By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
As we begin the ‘Fall Garden Season’ organic herbs and autumn vegetables overflow the garden center. This week’s column features the best herbs for your garden and the distinguishing characteristics of each. Deer, rabbits, and javelinas find the taste of herbs distasteful. These plants are never threatened by critters roaming the yard.
Many herbs can be planted once and left to grow for many years. Perennial herbs take the heavy lifting out of garden design by coming back year-after-year. Planting these enduring herbs allows you to divide and expand them each season for free. Spread the seeds anywhere in the garden you would like to have more plants.
There are so many herbal plants at Watters Garden Center, but here’s my list of the five best producers. Herbs are amazingly easy to grow in mountain gardens. These are my favorites for culinary use and beauty.
#1 Echinacea is not only useful for healing; it’s a beautiful accent to any garden. Echinacea, or coneflower, grows in virtually any garden soil. From moist fertile soil to dry and arid conditions, echinacea finds a way to thrive.
To help echinacea spread through a garden, wait until the end of the season when coneflowers will be entirely dried. Remove the heads and separate the pointy black seeds, which can be planted to create more plants. Gloves are recommended because the seeds can be rather sharp.
#2 Thyme is one of the herbs that grow in any garden. The less you fuss with this herb, the healthier it becomes. It’s perfect for gardeners who aren’t particularly hands-on. Use thyme as a filler between stones in your walkway. It offers a delightful scent when tread upon and handles moderate traffic. Thyme grows well in areas with dry soils too weak for other plants.
Thyme loves to be trimmed back, making it easy to cut into decorative shapes for a formal look. Watters has varieties of thyme with both upright and trailing habits so there’s one to fit almost any situation and design. Multiplying is a snap, just divide a healthy plant or take a cutting.
#3 Mint spreads anywhere you allow and many places you don’t. Try planting your mint in a bucket buried at the garden level to trap runners and roots. This technique helps to contain my mint. Plant next to that dry wash to soften all the rock spilling through the yard.
Steep mint for a floral tea that is light and refreshing. Try growing a greater variety of mints if you’re interested in hot or cold herbal teas. I also find mint an exciting addition to salsas and sangria.
Don’t allow your mint varieties to mingle. Allow plenty of room between each type to ensure that bees and butterflies don’t cross-pollinate your different varieties. My mints are separated into different beds so they are out of sight from each other. Peppermint is planted by the dry wash in the back yard. Chocolate mint is next to the driveway, pineapple mint by the mailbox, and spearmint under the hose bib by the front door. Mints are terrific in mountain gardens.
#4 Sage is a wonderfully versatile herb for any garden. It comes in many colorful varieties and growth habits. Try using it as a filler around other tall garden plants. Sage will grow for many years, returning after even the harshest winters.
Sage’s only negative characteristic is that it can become woody if left untended for too many years. Avoid woodiness by keeping sages pruned back to encourage new growth. The leaves will grow close to the cuts and result in a more beautiful plant.
#5 Lavender is used for everything from cooking to healing. Try growing this elegant herb alongside your best flowers. From shades of purple and blue to white, lavender truly is a beautiful perennial herb.
Be sure to plant lavender with room to grow. You will be impressed at how large the plants grow after a few years.
Another trick you might try with lavender is to grow it in a stunning glazed container. We have a gorgeous Spanish lavender growing in an oxblood red container that loves our hot courtyard.
#6 Rosemary is a bonus herb to this column and easy to grow, but alas, I’m out of column space.
Designing Around Perennials – Perennial herbs are an excellent way to grow your garden landscape without the demands of replanting every year.
Until next week, I’ll be tasting fresh organic herbs with gardeners here at Watters Garden Center.