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It's parsley, sage and rosemary time!

Overview

Published: 06/26/2012

by Richard Rix

 Space should be found in every garden for herbs, whether for culinary, medicinal or aromatic purposes. Their needs are simple and most are well suited to our climate. As a bonus, in a favourable spot many of them are perennial or will self-seed, affording you a continuous harvest, more so if you learn how to dry them for use in winter. You can also grow herbs in pots: indeed, some should be grown in pots or they will run rampant.

A favourite herb is parsley (Petroselinum) because it is tasty, easy to grow and somewhat frost resistant: I have harvested it from my garden well into November. As well, unlike most herbs, parsley will tolerate light to moderate shade for part of the day.

There are two main groups to choose from: curled and Italian. Both grow easily from seed, or you can purchase them as seedlings. With just a few of these compact plants set out in your garden, you can be harvesting the quantities you need, as you need them, right through summer and fall -- instead of having to buy huge bunches of the stuff at the supermarket.

You may never have heard of "Chinese parsley," but that in fact is one of the alternative names for coriander, perhaps more commonly known now as cilantro (Coriandrum). There are several types and your choice will depend mainly upon whether you desire seeds or leaves. Leaves are more popular and Longstanding cilantro (C. sativum) satisfies nicely.

If it is longevity you seek, then sage has much to recommend it, sometimes hanging round for harvest till Christmas. That's good, because a sage and onion stuffing goes well with poultry.

Garden sage or Dalmatian sage (Salvis officinalis) is the mainstay of the Ontario garden, where it can grow quite shrubby and somewhat untidy. As with most herbs, it does not warrant a prominent place, just plenty of sun and a light feeding two or three times a year.

Incidentally, one plant that masquerades as a sage -- Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) -- is not a sage at all but a flowering perennial with fragrant leaves and lovely blue flowers that bees like to hang around in, and yes, you can plant it prominently, though it is not reliably hardy.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and various mint specimens are among those herbs that are very invasive. They will quickly colonize a huge chunk of the garden if allowed to. The best advice is probably to have nothing to do with them.

Lemon balm has few good uses and mint if purchased dry is virtually as tasty in most cooked dishes as is the fresh stuff. There are exceptions of course, but if you must grow mint, use pots.

Mint's close relative, catnip (Napeta cataria), provides a treat for our feline friends, is easy to grow and reseeds readily. Its flowers and fresh leaves can be used for a relaxing night-time drink for us humans, though chamomile, especially German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), does the job better. As well, chamomile has pretty, delicate, daisy-like flowers that self-seed freely in a sheltered, sunny spot. It's a surprise not to see it more often. Botanically speaking, German chamomile is not a true chamomile but fits the bill nicely.

It's no surprise that dill (Anethum) is also known as dillweed, for it can spring up year after year in the oddest of places yet is compact enough rarely to be problematic. Its ferny leaves add a verdant splash to any bed and it is fun to grow and tasty with fish dishes.

A plant with little practical use but which is none the less pleasing is Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). It will grace any damp, shady spot with its lacy foliage and small purple flowers. It caught my eye in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles and has reminded me of that place ever since. It's pleasing to have plants around that you can associate with places and people.

Few things give more pleasure in the garden than a plant that has found its spot and thrives, and few plants satisfy more in this regard than common old lavender(Lavandula). And such a spot it will thrive in! Let the soil be ever so poor and dry, yet still English Lavender will bloom in abundance given a sunny exposure.

Crush lavender blooms on a summer's day and the scent is sure to evoke some kind of memory. There are new cultivars available such as Lady Lavender (L. angustifolia), which promises more flowers and better perfume, and there is now a pink variety called Pink Perfume.

Other easy-to-grow herbs worth considering include thyme, oregano, tarragon, rosemary and chives. Among creeping thymes, try Doone Valley (Thymus pulegioides D.V.) for its exquisite citrus-scented leaves.

As for chives (Allium), a few clumps planted among the roses will help deter aphids, but you'll have to divide those clumps annually.

Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum)<P> does well in the Toronto garden, surviving our winters nicely despite its Mediterranean roots, so to speak.

To source a wide variety of herbs, residents of the Toronto area can visit Richters Herbs, whose store and greenhouses are located about one kilometre east of Goodwood, on the way to Uxbridge, or visit www.richters.com. They are a friendly bunch of people who might even greet you on your arrival with a cup of tea -- herbal tea of course.

Richard Rix is a Toronto-based writer and gardener who may be reached at richardrix@sympatico.ca

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