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Herb Gardening Yields Valuable, Tasty Produce
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Many people seem determined to associate herbs with a 1970's hippie adventure in the garden. But the truth is, herb gardening is a new tide rising on a wave of popularity, and I hope you consider planting an herb garden this year.
The value of herbs has been known for centuries. They have been used for flavorings in foods and as medicines for ailments. I recently spent $5.95 for one tiny bottle of an herb I could have grown! After buying this and the other expensive herbs (spices), I felt as if I needed to take two St. Johns Wort tablets to cheer me up. (St. Johns Wort, an herb, is one of the hot sellers in the health and vitamin area. Users claim that it will improve your outlook on life.)
If you really want to improve your outlook on life, plant your first herb garden and then you will be hooked. In addition to being used for culinary and medicinal purposes, many herbs are great landscape plants.
For instance, basils are as attractive as coleus but also useful in the kitchen. For the past two years, the All-American Selections has given the prestigious award to a basil. Basil is also excellent as a container plant.
Last year, it was Siam Queen, a Thai basil. The crushed leaves of Siam Queen are highly aromatic and can be harvested about 50 days after transplanting. This year's All America Winner is Sweet Dani, a new lemon basil. It is definitely one you will want to try. It is a greatly improved aromatic herb, desirable for its culinary and ornamental features.
The most noteworthy improvement is the strong lemon scent. The leaves burst with lemon fragrance when touched. The scent is due to the purposeful breeding of high essential oil and citral content. Sweet Dani is easy to grow from seed or plants.
It needs warm temperatures for rapid growth. In the full sun herb garden, Sweet Dani plants are uniform, fully branching to provide more leaves for harvest. Space plants about 24 inches apart. Gardeners can expect a mature plant height of about 26 inches with white flower spikes appearing late in the growing season.
Sweet Dani plants can be cut back or trimmed for harvest several times with excellent re-growth. Use Sweet Dani as flavoring in many savory entrees, fish being the most popular.
Herbs are great mixed with vegetables in the garden. But if I had my way, I would encourage you to plant an herb garden that has its own identity. Because of their diverse habits, colors and textures, herbs can create wonderful artistic and geometric designs.
Some herbs grow tall and need to be placed in the back of the garden. Others are short, spreading and perfect for the low border. Try using creeping thymes between stepping-stones.
While the basils give an ornamental look to the garden, plants like the aretemisias and santolina lend a Mediterranean flair with their grey color. Santolina is hung in closets as a moth deterrent.
Garden centers are beginning to offer a broad selection of herbs for immediate planting in the garden. Select healthy and vigorous growing plants. The roots should be white to greenish white.
Most herbs thrive best in well-drained soil, with a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Till the growing area to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Some of my favorite herbs are rosemary, oregano, thyme, cilantro, chives and mints. While I don't grow sages for culinary purposes, I do grow salvias with aromatic foliage for tying and hanging in the kitchen and gorgeous flowers suitable for the vase.