Tag Archives: herbs

An Entertaining Lecture on Herbs at Merrifield Garden Center

Yesterday I attended Merrifield Garden Center’s free lecture on herbs and was pleasantly surprised by the great speaker and the event itself: part entertainment and part educational. Merrifield is known for its free seminars in the spring, which I have promoted on my website for years. The herb lecture was at the Fair Oaks location, which has a spacious room on the second level of the garden center. I arrived early and was surprised to find pastries, brownies, fruit, cheese, crackers, and coffee! Sarah, a Merrifield employee, created this lovely feast and topped it off with an eye-catching display of herbs. Apparently she is known for making such creative displays and generous offerings of refreshments. Sarah was a hoot!  She talked to everyone and encouraged people to submit their drawing on time!

I discovered that at each seat there was a handout on herbs, a 15% discount coupon to use that day or the following day, and a form to complete for the drawing. I did not know there would be a coupon and a drawing but I could tell there were plenty of “regulars” who knew the drill. They seemed to know each other and had been there many times. The mood was so friendly and jolly I almost thought they were part of a gardening club. Filling up on pastries, we completed our forms and dropped them in a large glass container.

At 10:00 am, right before the lecture, Peg Bier, also a long time Merrifield employee, drew slips of paper several times. I did not keep count but was surprised that there were several drawings, not just one. Winners could have their choice of circus tickets or a Merrifield gift card. I did not win but I did use my coupon to buy something after the event.

Peg then introduced our speaker, Nicole Schermerhorn, co-owner of A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields Herb Farm (wearing dark brown in the photo). A Thyme to Plant is a wholesale operation near Richmond, growing and selling USDA-certified herbs and vegetables. Her nephew manages Lavender Fields Herb Farm, the retail garden center that focuses on herb classes and demonstrations. Nicole was very entertaining and down to earth – I could have listened to her for more than an hour. She sprinkled her slide presentation with funny learning experiences and witty conversations with her husband. Nicole provided a lot of detail on cultural requirements, including growing herbs in raised beds, while her handout had information on specific herbs. She was very nice about answering everyone’s questions and offered to stay afterward. A few of the interesting tips I learned were: there are 200 varieties of rosemary but only a few are hardy in Virginia (Arp, Salem, and Hill Hardy); Vietnamese coriander is a heat-loving substitute for the cool-loving cilantro; and parsley is the most nutrient-packed herb one can grow (does not matter if curly or flat leaf). I liked the fact that there was a handout to take home about specific herbs and recommended varieties plus cultural requirements on the backside. If you are new to gardening or new to Virginia, I recommend attending Merrifield Garden Center’s free seminars, especially Nicole’s talk on herbs.

Growing Your Own Thanksgiving Herbs

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.

Parsley

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.parsley

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.

Sage

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.

variegated sage in September, changing from light green to gray

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.

Rosemary

rosemaryI 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.

Thyme

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

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.

Day Seven of National Pollinator Week: Grow Marjoram to Attract Pollinators

marjoramToday is Sunday June 26, the last day of National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, I have posted short articles daily about culinary herbs in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators. Today’s last herb is marjoram. To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Friday June 24, Basil

Saturday June 25, Thyme

Sunday June 26, Marjoram

My marjoram is like an old friend, it has been in my garden for a long time, very reliable. I have read that it is hardy to Zone 8, but I have had no problems with it in my Zone 7, Virginia garden. The plant sits in a well-drained, full sun area, next to the driveway so between the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the car, it probably thinks it’s living in the Carolinas.

I trim it back in the spring or fall, depending on how scraggly it gets, and dry the leaves for cooking. It becomes bushy in the summer in a messy way. Although I could call it a landscape edible, really it is a wildflower – a wild looking plant that flowers. In the summer the green stems produce small knots at the ends that open to reveal white flowers. The flowers are insignificant to me but the bees and other pollinators love them.

Marjoram has history, mythology and folklore; it has been used for 3,000 years for culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, and aromatherapy but in my family, we only use the herb in the kitchen. The leaves add a sweet pungent flavor to tomato-based dishes and soups, flat breads and focaccia, cheese dishes, bean stew, beans, potatoes, corn, and corn muffins.  It can be a substitute for oregano, which I also grow very close to the marjoram. The marjoram has a sweeter flavor that does well with baking, while the oregano is spicy, with a zing.

Day Six of National Pollinator Week: Using Thyme to Attract Pollinators

thymeThis week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Friday June 24, Basil

Saturday June 25, Thyme

A landscape edible, thyme is actually quite versatile in the garden. Thyme can be grown as a groundcover, small shrub, edging, or topiary or used in a rock garden or in a variety of containers such as hypertufa and hanging baskets. Thyme is a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, full sun, woody shrub that prefers well-drained, slightly alkaline soil.

I have three types in my garden. The English thyme serves as a groundcover to prevent erosion on a slop and it has spread to cover the soil, thus preventing any weeds. I use the leaves in tomato-based meals, such as pasta and lasagna, and beef, chicken, potato, and bean dishes. I have a lemon thyme shrub that looks like a round, mound about 8 inches tall. It adds a lemon scent/flavor to baked goods such as pound cake and quick breads. My silver thyme is my most recent addition; its white/silver variegated leaves contrast nicely with my dark sedums.

Thyme leaves dry very well and dried leaves have a more concentrated scent or flavor so I tend to use dried thyme but fresh leaves can be used as well. I harvest and dry leaves in the spring and then let the shrubs flower in the summer to attract bees and other pollinators. Bees love thyme, apparently they make a very tasty honey.

There are many different types of thyme: different scents and different shapes. DeBaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly, VA, sells over a dozen varieties including golden lemon, green lemon, orange balsam, caraway, coconut, spicy orange, woolly, and silver thyme. Add thyme to your garden for your kitchen and to attract pollinators.

Day Five of National Pollinator Week: Using Basil to Attract Pollinators

thai basil

Thai basil flower heads

This week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Friday June 24, Basil

Basil is a member of the mint family but should be treated like a tomato plant. It thrives in warm weather, full sun, with plenty of air circulation and moisture. Basil comes in a variety of scents and shapes from cinnamon, anise, lemon, and lime scents to green or purple colored leaves to large or small plants. Some plants will produce small, white flowers while others produce showy purple flowers.

Easy to grow from seed, basil can be grown with other vegetables in the garden bed, in the ornamental bed with perennials and annuals, or in containers. Here in Virginia, basil is treated like an annual and will turn black with October’s frost. Basil’s purpose in life is to produce flowers, which you want for pollinators, but you don’t want if you plan to use the foliage in the kitchen. Instead of nipping the tips to prevent flowers, cut stems of leaves at a time. When there are six to eight pairs of leaves on the plant, cut the plant back and the remaining stems will re-grow and branch out, making the plant bushier. Strip the leaves off your cut stems and wash. Use the fresh leaves in cooking or preserve in a vinegar (for salads), pesto or pasta sauce, or in ice or oil in the freezer. Usually the flavor in dried leaves is greatly reduced but you can hang the stems upside down to dry, then mince and store in a glass container. Always plant enough basil to allow some plants to flower and set seed. The flowers will attract pollinators; the seed will attract birds.

I grow lemon, lime, sweet, and Thai basil from seed. Every summer I harvest some plants to cook white fish with the lemon basil leaves; stir minced lime leaves into fruit salads; add the sweet basil to pasta sauce; and cut the Thai basil leaves into ribbons for chicken stir fry dishes. I leave some plants to nature; I am sure the bees, butterflies, and birds appreciate the basil in my garden.

 

Day Four of National Pollinator Week: Using Chives to Attract Pollinators

chive blossomThis week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Thursday June 23, Chives

Chives are a great addition to the garden, any garden, does not matter what is growing already, add chives. These perennial herbs are great landscape edibles; they come back year after year. Chives are narrow plants, about a foot tall, so they can be tucked in between ornamental shrubs and flowers as long as they receive full sun. We cut the leaves for scrambled eggs, chive butter, and mashed potatoes.

To keep up with my family’s demand for fresh chives, I have several plants so after I cut the leaves back on one, I leave that plant alone until it rejuvenates and then harvest the leaves of another plant. In the spring, I divide my current clumps to create more plants, both for the garden as well as for friends. Chives can be grown from seed but it may take a while for the plants to mature to harvest so it is best to buy a few small containers and tuck them in different places in the garden (near the door so you can pop out with scissors before dinner).

In June the pink, clover-like flowers appear, which are edible and pretty in a wildflower-country-garden-way. These attract pollinators such as bees so always leave a few for them.

Day Three of National Pollinator Week: Using Sage Blossoms to Attract Pollinators

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

variegated sage in May with purple flowers

This week is National Pollinator Week.  To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators.  Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants.  It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables.  There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks.  Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.  Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower.  Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.

To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge,  Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife FederationU.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.

Monday June 20, Cilantro

Tuesday June 21, Dill

Wednesday June 22, Sage

Most people know about sage, it’s that dry, gray, crumbly herb you use when you make stuffing for Thanksgiving stuffing. True enough, the plant is an herb but it also adds beauty in the garden. Re-think culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) as a landscape edible: drought tolerant, pest resistant, and full season interest! Sage plants grow like small woody shrubs, up to a few feet tall, and their leaves remain all year long in my zone 7, Virginia garden. Sage plants are usually grown for the leaves, but the summer brings small, purple flowers, attracting pollinators for the rest of the garden. Both the leaves as well as the flower spikes can be cut 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 cooking or tea. Sage plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil on the dryer side, think Mediterranean. Although you can start the species from seed, check out the many cultivars that are available now for the full spectrum of foliage interest.