Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Herbs
Herbs in a Swamp (page 2 of 3)
by Kit Anderson
Trial by Murder
None of her books helped her select herbs to grow in this soggy spot, so Suzanne had to experiment. "When I get a new variety," she explains, "I take real good care of it for a year. Then I divide it and put the plants in different places--one in a pot under the eaves of the house, one in full sun, another in part shade. It's what I call trial by murder." She has found that trying these small changes in microclimate often makes the difference between success and failure, and if the plants don't thrive in any of the spots, she throws them out. "Lord knows," she says, "there are plenty more to try."
She direct seeds many crops throughout the year starting in spring, thinning the resulting seedlings. For annuals, Suzanne had to study timing. Some herbs (see section below) are best sown during the cooler winter weather, for example. Frosts are occasional in this zone 8 climate, and sometimes there's even snow, but most of the time winter temperatures range from 40 to 70° F.
Harvesting is a year-round task. Suzanne pinches shoots back at the main stem, which forces buds below to grow, resulting in a bushier, stronger plant. Harvesting single leaves of herbs shocks the plants," she notes. If she's harvesting an herb heavily, as she does basil, she'll feed it every two weeks with a weak solution of 8-8-8.
Basil, an annual, is sown in spring for summer harvest. Her favorites are the regular large-leaved Italian basil (Ocimum basilicum), lemon basil (O. b.'Citridorum') and O. b. 'Purple Ruffles', which she uses in clumps mixed with other herbs for color.
Cilantro or coriander (Coriandrum sativum), an annual that appreciates cooler temperatures, is succession-planted through the winter and harvested until the spring heat hits.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) also prefers cooler weather and Suzanne sows it along with her cilantro.
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are an indestructible favorite, and an excellent choice for a Louisiana garden because "just about every recipe here calls for garlic and onions." Suzanne uses this perennial as a border, periodically cutting back the straplike leaves to three inches.
Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) is her favorite herb. She loves to smell its lemon-lime fragrance when the wind blows and uses the leaves in teas and fruit salads. She starts this perennial from cuttings; it does best in a pot on the patio.
Parsley, both curly French (Petroselinum crispum) and Italian flat-leaf (P. c. neapolitanum), is a biennial usually grown as an annual. It has to be started in the fall, Suzanne says, because the seeds need several weeks of cool temperatures before they'll even germinate. Parsley grows well through the winter and, if shaded, can limp through summer, reviving in the fall.
Rosemary was fussy about drainage even in the soil Suzanne created, so she mounded up part of one bed 10 inches. Upright rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) is a better choice for her humid garden than the prostrate type, and the hill planting also ensures good air circulation.
Tarragon proved a real challenge. Common French tarragon grown in a patio container "looked as if someone had strangled it." Then she got something called Mexican tarragon from a woman in Florida. It's most likely Tagetes lucida, which is also called sweet mace, winter tarragon, and mint marigold. It has a stronger flavor, she says, and grows readily in the raised bed, going dormant in the winter, then coming back in spring.