Saturday, July 29, 2017

My Herbs - part 1 - Rosemary and Thyme

As I've mentioned before, I love herbs!  I love growing them. I love seeing them blossom.  I love using them in recipes.  I love buying new ones.  I love them in the ground.  I love them in ceramic pots. I love seeing photos of herbs, in books or online.  I search Pinterest for "herb gardens" and Google "herbs in containers."  I am not sure what's up with my herb obsession (sorry to disappoint anyone that gets here via a search for "herb" as in "weed," or "pot," because I mean the culinary, medicinal, type of herbs!  You know, "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" kind of herbs!).  Maybe it's the many types available, you can never have them all.  Or, maybe it's the ease in growing most of them, no matter how poor your soil.  Or, the ability to grow them in containers as well as in the ground.

Oregano (two kinds), creeping thyme, nutmeg thyme, chives, prostate rosemary, feverfew, Goodwin Creek Gray lavender, Ellagance Snow lavender, woolly apple mint, lemon thyme, creeping winter savory, and golden sage - English thyme and tri-color sage are out of sight, but in attendance in the herb garden proper.

Herbs are hardy, they are pretty, they smell good, and you can eat them! Those are reasons enough to grow them!  Bear in mind, I live in the USDA Hardiness Zone 8B, although Sunset calls it 7.  USDA zones are based only on winter lows, Sunset takes into consideration a lot of different factors.  For instance, I live in a valley, so I can grow many plants that wouldn't survive if planted just a few miles away, at a higher elevation.  If you regularly have snowy winters and well below freezing temperatures for long stretches of time, make sure to choose herbs that can take it!  Here we have freezing temperatures, and occasional snow, and yes, I do lose a few plants when we have a colder than average winter, but for the most part, my herbs do fine.  They are all perennials, and some actually die back completely in the fall, and grow back lush and healthy in the spring.

I do not try to start my own herbs from seed.  It takes too long, and in some cases the plant will not be the variety hoped for.  Some herbs actually need to be grown from stem cuttings to stay true to type. My herbs are from the Grange Co-op, local farmer's market, the local high school's FFA spring plant sales, and in exchange for other goods.

I let most of my herbs flower since I want to encourage pollinators.  Some herbs are said to taste best when harvested before flowering, but I am just a basic cook when using herbs, so don't notice any difference!  I use them fresh, but hope to dry some this summer for winter use. 


My formal herb garden began in the summer of 2012.  I can't believe how some of the plants have grown!  Here's the rosemary in June, 2012 (left) and now (right).  It's a prostate rosemary, which stays low to the ground, and hangs over the rock edges.  


It has pretty pale purple flowers in early spring.  The bees love it.  I use rosemary whenever I cook a stew, cutting off a small stem. 

Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb (many are), and likes a hot, sunny location with less than optimal soil.  Meaning, don't plant rosemary in rich potting soil!  Just dig some sand, or even gravel, into your soil to help drainage, rosemary suffers from wet roots.  My herb garden proper is a raised area I did fill with garden soil, but since then I've let it become less rich by not composting or fertilizing.  Too much fertilizer or rich soil and you'll have a great plant, not much as far as flowers, and not nearly the taste as a plant that suffers a little!  Don't water any of the Mediterranean  herbs too much either.  Let them dry out.  Rosemary stays green all winter, and blooms early in the spring, even late winter. 

I have a Tuscan Blue rosemary in the front yard.  Planted in April 2014, it's the tiny plant to the left of the upright stone in the middle photo.  The bottom photo shows its flowers this spring.  I had to cut back quite a bit of the plant a few weeks ago.  I think our long wet winter was too much for it.  In spring prune out any dead wood.  Rosemary can live for years and years, if it's happy.  It can be propagated by stem cuttings, but I have not had luck with that.  It will root on its own though, as branches lay on the ground, especially the prostate rosemary. 


Tuscan Blue rosemary with Golden Oregano in the background


Thyme is another Mediterranean herb, so it too needs good drainage, but will take poor soil. I've even read of entire Mediterranean herb gardens planted in gravel!  Thyme does very well in containers, so long as there are drainage holes.  Thyme goes into the stew pot along with rosemary and sage. 

I have Foxley thyme in a terra cotta pot.   It a pretty variegated variety with dainty pink blossoms the bees love.  

Foxley thyme's variegated leaves - lovely!
Thyme is a pretty, small leaved herb that stays low to the ground, in some cases flat on the ground! 
My nutmeg thyme and creeping thyme have been spreading along the ground of the herb garden for several years.  They really look nice as they creep over the edge of the rock border.  In the photo below the thyme is seen just to the left of the larger pot, surrounding the two rocks in the border. 

creeping thyme

This is nutmeg thyme.  It's slightly taller than creeping thyme, but still a low ground cover.

Below is lemon thyme, just to the right of the painted rock identifier!  That was a fun project.  Lemon thyme has lovely green and yellow leaves.  Mine has a tendency to get stringy and sparse, so I have replace it twice.

I grow creeping thyme in both my herb garden proper (the rock edged bed) and in the rock garden in my front yard.  And why not?  It's a lovely ground cover that spreads.  It takes little water.  It has teeny pinkish-purple flowers in springtime. 

English thyme, or garden thyme, is Mediterranean, regardless of the word "English" in its name.  
It's the basic thyme most people grow. There is nothing wrong with English thyme, it's delicious.  It's just nothing special to look at.  

English thyme

Next up will be sage and oregano. 

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