As I prepare for Thanksgiving this year, I can’t help but think of the beautiful Simon and Garfunkel song “Scarborough Fair.” I grow parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in my Northern Virginia garden and today, the day before Thanksgiving, I can walk outside and harvest these herbs for my holiday meal. These are very easy to grow here and blend well into the typical suburban landscape. All of these with the exception of parsley are perennial shrubs that will remain in the garden year round.
I use the curly parsley as a garnish and the flat leaf type in the Thanksgiving stuffing. Placing a heaping mound of cooked potatoes on a platter of green curly parsley makes the dish colorful. Fresh flat leaf parsley adds flavor to stuffing as well as to turkey leftover dishes such as turkey soup.
In Northern Virginia, parsley can stay green above ground all winter long (I took this photo in January 2016). I always use parsley fresh; it does not dry well. Parsley is a biennial plant that will grow the first year from seed and bloom and set seed the following year. To create the illusion of having parsley in the garden every year all you have to do is scatter seeds every year. I started growing parsley years ago and now I have a string of plants just beneath the deck, in a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Parsley likes organic matter, moisture, and morning sun or dappled sun. To harvest the leaves, cut outer, older leaves at the base with scissors (don’t pull), leaving the core or inner, younger leaves.
For Thanksgiving, sage can be used fresh or dried. I use it dry in the stuffing and biscuits, but I also use the fresh leaves as a garnish. Placing a ring of green sage leaves on a plate topped with cut up citrus fruit is a wonderful dessert after such a heavy meal.
Sage is actually a small drought resistant shrub that remains above ground all year long in my garden. In the summer, it blooms small, purple flowers that attract beneficial pollinators. I use both the leaves as well as the flower spikes for flower arrangements. Leaves can be solid green, variegated with cream or yellow, gray, gray/green, blue/gray, purple, or tricolor (pink, green, and white leaves). No matter what the color, all the leaves are edible. You can pick leaves when you need them without altering the shape or you can take a branch from the back and strip and dry the leaves for the kitchen, including making tea. Sage plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil on the dryer side.
I use dried rosemary in the stuffing and biscuits but I cut fresh branches for the turkey platter. I either put slices of turkey directly on the branches or place the branches on the side as a decoration.
Rosemary grows well in my garden because my plants are in full sun in a well-drained, terraced site. They want to grow into large shrubs but since I cut the branches throughout the season for drying, cut flower arrangements, or for garnish, I am able to keep them small. The woody shrubs remain above ground in the winter and tends to bloom when you would least expect it. My shrubs have been covered in small purple/blue flowers in December but just a few blossoms during the rest of the year. There are many different types of rosemary; some more cold tolerant than others; some prostrate and some are upright. If you have had trouble growing rosemary in the past, Debaggio’s Herb Farm & Nursery in Chantilly, VA, suggests the following as cold-tolerant: ‘Arp’, ‘Hill Hardy’, ‘Salem’, ‘Nancy Howard’, and ‘Dutch Mill’. Once established, rosemary is drought resistant and deer resistant.
I use dried thyme in the stuffing, biscuits, potato dishes, and green beans. Thyme can be used fresh or dried but if dried, the leaves have a more potent flavor. Drying herbs concentrates the oils, thus a stronger flavor.
Thyme can be grown as a groundcover, small shrub, edging, or topiary or used in a rock garden. Thyme is a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, full sun, woody shrub that prefers well-drained soil. In my garden, my English thyme serves as a groundcover to prevent erosion on a slope and it has spread to cover the soil, thus preventing any weeds. It remains above ground in the winter and blooms in the spring/summer, attracting bees.
Growing herbs is very easy. To be able to harvest fresh herbs for next Thanksgiving, consider buying these plants in the spring at your local nursery.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Remember me to the one who lives there,
For once she was a true love of mine.