Herb Gardening



In our Pocono garden we have one raised bed dedicated to herbs. At 2x4', it is the smallest raised garden bed we have, but it is overflowing with perennial plants.

Most herbs are perennials. But some have to be grown as annuals here because our winters are too cold for them to survive.

Our herb bed contains Oregano, Winter Thyme, Broadleaf Sage and Lavender. The other beds have their share also. The Tarragon lives in the Iris bed. Chives share the Garlic and Potato bed. Although some years it looks more like a Chives bed. Our former Raspberry bed now houses Lavender and a variety of Bee Balm colors.

Our Perennial Collection

Oregano

A friend gave the original Oregano plant to me over 10 years ago, when I lived in Zone 7. I do not know this particular variety's name but it has really adapted to growing here in Zone 5.

The bees love the lavender colored blooms. We let about half of it go to seed each year. It self seeds readily. We find it popping up all around the garden each spring.

It is evergreen and is usually the only green thing in the garden during the snowy months of January and February. When you let it develop flowers, the stems turn woody and very hardy. It can be cut back with the lawn mower or string trimmer. Nothing seems able to kill it.

It is so hardy that I have begun using it as ground cover in other areas of the yard. It smothers weeds. The deer nibble on it, but don't destroy it. It is probably too strong tasting to them.

Lavender

The Lavender fights for it's existence behind the Oregano and Sage. It is not as aggressive and we need to trim the other herbs back in order to keep it going.

It has silvery, blue-green foliage that really stands out when used in cut flower arrangements. The scent is lovely.

I am contemplating moving some of it to one of the flower beds. So that it can really shine without competing with the more aggressive plants.

Broadleaf Sage

I originally bought this Broadleaf Sage so that I could flavor my homemade stuffing and roast chicken. I thought the dusty green plant would look nice in the garden too.

I purchased a packet of seed from Jung's. The germination rate was pretty low and the seedlings took forever to get going. I planted the few frail seedling in the garden and didn't really think they would survive.

I was surprised to find that the Sage had survived it's first winter. Then very happy to discover that in early June the plants are covered with bright deep pink or dark fuchsia flowers. I would grow them just for the flowers.

That was a few years ago. I have to admit that I hardly ever use the Sage in cooking. But I do love the smell of the fresh leaves. I like to cut them and place them in a bowl on top of the kitchen cabinets or the mantle in the living room.

The plants look dead during the winter. They don't really begin to revive until the second week of May, when the woody stems begin to show new leaves.

Winter Thyme

Winter Thyme or Common Thyme is a perennial herb used for is aromatic and flavor qualities. The tiny leaves can be used fresh or dried. I use them in salad dressings, on roasted veggies and cold pasta salads.

I saw a cooking show once where they were using Thyme and Lavender to make infused oils. I haven't tried it yet, but I think it would be good.

It is also a good plant to use if you want to fill in the space under tall flowers like Cosmos that do not have the most attractive stems, and tend to look bare.

Russian Tarragon Herb



Russian Tarragon

Russian Tarragon spreads by sending out new plants from the roots in all directions. They just keep coming up further and further from where you planted the original. Not as aggressive as Oregano but it will progressively spread.

Russian Tarragon can grow as tall as 5 feet with its narrow, blade like leaves drooping at the tops. I routinely cut mine to a height of 3 to 4 feet just to keep it neat. Some of the stems develop thin yellow flowers on the last 6 inches.

It is great for flavoring roasted vegetables, particularly Potatoes and Butternut Squash, and poultry dishes. It is popular for making flavored vinegars and is a staple ingredient in French cooking. French Dijon Mustard has Tarragon in it.

Tarragon grow just as well in poor soils and fertile soils. It tolerates dry conditions better than most herbs. It likes to be well mulched to protect it from the cold.

Chives

Don't let Chives lie to you, I think it is really a weed. They grow like weeds. They are one of the first plants to emerge in the spring and they spread almost uncontrollably. You can dig them out, roots and all and they will still come back. Sounds like a weed to me.

But Chives are great when you can step out your back door and snip off a few leaves (they look like stems) and sprinkle them on a baked potato, in a salad or use them in salad dressings.

They have a mild onion flavor, much like a very young scallion. If you do not keep them trimmed, they will flower. Can't use a pound of chives each week? Just throw the trimmings in the compost pile.

The flowers produced are little round balls of lavender. The bees are attracted to them. So are some butterflies. If you let them go to seed, the Dark Eyed Juncos and Chickadees will frequent the area, scratching for seeds.

Monarda Bee Balm Burgundy

Mint

Monarda or Bee Balm comes in almost every color and is a vigorous plant, well suited to the Poconos.

We grow this member of the Mint family for the beauty of it's flowers as well as the culinary uses of the leaves and flower petals.

It attracts bees, wasps, hover flies, butterflies and Hummingbirds. Unfortunately it also attracts deer and Japanese beetles.

Bee Balm or Monarda Lavender

We grow bright red "Jacob Cline", white "Snow Queen", pink, lavender, a bluish color, burgundy and a dark pink or salmon color.

As a member of the mint family, the leaves as well as the flower petals can be used for a interesting and flavorful addition to garden salads and vinaigrette dressings.

Bee Balm was first used as a seasoning and medicinal plant by Native Americans. It is still used externally for skin eruptions and infections.

Move on to Annual Herbs - Basil, page 3.


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