Herbs : useful addition to garden, or in pots (Google / mLive / The Grand Rapids Press)

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Herbs are a useful addition to garden, or in pots

Sunday, June 22, 2008

By Rebecca Finneran

The Grand Rapids Press

In the relentlessly sluggish Michigan economy, the relatively affordable and productive pastime of gardening keeps growing in popularity. More people than ever are looking to the land to supply fresh fruits and vegetables, and there is no better way to spice up the culinary palate than herb gardening.

Although great in pots, herbs don’t have to be relegated to the patio. “Herbs can be in containers, hanging baskets and incorporated with flower beds. There are so many ways you can use them,” said Joyce Kebless, Greenville herb grower and founder of the Midwest Michigan Herb Association. According to Kebless, herbs don’t have to contribute an abundance of color to the garden, as the texture alone can add interest. And when mixed with other landscape plants, their colors can be quite complementary. “The combination of purple basil with an edge of dusty miller, which is gray, looks great together.” Another beauty is bronze fennel, with its plumelike, plum foliage that pushes up higher than more colorful herbs.

Another of Kebless’ recommended combinations is basil with the deep blue of borage, which has a small, star-shaped bloom. Although inedible, the silver, feathery foliage of artemisia goes great with the yellow and orange daisy blooms of the herb calendula.

The Herb Society of America boasts a motto that holds true to the versatility of herbs in the garden: “For Use and For Delight,” a saying by 17th century herbalist John Parkinson.

Such helpful plants

The versatility of herbs is endless. When planted in pots or directly in a garden bed, they can be a fresh source for household chefs to spice up the summer cuisine. A number of herbs can be dried or preserved quite easily to use throughout the winter, too.

Kathi Holstege, of Everlasting Blooms, in Grand Rapids, offers the annual sweet basil as one of her favorites: “This plant can be put in a large pot all by itself or planted directly in the garden,” she said.

“You don’t want to do anything with it right away (but then) take off the top and it will bush out.”

Talk about handy … I’ve planted a culinary garden, including basil, just 3 feet from my grill. It is such a pleasure to pinch a bit of this or that to make your grilled creations sensational.

Holstege doesn’t recommend drying for basil. Instead, she makes a basil pesto, spreads the paste into an ice cube tray and sets it to freeze. “You can then pop out the cubes, put them in a bag and store in the freezer for use all winter,” she said.

Oregano and thyme make good candidates for drying. Holstege suggests bundling stems together, hanging them upside down in a cold, dark place and crumbling them into a storage jar.

A few herbs not recommended for winter preservation are rosemary, sage and parsley. Holstege advises gardeners grow rosemary in a 10-inch pot that can be brought indoors for the winter; however, she cautions it will need abundant water to thrive in a dry winter home.

Tour time already

The many ways herbs can become a useful part of your garden will be one of the highlights of the 2008 Stuck on Gardening public garden tour, Saturday and June 29, hosted by Kent/MSU Extension. The tour will encompass eight local gardens owned and tended by MSU Master Gardeners. Several sites will offer herb demos and the special feature Cooking in the Garden, with local chefs as your guide.

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Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.