Tag Archives: rosemary

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.