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Edible Herb Garden

The romance of lavender, the fragrance of rosemary, and the flavor of basil are just a few of the reasons why people want to grow their own herbs.

With today’s busy schedules, most gardeners don’t have the time to grow elaborate vegetable and herb gardens. An excellent modern compromise is incorporating herbs, vegetables, and even some fruits into today’s home landscape.

Certainly not all vegetables are that attractive, such as corn or tomatoes, not to mention the space they require. Herbs, on the other hand, are generally very attractive. Most don’t take up a lot of garden space and usually one plant of each herb is more than enough to serve your needs.

The most popular location to grow an herb garden today is actually in a container. Occasionally you may still see an elaborate formal herb knot garden, but most often herb gardens are now contained on our porches or patios. With a large-size container, you can plant five or six herbs and a flower or two to increase the color show, and you are in business.

The most popular herb grown today is sweet basil. You can find all kinds of basils like lemon, holy, chocolate, Thai, and African blue basil. While I am sure there is a culinary use for each type, the sweet basil is my favorite for cooking.

Sweet basil
Ocimum basilicum, sweet basil, is a tender annual, so it should not be planted outside in our area until about mid-May. Full sun is best, but it is tolerant of a little shade. It grows easily 2 feet tall in one summer, and for culinary purposes it should be continually cut or harvested to encourage new growth and reduce flowering. If you let it grow, the lower stems become woody and it will flower profusely. Then you will actually have to cut more of the plant away to get the amount of fresh new leaves. All summer, it seems, I have a vase of fresh cut basil in my kitchen window just waiting for a ripe tomato and fresh mozzarella.

Rosemary
The second most popular herb to grow is rosemary. Like basil, there are several kinds of rosemary but most are quite similar in flavor with slight variations in leaf length and overall plant habit.

Rosmarinus officinalis, common rosemary, is marginally hardy in our area, and when planted in the ground in a protected spot it can be perennial. It grows best in full sun, but does very well in part shade. I have had rosemary ‘Athens Blue Spire’ growing in my garden for almost five years without injury. My newest favorite rosemary cultivar is called ‘Barbeque.’ It is quite vigorous and can grow about 15 to 18 inches in its first season. It has a fantastic upright habit, allowing you to cut long stalks you can use as skewers for grilling shrimp or chicken on the grill. I just like how it looks in my garden in the summer, yet have not had much luck with it overwintering.

Thyme
Thyme is almost as popular as rosemary. Thymus vulgaris, common thyme, and all its cousins—French, Mother of Thyme, lemon, wooly, and so many more—are almost all perfectly hardy in our area. They prefer full sun to part shade, and moist but well-drained soils. Many of the thymes grow quite low and are called creeping thymes. They make excellent groundcovers in the landscape and can also be used to cook with, although the flavor is variable depending on which one you use. Harvesting is a bit difficult because as thyme grows across the ground it roots down like a carpet. French thyme, which is a little more upright, is easier to harvest for culinary purposes.

Other popular herbs
These are just three of the dozens of herbs we grow in our gardens and cook with today. Don’t forget about chives, dill, flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, sage, mint, and French tarragon. All will grow successfully in your garden or in a container on your porch, deck, or patio, and they are all beautiful and tasty additions to your garden.

I love to cook and do so almost every night for my family, and I have been growing and cooking with fresh herbs as long as I can remember. Some are planted around the garden and some are in containers. I grow just the basics: basil, parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme, and dill. In fact, on a summer night I enjoy the task of strolling around the garden collecting fresh herbs for the night’s meal, more than the cooking itself.



ASK THE GARDENER
by Angie McManus

What are the best houseplants for dissipating formaldehyde?

Indoor houseplants are a wonderful addition to the home, and they are also beneficial in terms of removing toxins from the air. Indoor air pollution is not something to take lightly since trace amounts of formaldehyde are found in many products around our homes. There have been a few studies done on improving air quality through the use of houseplants. The plants can actually absorb these toxins and break them down, causing no damage to the plants. Certain plants are more effective than others in terms of air quality.

The following is a list of houseplants that are good for this purpose: pothos, philodendron, spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), dracaena, and spathiphyllum (commonly known as peace lily) are all good options for removing formaldehyde as well as other toxins from the air. All these plants are quite common and you should be able to find them at your local garden center. Houseplants can actually improve your quality of life.



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