Real Life Magazine, Spring 2000
Photographs courtesy of Fox Ryde Gardens
HERB GARDENS EVOKE A SENSE OF MYSTERY. THERE ARE SECRETS IN THE LEAF, ROOT, FLOWER AND STEM OF AN HERB. THE HERB GARDENER CULTIVATES NOT ONLY PLANTS BUT THE DESIRE TO UNLOCK AND USE THOSE SECRETS.
For thousands of years we have turned to the plants we call herbs for flavor, for dyes in textiles, hair and body, and for cosmetics. We derive fragrances from leaf and flower to perfume our bodies and surroundings. Particular herbs have held the power to repel insects, evil and vampires while others could attract the perfect lover, good luck, or honeybees to pollinate crops. For some, herbs carry hope for migraines, immune systems and burns. And lastly, what would fine dining be without culinary herbs?
A garden composed of herbs won’t have the vivid colors of a perennial border or cutting garden, but it needn’t be dull! Many herbs offer the gardener a rich combination of kitchen uses, fragrances, medicinal properties and beauty. What is lacking in bright color is made up for in plant form and structure, leaf color and fragrance. Even the basics like parsley, basil, sage and thyme are available in many leaf forms, color and growth habits. There are thymes that taste like caraway, parsleys with both flat and curly leaves, and basils reaching two feet while others top out at 10 inches.
Dill and Bronze Fennel are relatives, both wonderfully architectural plants, feathery, aromatic and perfectly suited to mid-border positions. Plant either, and there is a good chance you’ll find swallowtail butterflies throughout your garden. You’ll see them twice: as green and yellow striped caterpillars among the fennel or dill, then as majestic adults fluttering through your gardens. Even small spaces can provide abundant harvests; a large area offers the ability to indulge curiosities and passions.
A Front Range Herb Garden
As a group, herbs are among the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow. Sun lovers such as basil, savory oregano and rosemary need six hours of daily direct light to flourish; shadier spots will support mints, lemon balm, chives, valerian and parsley. Since herbs thrive in light and well-drained soils, adding organic matter to most Front Range soils is a good idea. Undoubtedly, good soil preparation is key to any successful garden.
If space, light or soils present limitations, don’t dispair! Many herbs, especially those used in cooking, adapt magnificently to container culture. Pots can be moved to follow the sun, saved from chilly nights and finally brought inside for continued winter harvests.
Chives and Radishes
Try combining edible flowers and herbs in 12 inch (or larger) pots to create gardens that are as ornamentsl as they are functional. My favorite herb pot combines basil, parsley (the Italian flat-leaf type is superior for cooking purposes, although perhaps not quite as handsome as its curly leafed cousin), chives (their lavender flowers taste much like the leaves and add a lovely gourmet touch to salads), sage, rosemary and Greek oregano. Greek oregano is better flavored than common oregano and tumbles gracefully over the pot’s edge. For more color, try one of the variegated edible sages rather than the gray. Smaller nasturtium varieties, Johnyy Jump Ups and ‘Gem’ marigolds, add both variety and flavor.
Keep in mind that many herbs have been with us for eons because they are so easy to grow. Some are so obliging that they can become aggressive in the garden. Plant mints, horehound, lemon balm and the common oregano with caution. If you aren’t up to keeping up with them, they are best grown in containers where you’ll have more control over their exuberant behavior. In any case, try growing herbs this year–you’ll be glad you did!