Herbs with a purpose

Choosing plants for an herb garden is easier if they are grouped by theme


One of the greatest things about making an herb garden is there are so many choices. It's also one of the worst. So. Many. Choices. Especially if you define "herb" as our ancestors did: any plant useful to humankind. That is why it's helpful to have a theme.

The theme can be sentimental (herbs that Grandmother grew) or practical (herbs to scent the closets and repel the bugs), or even disease-focused. For example, Topher Dulaney, a San Francisco landscape architect and cancer survivor, makes inspirational herb gardens using plants that are sources for drugs used in chemotherapy.

Of course, for most of us, mention herbs and we think food.

"The most common herb garden is culinary," notes Harold Taylor, who oversees the herb beds at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.

Longwood has four themed herb gardens: Culinary, Fragrance, Medicinal and Textile. The textile garden holds both dyeing herbs, like indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) and madder (Rubia tinctorum), as well as flax (Linum usitatissimum), which is used to make linen, and sisal agave (Agave sisalana) used for rope. The Longwood culinary bed holds enough herbs to season several continents' worth of cuisines, but it's easy to make a much smaller, more individualized version.

"A culinary herb garden can be a container on your patio with some of your favorites like parsley, cilantro, oregano and thyme," says Taylor.

"If you use containers, make them really large," advises Patt Gobbel, owner of A Growing Concern, a garden center in Reisterstown. "And plant several herbs together."

"You can also put in edible flowers like borage and nasturtiums," adds Taylor.

The National Arboretum in Washington boasts 10 themed herb gardens including: Dye, Medicinal, Culinary, Fragrance, Beverage, Native American, Colonial, Asian, Industrial and Dioscorides, named for the Greek physician who wrote the first medicinal herbal guide, De Materia Medica.

"Some of these gardens tend to be historical," says Christine Moore, acting curator of the National Herb Gardens. "Education is a big focus for us."

The Colonial Herb Garden holds plants that would have come over with the early settlers.

"They wouldn't have known what grew here, so they brought their most important herbs with them," explains Moore.

The Native American Garden is filled with the regional herbs the East Coast tribes would have used, while the Beverage Garden has hops, used in beer; juniper, the key flavoring in gin; mints for tea and juleps; and strawberries, for tea made from the leaves and "shrub," a favorite colonial drink, made from the fruit. The Industrial Garden has longleaf pine, from which we get turpentine and pyrethrum, used for insecticides.

Inspiration for an herbal theme can come from almost anywhere: religion, literature, music or art. A Biblical herb garden can have hyssop, dandelion (Taraxocum officinale) and saffron (fall-blooming Crocus sativus). Shakespearean herbs include violets, thyme and rosemary. A music-themed Appalachian Spring garden could hold wildflowers of the Piedmont, while a Monet Garden will draw from the impressionist's many paintings.


A Growing Concern Reisterstown, MD 21136 410-526-7277

Seeds of Change Santa Fe, NM 87592 888-762-7333 seedsofchange.com

Willow Pond Farm Herbs and Everlastings Fairfield, PA 17320 717-642-6387 willlowpondherbs.com

Garden Medicinals and Culinaries Earlysville, VA 22936 434-964-9113 gardenmedicinals.com

Nichols Garden Nursery Albany, OR 97321-4580 541-928-9280 gardennursery.com

Sinking Springs Herb Farm Elkton, MD 21921 410-398-5566 www.cecilcounty.com / sinkingsprings / Historic 130-acre farm with 18th-century farm house and B&B cottage. Herbal luncheons by appointment.




See a display of various camellia blossoms, grown by members of the Camellia Society of the Potomac Valley, noon to 4 p.m. today at the U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave. N.E., Washington. Free. 202-245-4523 or usna.usda.gov.


Tour the renovated Cylburn Mansion from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. today. The Victorian mansion is at 4915 Greenspring Ave. Free. 410-367-2217 or cylburnassociation.org.



Nicholas Staddon, director of new plant introductions at Monrovia, will speak at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Horticultural Society of Maryland meeting at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1710 Dulaney Valley Road, Lutherville. $15. 410-821-5561 or mdhorticulture.org.



Learn to create an allergy-free garden with Thomas Ogren, creator of the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale, the plant-allergy ranking system used by the USDA, noon to 1 p.m. Friday at the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory, 100 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington. Registration required. $5. 202-225-8333 or 202-226-4082.



Tour one colonial and 15 contemporary cooking spaces at the Contemporary Kitchens of Annapolis tour, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 21 in the historic district of Annapolis. The tour, presented by the William Paca Society, benefits the restoration of the William Paca House kitchen. Tickets are $25-$30 and include a keepsake program. Also, there will be a kitchen-design seminar from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 22 at the James Brice House, 42 East St., Annapolis. Tickets are $10-$15. 410-267-8146 for tour directions or tickets.


Send notices of garden and home-decor events to harry.merritt@baltsun.com.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.