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The Garden Beautiful

Herbs for the Garden – One of the great joys of gardening is being able to pop out your back door and snip a few leaves of basil or a couple stalks of chives for whatever meal you’re making.  In fact, it’s a joy available to most gardeners and even to people who swear they were born with green fingers.  Herbs are easy.  You can grow them here or there, in a house or with a mouse.  Yes, dear readers, this is what comes of reading a lot of Dr. Seuss! Seriously, herbs are among the easiest of plants to grow and it’s okay if you don’t have space to plant them separately.  Feel free to interplant them with your zinnias, along a walkway or, if you’re really pressed for space, in pots.  Just remember that most like a lot of sun and fairly good soil (so if you’re growing them in pots, fertilize with the proper blend at least once every three months).  In addition, don’t wait until the sun is high in the sky to pick them – herbs retain their best flavor when picked in the early morning.

The most versatile, the most rewarding of the herbs, certainly my own personal favorite – is basil.  Basil comes in many forms – the kind with the pretty lime green leaves is perhaps the most familiar but open up any good seed catalogue – Burpee’s and Johnny’s Selected Seeds come to mind – and you’ll find a plethora of options.  Two of the best for impact are the purple-leaved basil, which adds a lovely lilac-color to vinegars; and anise-scented basil, which lends certain piquancy to salads.  To prevent basils from flowering and getting straggly, pinch off the flower buds before they’ve had time to grow.  If you don’t mind the appearance of the plants, you can let the tiny flowers bloom and add them to your salads or use them to garnish other dishes.

Fresh or dried, basil leaves are great in tomato-based dishes, in beans, with eggs, in potato salads, with lamb, in short with most of the things we like to eat, so feel free to experiment.  Tea made from basil is also supposed to be good for indigestion and can relieve flatulence.  Adding basil to foods has been credited with improving the appetite of elderly people – they probably just can’t enough of that great herb!

Another great herbal favorite of mine is chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – they’re also easy to grow from seed, they can take a little neglect and they’re great in egg dishes – what’s not to love?  Chives belong to the onion family and come in a few different varieties – the most common of which is perhaps garlic chives. 

Chop up some chives and sprinkle them in your favorite soup.  Use them in your potato salad.  Mix them up in your green salad.  Fold them into cream cheese for a unique spread.  Just remember never to snip away all the foliage from the plant – leave a few leaves behind to keep the bulb alive.  Don’t be afraid to use the flowers, either.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) isn’t a very popular herb in local gardens, but I’m partial to my salvias – there are so many rich associations with the name:  Are you going to Scarborough Fair always comes to mind when I look at my red salvias.  Of course, I live in hope that the more sage grows in my garden, the wiser I will be!  I should also mention that tradition has it that it was a sage plant that offered to hide the Virgin Mary from Herod’s men.  In her gratitude, Mary commanded the plant to save humanity from disease.

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There are several varieties of sage, and their flowers range from indigo to red to pink.  Also easy to come from seed, sage cuttings root quickly so if you’re at a loss for a Christmas present for your neighbor or a work-colleague start some cuttings now.  They should be green and healthy by December and you can attach a gift card with a recipe or maybe with a brief history of the plant’s medicinal uses.  Voila!  You have a unique present for all the hard-to-please people on your list!

Like basil, sage can add life to most dishes and flavor to vinegar while also sustaining a reputation as a good tea for people suffering from indigestion.  Sage is said to combat water retention, relieve colds, and lessen inflammation of the gums, throat and jaw.  Plant sages in a mass anywhere you need vibrant color or let them edge a path.  They will self-sow readily.

So there you have them – three easy-to-grow herbs that will add flavor to your dishes and oomph to your medicine cabinet.  As the kind of plants that will keep on giving, herbs deserve a place in every garden and, with our weather being so encouraging of the ones I’ve listed here – you really have no excuse.  Go forth and propagate!

 

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