In the Garden:
Tropical South
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Plant culinary herbs close to the kitchen so you can gather them easily and often.

Herbs Grow Everywhere

One of my gardening friends used to say, "Some day I'm going to have an herb garden." He said it with the same sense of commitment that he might say, "I'm going to have another child."

Actually, an herb garden isn't that difficult. In fact, most gardeners, especially in Florida, are growing many herbs throughout their yards that they don't even think of as herbs: citrus trees, roses, nasturtiums, scented geraniums, violas.

Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. We can grow all of the ones that grow in northern states and many of the more tropical kinds like the vanilla orchid and patchouli. But we have to grow them differently in Florida because of our upside-down year and rainy summers. That's why I wrote the book Herbs and Spice for Florida Gardens.

Cold-Sensitive vs Heat-Sensitive
Some herbs that are annuals up north are perennials here and vice versa. There are just a few that we need to protect from frost: basil, tropical oregano, pineapple sage, allspice, bixa, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A few more are summer sensitive: lamb's ears, lemon balm, some mints, lavender, parsley, sage, and thyme. But there are over a hundred that grow in my garden year-round, year after year, with little care or worry.

Some herbs, such as basil, are annuals and will die whenever their life cycle is finished, whatever time of year that happens. We tend to forget about that since winter doesn't make such a sharp ending to our annual season. Actually, more of the annual herbs -- nasturtiums, dill, mustard, arugula, and such violas as Johnny-jump-ups -- thrive from fall to spring until summer heat and/or rains do them in. Nasturtiums self seed for me very nicely and reappear every fall.

Herb Gardens to Inspire
There are several excellent public herb gardens to visit. The one at Mounts Botanical Gardens in Palm Beach is divided into tea herbs, medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, etc. The one at Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo has recently been renovated. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville has grown some 463 different herbs over the years. It is only a mile or so off of I75, so if you are traveling, make it a lunch stop. Homestead Fruit and Spice Park has one with many
tropical spices like bay rum. There are also smaller herb gardens at places like USF in Tampa, and Selby Gardens in Sarasota. And any herb nursery is always worth a stop.

Versatility of Herbs
In your own yard, you can grow herbs in a special place or all over the place. Keep the culinary ones near the kitchen, the ones you grow for fragrance near the path or bench to rub and brush as you pass or sit. Some will go in the butterfly garden, and herbal trees like the loquat, neem, or sweet bay can provide shade. Aztec sweet shrub, bugleweed, gotu kola, mints, creeping oregano, and violets are good ground covers.

So plant an herb garden if you want, or enjoy herbs throughout your garden. Or both. Most herbs need full to partial sun and somewhat improved soil. You'll find herbs will give you greater rewards for less work, time, and space than any other kind of plants you can grow.


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