Monday, May 13, 2013

Herbs Spice Your Garden and Your Pot

     Herbs in the garden can be very interesting and a wonderful addition.  They can provide color, scent and interesting texture as well as providing a wealth of useful seasoning to your table.  Everyone has their favorite 'go to' herbs that they use all the time in their cooking.  I always make a point of growing these herbs so that I have fresh spices at least during the summer and fall.  There is nothing better than going out to the garden just before starting a meal and picking what I need to throw into the pot.  Foods just taste better with fresh herbs.  There are other herbs though that I also add to my site and to site plans done, even for commercial and institutional locations, simply because they are a great choice of plant for the spot.
     I like to think of them in terms of permanent plantings, the shrub herbs, perennials, root herbs (including bulbs, corms and tubers) and finally annuals.  With these classifications in mind, I can then scatter herbs into a planting design or can create a more permanent year-round herb garden design.
Lavender in full bloom
The three major plants that I use for shrub herbs are lavender, rosemary and thyme.  Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, is also called English lavender, although it actually originally came from the western Mediterranean.  It is an evergreen shrub with narrow and fragrant leaves that reaches three to five feet in height.  It prefers sunny dry locations and has showy purple flower spikes.  The leaves are used for medicinal purposes, teas, and scents.  Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, is also an evergreen shrub with needle like leaves.  These leaves are a gray-green in color and are also fragrant.  Rosemary likes full sun and will reach a height of two to four feet.  It is deer and drought resistant and also has showy blue to purple flowers that bloom along the stems.  As an herb, rosemary is used to season lamb, pork, veal and poultry.  Thyme,  Thymus sp., is a small evergreen, sun loving shrub that can be as short as six inches in height or as tall as eighteen inches depending on the variety.  It has narrow gray-green leaves and purple, pink, or white flowers on small spikes.  Blooming is showy because of the masses of color rather that because of individual showy flowers.  Thyme is great when used to season soups, poultry and fish.
     Perennial herbs tend to be a bit less permanent than shrub herbs, but they still will come back over a multiple of years.  In this category are sage, sorrel and the host of mints.  Sage, Salvia officinalis, is an evergreen woody herb with edible leaves several inches long.  It reaches one to two feet in height and has gray-green leaves and blue to white flowers. As an herb, it is used to season poultry, sausage and soft mild cheese, and as a planting it is lovely in rock gardens and along plant bed edges.  Sorrel, Rumex sp., is a perennial herb that reaches eighteen inches to three feet tall. I prefers full sun and makes an interesting bed edge plant.  Flowers are an insignificant green or brown, showing up in the summer, but the leaves provide a nice texture change to the bed.  They are a three to six inch shield, often with red stems or veins.  Sorrel is used in soup and with chicken and egg dishes. 
The mints  - including peppermint, spearmint, orange bergamont mint, pineapplemint, and Corsican mint - Mentha sp., are all perennial herbs.  They grow from six inches to three feet depending on the variety and prefer partial shade to full sun.  Mint makes a great ground cover, although it can take over if not contained, and it blooms with stalks of small lavender, purple, blue and white flowers in the summer.  Leaves are a deep green to a light yellow green, and are the primary reason to grow mint.  The fragrant leaves are edible and used in a number of ways including teas, jellies, deserts and salads.
     Root herbs are often simply lumped  into a category of bulb, because most people to realize that there are different types of roots.  In this category are the Allium sp.  They are perennial bulbs that have blue to green tubular grass-like leaves, reach heights of one to two feet, prefer full sun and have globe shaped flowers that are in the blue, purple, pink and white range.  This genus includes garlic - Allium sativum, chives - Allium tuberosum, and onions - Allium cepa. 
Saffron Crocus in bloom
Saffron, Crocus sativus, is also a root herb.  As an herbaceous corm, saffron is a  fall blooming crocus related to spring crocus.  It reaches four inches in height and prefers full sun.  Grass-like leaves are crowned by purple flowers in the fall.  Spice is produced from harvesting the red-orange stigmas and styles from the female flowers and is used in rice, breads and ethnic dishes.  Plant them as a fall accent on garden edges.  Finally, a great plant in this category is ginger - Zingiber officinal.  This is a herbaceous perennial that grows from tuberous rhizomes.  Plants reach three to four feet tall and prefer partial shade.  They have bright green strap-like leaves and yellow flowers in the spring.  The rhizome is edible.  It is used in oriental and Mediterranean food and crystallized in and as a desert.
     Annuals are good for a growing season and can be planted like annual flowers.  Parsley, Petroselinum crispum, is a biennial or annual herb that prefers partial shade to full sun.  It produces edible, dark green, curly leaves that provide interesting texture to the garden and the insignificant flowers attract swallowtail butterflies who like to use the plant to lay their eggs.  Parsley is used as a garnish and in soups, stews and salads.  Basil, Ocimum minimum, is an  annual herb,  It reaches eighteen inches to two feet in height and prefers full sun.  The plant produces bright green or purple fragrant leaves which are used in soups, salads, stews and tomato based sauces.  Basil has small white to pink flowers in summer.
     Herbs in the garden provide interest closer to the ground.  They give added texture to your beds and provide lovely scents as well as lovely flowers.  Their bonus is that they also provide interesting flavor and scent to your cooking.  Add them to your beds or create a specific garden just for your herbs to spice up your life.

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