Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are some of the most popular herbs of all and almost everyone is familiar with them. Herbs are fun. They smell good and they are useful. They make me think of a peaceful sunny garden of long ago, and they are among the oldest plants grown by man. Herbs are timeless! Early man used them for medicines, food and pleasure. People have always been fascinated by the fragrant, medicinal and culinary qualities displayed by many of these plants.
An herb garden can be as small as a barrel or window box, as fancy as a bricked path knot garden, or as casual as some generous rows planted among the tomatoes and beans. But an herb garden is so essential to a home and family. There is lavender for love and fragrance. Make potpourri with it or tie it into bath bags. There is basil for all the Italian dishes, sage for immortality and Thanksgiving dinner. How about using rosemary for remembrance and for the pork roast for Sunday dinner? Fragrant mint for tea. Chives for the baked potato. Dill to toss with sour cream on cucumbers. And lots and lots of parsley for just about everything you serve. Sweet woodruff can go in the May wine with strawberries. Thyme has many uses too. The list goes on and on and on and on.
Although most culinary herbs do best in sun, there are a few exceptions that can take less than full sun if they get good sun at noon. A lot of this placement is trial and error. Some spreading herbs such as mints, lemon balm, monarda, and even woodruff are all best grown under trees where they become a useful ground cover. Try mowing mint before a picnic and the whole yard smells nice and is said to be insect-free. This is a good reason to grow mint beneath the picnic table.
To start your herb garden now, choose a sunny spot in which to grow your favorite herbs. Landscape ties (8x8x4) filled with a good, well-drained soil work very well. You can edge this with thymes, parsley, nasturtium and viola. As you move toward the center, use the shorter herbs and then plant the tall ones in the center. Try sage, lavender, rosemary, basil, Italian parsley, lovage, chives, tarragon, dill, cilantro, lemon verbena, lemon grass and scented geraniums for a few that will be fun to grow and use. Save the mints, lemon balm, bergamot and oregano for a spot outside the raised bed where they can spread readily. I use many of these under tress as a ground cover that is fragrant and easy to grow to keep weeds away.
You may mix your herbs in a wonderful tapestry of design or you may pick a theme for one or more herb gardens. Some folks like to have all culinary herbs together or grow tea herbs in large pots by the back door. Others like to have a Shakespeare garden or a Bible garden. Close-up on these theme gardens in coming months. Try a few herbs now, they will grow on you!
Let me give you a little history on the Herb Society of America. In 1933 group of women in Boston first met in a garden to share their knowledge and enjoyment of herbs. This was the beginning of the Herb Society of America. Their mission states: The Herb Society of America is dedicated to promoting the knowledge, use, and delight of herbs through educational programs, research, and sharing the experience of its members with the community. This national society is open to all and has local units in many areas.
I have been a member of this group for over 27 years. Twelve years ago I founded the South Jersey unit of the Herb Society of America, which has members from Cape May, Gloucester, Camden, Cumberland, Salem, and Burlington counties. This group meets throughout the region with some meetings in counties. Meetings range from teas to garden visits to programs with speakers on herbal lore, crafts, food, and history. Many of the members have an herb garden ranging from a large pot or barrel to a large plot. Some members volunteer to work on public herb gardens as helpers and many do educational projects such as talks and demonstrations at public events. The group plants and maintains a garden at Scotland Run Nature Center. Folks interested in herbs are always welcome and should contact membership chairperson Andrea Sporano at 856-346-0426 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The group will have an information table at the Annual Herb Weekend at Triple Oaks in Franklinville, New Jersey May 30-31. They will answer questions on herbs, do presentations, and sell teas and cookies to raise money for the Barbara Bruno Scholarship that is given each spring at Cumberland County College to a student majoring in Agriculture or Horticulture.
The above information is just a bit of the many interesting facts that will be presented at the Herb Festival May 30-31 There will be free herbal talks both days, as well as a tea garden program. One paid event will enable participants to make herbal vinegar in a hand blown, Clevenger Jersey, green bottle and sample other herbal beverages. Visit our website or call for a detailed schedule of events.