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Herbs, garden color, and a Book Giveaway!

I’m planning to grow an herb garden for the first time. When is the best time to set out transplants?

Basil

Wait until warm weather to plant any type of basil.

Now that spring is definitely on the way, of course we’re anxious to get things planted, and the herb garden is a good place to start. Some herbs can withstand chilly temperatures, and may already be available at nurseries or garden centers. Herbs that are more hardy – sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro, rosemary – can be set out very early, but to be safe (and depending on the climate in your area) you may want to wait until closer to the last frost date. (That’s around mid-April in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home).

Tender herbs such as basil absolutely will not tolerate cold weather, and you should

Parsley

Parsley can withstand a chill, and can be planted now.

wait until after the last frost date – or even a few days longer, just in case — to set out transplants.

In general, herbs grow best in well-drained soil in a spot that gets full sun, but there are a few herbs that do well in partial sun or partial shade. Garden author Judy Lowe lists chives, cilantro, lavender, lemon balm, parsley and sweet bay as plants that tolerate a little shade.

And for aspiring gardeners without a place to dig, herbs do well in containers — alone or planted with other herbs in a garden arrangement. At the appropriate time, set transplants in containers in good potting soil. Place them in a sunny spot on the deck, porch or patio, and keep the containers well-watered.

Color all year long – And a book giveaway!

Nellie Neal lo res

Nellie Neal photo by Dave Ingram

Nellie Neal’s appreciation for color in the landscape began while she was college.

“I became aware of this garden that was on my route every day. I noticed that it didn’t matter what day of the year it was, there was something going on that was worth a look.” She watched throughout the cycle of the year: where the azaleas bloomed, where the gardenias flowered. In winter, where the shrubs held gorgeous berries.

“It’s really when I became enamored with how the colors and the form go together to create this effect.”

Today, Nellie is a garden writer and radio host living in Jackson, Miss. and the author color garden book jacket lo resof The Nonstop Color Garden, a guide to designing flowering landscapes for year-round enjoyment.

Nellie offers some of her garden color tips in a story in today’s Style section in The Tennessean. Here at The Garden Bench, I’m giving away a copy of the book.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite season for color — or just name a color you like. Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, March 20, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a copy of Nellie Neal’s The Nonstop Color Garden.

Easy herbs for a beginning gardener

QUESTION: What are some of the easiest herbs to grow in a new herb garden?

Let’s start with five of the most-used culinary herbs in a kitchen garden, as suggested by gardener Sara Plummer, a member of the Nashville Herb Society:

Basil

gb Basil GenoveseNeeds: Warmth, sun, well-drained soil; water regularly.

Varieties: Sweet basil is the most well-known, but there are other varieties with distinctive colors and flavors, including cinnamon, lemon, ‘Spicy Thai,’ ‘Purple Ruffles’ and many more.

Use in: Pasta sauces and salads, with mild cheeses, in rice dishes, and to make pesto.

Note: Basil is very tender and will be killed by cold temperatures, so don’t be in a rush to plant it if the temperature is not consistently warm. Basil is an annual, but if you let it flower and go to seed in the fall, the seeds will drop to the ground and likely will sprout next year when the ground warms.

Chives

gb ChivesNeeds: Moist soil in a sunny location; water regularly.

Varieties: The most common chives have purple globe-shaped flowers, but there are also pink- and white-flowered varieties, and garlic chives.

Use in: Eggs, salads, soups, potatoes, broiled meat or fish.

Note: Clip the long, tubular leaves as needed. Cut chives can last in the fridge about seven days; for longer storage, chop them and store them in the freezer. This hardy perennial grows from bulbs, and may need to be dug up and divided every few years.

Rosemary

gb Rosemary fitcNeeds: Well-drained soil in a sunny location. This is a tender shrub that may be damaged during extreme cold; some varieties are hardier than others (‘Arp’ and ‘Hill Hardy’ are two that do well here).

Use in: Meat, chicken and lamb dishes, fish, casseroles, tomato sauces, egg dishes, vinegars and oils.

Note: Rosemary is evergreen, so you can use fresh leaves all winter if the plant doesn’t succumb to extremely cold weather.

Thyme

gb Thyme motherNeeds: Well-drained soil, but thyme is tolerant of poor soil and dry weather.

Varieties: There are many species and different “flavors.” Popular varieties include ‘Silver Queen,’ lemon thyme, wild creeping thyme, wooly thyme and others.

Use in: Stews, stocks and marinades, stuffing, sauces, herb butters, oils and vinegars.

Note: Some thyme varieties are upright, some have a creeping habit. Trim thyme often to keep it from becoming woody. Harvest the leaves before the plant flowers.

Oregano

gb Oregano GreekNeeds: Well-drained soil in a sunny location.

Varieties: Some species are more flavorful than others, and some are more suited to decorative uses than culinary, so choose carefully. Greek oregano is a good, flavorful choice.

Use in: pizza, meat, tomato dishes, vegetables, oils and vinegars.

Note: Oregano is a perennial plant, but some are more hardy than others. Pick the leaves whenever you want to use them for cooking. They can also be dried or frozen.

 

Grow herbs in containers

QUESTION: I want to grow herbs for cooking, but we don’t have space in the yard. Can herbs do okay growing in pots?

Grow three types of basil for an attractive container combination.

Grow three types of basil for an attractive container combination.

Many herbs can grow very well in containers, and if your “garden” space is a deck or a condominium balcony, it’s the best way to have fresh herbs at your doorstep. The things you need to guarantee success are good growing medium, ample sunlight, and plenty of water. You can sow seeds, but transplants get the garden off to a faster start.
Begin with the soil – and by that I don’t mean the dirt you dig up in the yard, but a soilless potting mix, which is lighter and less likely to become compacted in the container. Members of the Herb Society of Nashville recommend a mix that is heavy with peat. Slow-acting organic fertilizer can also be added.
After you fill the pot with growing medium and the herb transplants of your choice (more on that in a minute), find a spot on the deck or balcony that gets several hours of sunlight – at least four to six — a day. After it’s planted, the challenge of keeping a garden pot growing is making sure it gets enough water. At mid-summer, when days are hot and dry, pots dry out quickly and often need to be watered every day.
The container itself is up to you; almost anything that will hold potting mix and drain well can be used as a planter for herbs. In fact, a variety of types of containers may make an interesting arrangement. Consider baskets, bowls, an old wheelbarrow – anything that holds a moderate amount of soil and a few plants (drill holes in a container that doesn’t drain naturally). Of course, traditional pots are fine, too.

Mint is a good choice for a container herb garden.

Mint is a good choice for a container herb garden.

As for what to grow: Basil, chives, dill, mint, oregano, parsley (curled and Italian), sage and thyme all can grow well in containers. Cilantro also does well, but you should remember that it is a cool-season herb that goes to seed quickly when the weather turns hot. Grow them in individual pots, or consider some container combinations: rosemary sage and chives; parsley, basil and thyme; mint, basil and dill are all good choices for container herb gardens.