Herbs a delight for gardener, cook

Flavorful plants enjoy the heat, thrive in containers

In The Garden

August 21, 2005|By Kathy Van Mullekom | Kathy Van Mullekom,DAILY PRESS

Herb gardens appeal to beginning gardeners, especially those who have only a small yard or patio.

"Herbs are easy to grow, thrive in poor soil and don't require much space," says Shirley Hill of Williamsburg, Va.

"They require little care, only an occasional weeding, and require little water," she adds. "Not only are they attractive, but the colors and scents add another dimension to the garden as well as the kitchen."

You can't beat that recipe for gardening success, can you?

In addition, herbs, which typically come from the hot, dry Mediterranean area, love heat, something we've had in surplus this summer. You can also grow them in large pots, as long as drainage is good.

Hill is one of several members of the Colonial Triangle of Virginia, Herb Society of America, who invited us to visit their herb gardens in the Williamsburg area.

Her garden is part of a larger English one with a picket fence that makes it look neat and tidy. The herb section is on a small berm bordered by a wall where she plants scented herbs. Below that wall, she has kitchen herbs. Her favorites include basil for salads and pestos from spring until late fall. She also likes rosemary for roasting chicken and other meats. And she uses lavender for baking cookies and pound cake.

Genrose Lashinger has one of those gardens that keeps going and growing. She's even bought the vacant property next door so she can expand her plantings.

Many of her herbs -- chives, flat-leaf parsley, oregano, bay, rosemary and lemon thyme -- grow right outside the back door of her house, close to the kitchen where she can quickly snip them as needed.

"The area is bordered by brick in full sun, which gives them the heat they need," she says.

She also grows herbs as ornamental plants for the flower arrangements she enjoys sharing with others. This year, she's experimenting with a 'Grosso' lavender hedge on one side of her yard. Lavender needs exceptional drainage, so she's planted it on a slight slant, using mulch with sand and gravel mixed in. In that spot, the north wind blows through, helping keep the area fairly dry. So far, she has two plants, each about 2 feet tall, and three others coming along.

"It's the first time I have been able to keep lavender alive," she says.

Lashinger, a retired schoolteacher, also volunteers at an elementary school, where she teaches kindergarteners about the history, culture and uses of herbs. They also learn about better eating habits when they enjoy snacks that are made from those herbs.

Carol Schmidt packs numerous herbs into a small space at the back of her garage, plus she scatters them around the yard in beds and pots.

She grows sugarlike stevia for iced tea, rosemary for lamb and roasted potatoes, chives for mashed and baked potatoes, 'Munstead' lavender for potpourri, sage for pork, dill for salmon and lemon verbena for cookies and tea.

Schmidt grows any unruly mints, such as spearmint, in barrels so they won't take over her garden. She stands empty 2-liter bottles around the inner perimeter of each barrel positioning them on a base of gravel in the bottom to keep the container from weighing too much after she fills it with potting soil.

"Then it's light enough to move around," she says.

She also concocts her own potting soil for all her gardening containers. Her recipe: 1 part cow or chicken manure, 1 part vermiculite, 2 parts potting soil, 2 parts sand (coarse, not fine play sand), 2 parts peat moss and 2 tablespoons dolomitic lime.

"It works," she says. "There's nothing like growing and using fresh stuff from your own garden."

The Daily Press, in Newport News, Va., is a Tribune Publishing Newspaper.

Acquiring a taste for herbs

Herbs are ideal to use for cooking and flower arrangements, says Genrose Lashinger, a member of the Colonial Triangle of Virginia, Herb Society of America. Her favorites:

Lemon thyme for its citrus scent and as a ground cover under roses.

Basil for fragrance and taste.

Mint.

Rosemary for cooking and scent.

Lavender for romantic fragrance.

Herb of the year

Oregano is herb of the year, according to the International Herb Society. Visit the Herb Society of America at www.herbsociety. org or the International Herb Society at www.iherb.org.

Take a trip

The 2-acre National Herb Garden at the National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave. N.E., Washington, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Details: www.usna .usda.gov or 202-245-2726.

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