Raleigh, NC

Herb Gardens

Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest

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While visiting a friend’s garden, you may brush against a rosemary bush, and a comforting memory of your mother’s garden comes to mind. Suddenly, you remember her roasted chicken seasoned with rosemary. When you plant an herb garden, you cultivate more than plants; you cultivate a legacy of memories.

Herbs can be intermingled with your flowers and vegetables or planted in a dedicated herb garden. They grow well in the ground, in containers, and even in window boxes. Growing herbs knows no trend. In both ancient and modern times, herbs have been used for seasoning and scent, as well as for medicinal and housekeeping concoctions.

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Herbs require little care, if given the right conditions. To begin your herb garden, find a location in your yard that receives full sun. Most herbs need six to eight hours of sun a day. Another requirement is well-drained soil; they don’t like to have their “feet” wet. One a side note, locating your herb garden within easy access will encourage you to get a snip from the garden.

Some herbs are annuals—that is, plants that complete their lifecycles in one year. Basils and dill are annuals. Some herbs, such as parsley, are biennual—plants that complete their lifecycles in two years, typically setting seed the second year. Parsley will self-sow, as well, keeping your pantry well supplied. Many others herbs are perennials—plants lasting at least three lifecycles, such as rosemary, lavender, chives, oregano, sage, as well as terragon and thyme. When you have an herb garden with annuals, biennuals, and perennials, it makes it easy to create a garden with year-round interest. Not only do they add scent and seasoning, herbs possess attractive leaves and texture, provide pollen for bees, and can play host to butterflies.

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So when the late afternoon draws near and dinner is being prepared, gather a sprig of rosemary from close at hand. Whether fresh from your garden or previously picked and now dried and sitting ready to use in a jar on your kitchen shelf, your own herbs will enhance your meal and build memories for generations to come.

Harvesting Herbs

  • Cut sprigs or branches in the morning after the dew has evaporated and before the heat of the day. Herb oils are at their highest concentration during the morning hours, and these oils produce aroma and flavor.
  • Harvest herbs for drying just as the first flower buds begin to open, when the oils in the leaves are most concentrated. This will yield peak flavor that will last once preserved.
  • Use a sharp knife, pruning scissors, or clippers to cut branches for drying.
  • Right after harvesting, wash gently in cool water and dry in the open air.

Harvesting Seeds

  • Herbs grown for the seeds should be harvested when seed heads turn brown.
  • Bundle and tie the seed heads, and put them in lunch-sized paper bags for drying. Add a few holes in the sides of the bags for air circulation.
  • The seeds are ready when you can shake the heads and seeds loosen and fall out. Store in airtight jars.

Drying Herbs

  • To dry herbs in small bundles, tie them together at the ends, and hang them upside-down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated location, out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep the bundles small and somewhat loose so the air can circulate. The attic, shed, or garage can be good locations for drying.
  • To dry herbs on a rack, lay branches of herbs in a single layer on a drying rack.
  • Once the leaves feel crisp, usually in a week or less, strip the leaves from the stems and store in airtight jars.
  • Before storing, always make sure your herbs are completely dry. It will take a few days. When in doubt, leave them out to dry another day or two more.

SIDEBAR

Herb gardens can be formal with traditional accents like a sundial or armillary. You can arrange them in a tight and geometric knot garden, or they can be footloose and fancy free in a casual plot where anything goes.

One of my favorite herb gardens is The Little Herb House, in Raleigh, N.C. The entire area measures 100 feet by 100 feet, and gravel paths radiate from a centered, two-tiered millstone fountain, splashing sound around eight display gardens with names like Flower Arranger, Old Geezer, Sage and Salvia, Healing Tea, and Potpourri. Each of the different herbal themes includes fun and whimsical garden accents. In the Butterfly and Bee Garden are large swaths of Echinacea (cone flowers) and Monarda (bee balm) dancing around the cutest bird feeder and welcoming bath. Garden accents are the perfect pairing with herbs.

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