brilliant, scarlet flowers), or Lemon Sage, must be treated as annuals since they are not hardy in Zones 5 and below, but their foliage is very decorative and the wonderful scent given off by the plants is so interesting, that it is well worth growing them in this manner. 

Sage if allowed to mature, attains a shrubby appearance, tending to spread out a bit - so give it some room. To best use its structure, I would tend to plant it in the mid to back part of a herb bed. If room is limited (2-3 feet) then perhaps you will only have room for one Sage, but if you have a fairly large area (3 feet and over), then you can include more. 

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 Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is an aromatic evergreen shrub from the Mediterranean and produces clusters of  pale blue flowers in the summer. Though not hardy in our climate, it should not be left out of  your herb selection. Rosemary is delicious chopped and sprinkled on pork or lamb roasts, or added to soups and stews.  It is also nice added to dough and baked in to herbed bread.  As a beauty aid, Rosemary is used to make a hair strengthening rinse. It is also used as a digestive aid and to improve circulation. 

You can either treat it as an annual and buy a new one every year, or you could bring your indoor pot of Rosemary out in the warm weather. Though slow growing - in its natural habitat - Rosemary can get up to 6 feet tall - there are also dwarf varieties available, that grow to 18" tall and would be suitable for container growing. 

If you treat your Rosemary as an annual, you would just plant it in the herb garden, directly into the soil. Rosemary likes a slightly limy soil and plenty of sunshine. If you are using an indoor potted plant, that you plan on bringing back indoors when the weather gets cold, use it as the centerpiece of the simple garden by placing it on a raised brick or square stone. (To ensure the health and happiness of your potted plants, place the pots within a larger container, with pebbles in the base to help conserve moisture.) 

Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Thyme is a  strongly aromatic, low growing, woody perennial that comes in more than 50 forms.  Thyme is used in stuffing, added to soups and stews and used to add zest in salads.  As with Rosemary and Sage, it can be added finely minced to roasts, and also to bread dough. As a cosmetic aid, tie a few sprigs of fresh Thyme in a cloth bag and allow the bag to steep in your bath water for a refreshing, restful soak.  The dried leaves and flowers can also be added to herb cushions and Pot-Pourri. It is said to be useful as a stomach tonic. 

Some types have variegated leaves (a few examples are Golden Thyme, Lemon Thyme or Variegated Silver Thyme).  Some are hardier than others, and you will have to experiment. One of my particular favourites is Golden Thyme because the leaves are so decorative. I like to plant this one alternately with Silver Thyme to form an attractive, low border. In addition to the foliage, Thyme produces masses of pale pink to rich mauve flowers, usually in June and July. 

Though not really very aromatic as a cooking herb, I have to mention Woolly Thyme here. This is a furry, graygreen plant that hugs the soil. It is at its best when positioned in a very sunny area adjacent to flat stones. It makes a soft, gray mat and also produces tiny pink flowers in the summer. As I mentioned, it is not particularly aromatic for cooking purposes, but it still has a soft, pungent scent when the leaves are gently touched (which everyone wants to do, by the way) 

Thyme is a relatively short plant - usually no taller than 6 inches; you could use therefore use it for the very front edging of your herb bed. In a really small bed, you could just feature a couple of different Thymes in the foreground. If you have plenty of space, you can plant small groupings of different Thymes throughout your herb bed. 

 Bibliographical References
The following texts were used to research the material provided for this article. There are many, many wonderful books on Herbs, and you should try to find some for yourself. The books listed here were the ones I found helpful, and some of which I have in my library at home.
Author  Book Title  Publisher 
Berrall, Julia S.  The Garden, An Illustrated History Penguin Books Ltd. Middlesex, England. 
ISBN # 0 14 00.4746 8 
Boericke, William, MD Homeopathic Materia Medica  Boericke and Runyon, ninth ed. Philadelphia, 
P.A. Copyright 1927. 
Boxer, Arabella, and Back, Philippa  The Herb Book Octopus Books Limited. 1980. London, 
England. Isbn #0 7064 1246 X
Colwell, F.R.  The Garden as a Fine Art, From Antiquity to 
Modern Times 
Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. 1978. 
ISBN #)-395-27065-0 
Daisley, Gilda  The Illustrated Book of Herbs  American Nature Scoiety Press. New York. 
ISBN# 0-517-400278 
Editors of Sunset Books  Sunset Herbs, an Illustrated Guide  Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park. California. ISBN# 0-376-03323-1
Hancock, Ken Feverfew - Your Headache May be Over  Keats Publishing, Inc. New Canaan, 
Connecticut. ISBN # 0-87983-392-0 
Huxley, Anthony Garden Perennials and Water Plants  Macmillan Publishing Co. , Inc. New York. 
1970. Library of Congress Card No. 78-134512 
Kadans, Joseph M. Encyclopedia of Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and 
Seeds for Healthful Living 
Parker Publishing, Inc. West Nyack, New 
York. ISBN # 0-13-275412-6 
Lima, Patrick  The Harrowsmith Illustrated Book of Herbs Camden House Publishing Ltd.  Camden 
East. Ont. ISBN # 0-920656-45--5 
Lust, John B., N.D., D.B.M.  The Herb Book  Benedict Lust Publications, New York. ISBN # 0-87904-007-6 
Medsger, Oliver Perry  Edible Wild Plants  Collier Books, New York, N.Y. 10022. Library 
of Congress Cat. Card No. 66-23647 
Mulligan, Gerald A. and Munro, Derek B.  Poisonous Plants of Canada,  Agriculture Canada. Ottawa, Ont. 1990. 
Publication No. 1842/E
Powling, Suzy and MegSanders,  Herbs and Aromatics Reed Consumer Books Limited, London, 
England. ISBN #0 600 5743 4 
Richters  Richters Herb Catalogue 1993  Goodwood, Ontario, Canada. (416)640-6677 
Scheffer, Mechthild  Bach Flower  Therapy, Theory and Practice  Healing Arts Press. Rochester, Vermont. 
ISBN#: 0-89281-239-7 
Verey, Rosemary  The Scented Garden  Random House, Inc. New York. 1989. ISBN# 

 Herbs continued ...Herbs 2

This page was updated December 28/99 

References to plants grown in the garden as ornamentals are based on my own, personal experiences with my garden and client gardens, as well as material and references in the above texts.

Comments or suggestions on this Web page: wezel@wezel.com

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