Herb Garden – Plants that Grow Well for Me
by Dawn Lesley Stewart
I live in New England and enjoy planting a variety of flower and herb beds as well as a large vegetable garden. Through trial and error, here are the plants that worked well for me and my observations about them.
Even though basil can be a perennial, the cold winters in New England won’t allow me to “winter” it over. I have grown basil in both the herb garden and as a container plant. It loves sunlight. Prune out flower buds before they bloom to lengthen harvest time. Basil is enjoyed for its fragrance as well as its addition to foods such as sauces and casseroles.
From the mint family, catnip is a magnet for cats. Equate it to a mood-enhancing drug for felines. I made the mistake of planting catnip outside one year. It didn’t take long for a variety of cats to visit the plants, rolling over them so many times that the plants died. I have also grown catnip indoors. Not all cats enjoy the enticing fragrance of catnip, yet other felines go crazy for it. Catnip is easy to grow from seed and prefers well-drained soil.
I used to only grow “regular” chives, which produced lovely pompom-like purple flowers. Then I saw Garlic Chives at my local nursery and couldn’t resist buying a tub of them for the garden. Both varieties are perennials, and I have no trouble wintering them over. Chive leaves are long and graceful. Minced chive leaves are great addition to any dish where you would use onion (or in the case of Garlic Chives, where you would use garlic).
This is an off/on addition to my garden. I made the mistake of directly planting dill in the garden one year, and the tall plants spread like crazy. For years afterward, I found dill growing where I didn’t want it. Now when I want to grow dill, I plant it in a container. Dill has a feathery look to it and is attractive. I primarily use it for pickling, but it can be added to a variety of dishes.
A friend gave me a grouping of lambs ear plants. Today, these low-growing plants are more of a decorative or crafting herb. Lambs ear leaves are soft and almost have a woolly feel to them. The transplants took hold right away and were spreading well in the herb garden until someone upgrading the septic system destroyed that portion of the garden. I was so upset!
I love the look and scent of lavender plants in the garden. However, my growing success is a mix of successes and failures. Usually, I can maintain lavender plants through several winters, and then one year they don’t return. Lavender is an excellent ingredient in potpourri or sachets.
Another invasive plant, mint can easily run amok in the garden. Over the years, I have grown a wide variety of mints: peppermint, spearmint, applemint, pineapple mint, curly mint, and even woolly mint. The bees, wasps, butterflies and moths love to visit the mint flowers in my herb garden.
Another bee attractor is my oregano plants. The flying visitors love the purple flowers amid the bushy greenery. While I wouldn’t call oregano an aggressive plant, it does have a habit of self-propagating itself in unlikely places. A grouping of oregano jumped from the herb garden to the vegetable garden and is quite happy living in the garden corner. A nice feature of this plant is that can tolerate neglect. It is easy to harvest oregano leaves for use in cooking.
I love the appearance of rosemary as a ground cover. It resembles an evergreen with needle-like leaves. The scent is wonderful, too. My one problem, though, is that it is difficult for me to winter the plants. It is rare for a rosemary plant to last as long as two or three years in my herb garden before dying. Rosemary is another great addition to cooked dishes.
My rue plants resemble small bushes with woody stems. Yellow flowers attract a variety of bees and wasps. It took a few years for the plants to decide to self-propagate, but now there are small rue plants all around the older growth. When I had outdoor cats (they are all indoor now), most of the cats avoided the rue plants. One cat though loved to rub up against it, and she rarely had fleas. Rue can be an irritant to some skin types, so use caution when handling it.
Another plant that I love for its color, texture, and scent is sage. I had one plant that lasted for many years until it became so woody that few leaves grew on it. The plant grew in a protected area near the house. Ever since I had to uproot that plant, sage in the herb garden has not grown well for me (even when planted in the same area).
These geraniums are not like the ones my grandmother used to grow in her window box. I have grown scented geraniums in the garden and as container plants. The plants are not hardy enough to last outdoors through a New England winter. These upright plants come in a variety of fragrances; rub the leaves to enjoy their scent. Some scented geraniums I have grown include: rose, lemon, and ginger.
When I made flavored vinegars, tarragon was a staple in my garden. I still have a planting of tarragon that returns year after year in the protected corner between the chimney and the house. It doesn’t mind poor soil, either. This tall plant can grow four feet high, and it will need support. It has a distinct pungent fragrance, and the leaves are long.
A beautiful ground cover, thyme comes in many varieties. I have grown several of them over the years. As a rule, the thyme in my garden lasts one season. I can rarely winter it so that it returns. Thyme releases a lovely scent when the leaves are disturbed.
I hope that some of my growing experiences have helped you. An herb garden is a wonderful retreat for the senses. It is also a haven for bees and butterflies.
Happy Gardening !
Dawn Lesley Stewart has enjoyed organic gardening for over forty years, learning at a young age from her father. First love is vegetable gardening followed by her interest in butterfly and bee habitats. She considers her yard a sanctuary for birds and wildlife. Her writing has appeared online and in print and has won writing awards. Dawn is the author of Harriet’s Horrible Hair Day (picture book), Mist-Seer (paranormal novel), and her newest book 300-Plus Quilting Tips, Tricks & Techniques features over 35 years of quilting knowledge.
Copyright 2011 Dawn Lesley Stewart