Herbs galore! At this time of year when our gardens are waning, why not clean up those old tomato stalks and zucchini vines and make way for some herbs? If planted now, you will have fresh additions to pick for your Thanksgiving stuffing.
If you have a raised bed or even a couple of window boxes to fill, after cleaning out the old veggies and adding some fresh soil, you can start a new herb garden.
Choose a sunny area with at least five hours of sun, although most herbs will tolerate a small amount of shade.
Rather than planting a small bed willy-nilly with a wide variety of herbs from which to choose, select four or five plants that you know you will use daily.
Do your research
One of the gardeners at the Pine Street Community Garden planted sorrel, and unbeknownst to him, it grew so rapidly he couldn’t pick it fast enough or find other gardeners to whom he could give it away.
In horticultural terms, this is known as a plant’s “culture,” with most species having their own unique set of demands.
So, do your research and make a diagram with the help of your garden center staff before making your purchases. Herbs fall into two categories — upright and trailing.
A perfect example of a trailing herb is oregano, which appears small when purchased in a small 3-inch pot. Once put in the ground, it spreads within days of planting and must be set to culinary use or dug up and shared with a friend in their garden throughout the growing season.
Thyme is another creeper that needs lots of space to roam, and the varieties continue.
On a recent trip to one of my favorite local nurseries, Anderson’s La Costa Nursery in Encinitas, I always defer to my local expert, Steven Froess, for advice on plant selection.
“Thyme is one of those herbs you must try while selecting,” Froess said. “Take a piece to taste and rub in your hands, and you will immediately know if you have found the right plant for your garden. Some are spicy, and others have a milder flavor. The colors of each are different, and can be combined in a grouping.”
The “Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers” by Jeanne MacKin is still available in print. It has a wealth of information for all gardeners, including fascinating historical references and recipes.
MacKin writes, “There are so many uses for thyme, with Narrow Leaf French Thyme being the favorite for soups, stews, stocks, fish, meat and stuffing.
“Lemon Thyme is a low, shrubby perennial with a lemon scent that can be used with chicken and salad dressing.”
This is also a great time of year to plant a new crop of lavender. Because this aromatic perennial needs little care and enjoys being ignored, you can plant it now and pretty much forget about it.
Since the variety known as French lavender will grow to be a large shrub reaching 1 to 3 feet tall, it will need its own individual 5-gallon pot and can be a decorative specimen plant standing on its own at the base of your raised bed or your front door.
When purchasing French lavender, buy the largest one you can afford since it will last for years.
Once again, the recommendations from our local expert Steven Froess are: “Since the categories of lavender are so extensive, at LaCosta Nursery, we always carry at least five or 10 varieties — the French being the large perennial and the English types being short and round. The differences are subtle, but they all have specific scent and space requirements.”
Think about where you will use the varieties of lavender that are available and whether you will use it on its own or in a grouping with other herbs.
While shopping at your local garden center, always enlist the help of one of the staff so that they can help you design your new herb garden.
I highly recommend patronizing the smaller nurseries such as Anderson’s LaCosta Nursery, at 400 La Costa Avenue in Encinitas, and Green Thumb Nursery, at 1019 W San Marcos Drive, San Marcos, since the staff at both places has horticultural knowledge and experience.
Froess suggested adding some of the annual fall herbs to fill out your design, such as dill, cilantro and parsley.
“At this time of year, even though the hours of sun are waning, you can grow any herb that does not produce a fruit,” Froess said. “The summer fruits are gone, but since herbs are mostly green leafy varieties, you will have their fresh, spicy flavors to add to your salads, vegetable, meat and fish dishes.”
In future articles, we will discuss ways to process your herbs in tinctures, dried potpourris and herb pillows as holiday gifts, so stay tuned for your next installment.
Send us your herbal recipes or craft projects, and we might feature them in upcoming articles.
Jano Nightingale is a master gardener and horticulturist and teaches vegetable gardening at the Pine Street Community Garden in Carlsbad. Contact (442) 339-2650 to register for her classes, or email her at [email protected].