Ed, I am a beginner with this sort of thing and hope to improve once the ground thaws a little bit. So, having said that, let me not take up any more of Ed’s time and I will release the microphone


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Have a Great Thyme with Herbs
Presented by

Ed Haines

Moderated by

Dawn Turco

April 28, 2014
Dawn Turco

Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s Seminars@Hadley. I am Dawn Turco and I will be moderating our seminar. Today’s topic is Have a Great Thyme with Herbs. And we spelled that thyme T-H-Y-M-E just in case you hadn’t noticed. So, a little humor on this chilly afternoon. We’re thrilled to have our presenter return. Ed Haines is a part time instructor with Hadley and amongst his teaching responsibilities is the course Container Gardening.

So, a couple months back when we were conceiving this topic in what was a particularly brutal winter in both of our states, Ed and I live in different states, we thought it would be great to be thinking about planting and springtime, and here we are ready to learn something about herb gardening and as a home cook I am particularly interested in this topic and will be taking notes.
Ed, I am a beginner with this sort of thing and hope to improve once the ground thaws a little bit. So, having said that, let me not take up any more of Ed’s time and I will release the microphone. Ed Haines, thank you for joining us and presenting on today’s topic.

Ed Haines

Well, thank you Dawn, and welcome. Good afternoon everyone. If you can’t be outside gardening, the next best thing is to be inside talking about gardening, and I think on a day like today, most of us are trapped inside, so why not discuss one of our favorite hobbies. I’m really pleased to be talking with you today about herbs and growing herbs and actually, I wanted to start the conversation with a joke about herb gardening, and I don’t know any, and I actually Googled, looking for a joke, and there don’t seem to be any jokes about herb gardening. I guess gardeners are literal-minded so, sadly, there’s no opening joke, but I do want to say that cultivating herbs is just a wonderful hobby and a wonder pastime.

You know, herb gardening and herb cultivation had been with humankind for literally thousands of years. And the great thing about a lot of these plants is that they lend themselves to a multitude of gardening circumstances. From large herb farms, for instance, to just a few containers on a patio. You folks probably know this, but there are records of the ancient Romans growing and using herbs for a lot of purposes. Native Americans on this continent have a huge body of knowledge regarding indigenous herbs and, of course, lots of cultures in Asia and South Asia have been using medicinal and culinary herbs as long as written history.
So, when you grow your own herbs, you’re really taking part in a human endeavor that’s been with us for many, many years. It’s really, I think it’s safe to say, there’s no spot on the planet where people have not had a long relationship with herbs.
Now, that being said, we need to define what an herb is and, of course, herbs are marketed as dried, powdery things that we get in little containers in the grocery store. Or, some of us think of herbs as little plants that grow in little containers on our window sill. And unless you’ve visited a really good herb garden or shopped at specialty nurseries that’s often how herbs are marketed to the public and that’s how we imagine them.
However, herbs have a very broad definition and, in fact, if you do some research you will discover there is no real agreement on what constitutes an herb. There’s actually some debate on the subject. For instance, there’s a school of thought that feels spices, like say Cloves or Cinnamon, are a separate category from herbs. Other people think that herbs and spices are one and the same.

If you go to Webster’s Dictionary, you will find a definition that says an herb is quote “a plant or part of a plant that’s used as medicine or to give flavor to food.” Another definition I’ve read is herbs are quote, “any plant with a useful property.” Now, obviously, that particular definition puts a lot of plants into the category of herb, including trees and shrubs and grains and things like that, that most gardeners, I certainly don’t grow in my garden beds, and I don’t grow them in containers.

The definition I prefer is from the United States National Arboretum in Washington, DC. And it defines herbs as quote “an herb is any plant that serves a purpose other than providing food, wood or beauty.” And for me, I think that’s a useful definition, because that does leave out vegetables and grains and trees that we harvest for paper or fuel, and just flowers that we grow generally to enjoy visually.
Now, as you can see, herbs can encompass many, many kinds of plants, even with that restriction. So, I really am going to focus my presentation today on culinary herbs. And I just can’t cover everything all in one hour, so bearing in mind the definition I just mentioned, culinary herbs are edible, but they aren’t necessarily plants you’re using for food. You’re using culinary herbs to impart flavor to food. As I said, we have a limited amount of time and I can’t begin to cover the many types of useful herbs, nor do I know a lot about all the types of useful herbs, herbs, for instance, that are for medicinal purposes or for manufacturing purposes, such as herbs that are used to dye cloth, et cetera.
If you go to your local library you’ll find there are many, many volumes of books devoted to medicinal herbs, for instance.
So, I’m going to talk about culinary herbs for several reasons. The first reason is that I believe culinary herbs are some of the most easy and satisfying plants to grow. They are usually very hardy. And by that I mean they’re able to tolerate quite a great deal of neglect if not a certain amount of neglect. And they’re able to withstand all the assaults of insects and weather and temperature fluctuations that, if any of you who are gardeners, are very familiar with that can wreak havoc in your garden.

Secondly, culinary herbs, often do double or triple duty in the garden. And what do I mean by that? Herbs that you grow are not only used for making your cooking taste fantastic. But they also often have lovely blooms that you can enjoy or use in flower arrangements. And they have just wonderful fragrances as growing plants. So, double or triple duty – that’s what I love about them.

Now, thirdly, culinary herbs are usually fairly easy to buy or to find in local gardening stores and even, of course, in the gardening departments of the larger “big box” stores, and you know what those are. A lot of medicinal herbs are more obscure. You have to really search of them in special herbal nurseries and catalogs, but culinary herbs, particularly the common ones, they can really be found almost anywhere.
And, finally, as I said before, culinary herbs can be grown in large garden beds, in large quantities, or in small containers in quite small quantities and they can be equally satisfying and fun to grow.
So, how easy is it to grow culinary herbs? I tell you what – it’s easy. Here’s all you need to get started. Find a simple container - that can be made from all sorts of different materials. A bucket, a flowerpot, et cetera. Just make sure it has some drainage holes in the bottom to let water drain out. Herbs don’t like wet roots or as gardeners call them, wet feet. Then you need some growing medium, some potting mix and then finally you need a few herb transplants.
Now let me stop for a moment here and talk briefly about transplants. You can grow most herbs from seeds and the idea of growing a plant from a seed is certainly very appealing because you’re planting this tiny little thing and you’re getting a complete plant as a result. And there’s nothing that can beat that experience. But, the process can take quite a long time. Transplants can be purchased easily in most garden centers and they really cut short the amount of growing time you have before you’re able to harvest your product. For me, that’s a big plus. I have a very short attention span and I want immediate results and the quicker I can go from planting to harvesting, the happier I am. Some of you may have a little more patience than me and that’s fine.

Also, there’s some culinary herbs that take a couple seasons to really mature, so if you have a semi-mature plant already, and you put that in the ground or in your container, you’re way ahead of the game. If you are like me, and you live in a part of the United States or Canada that has a change of seasons, this is particularly true. I have a very short growing season where I live, so I need to be ahead of my game as much as possible. If you live in the far south of the United States, you may be able to grow herbs all year around and, you know, therefore using seed to start your garden might be more practical.

So, that’s all you need. A simple container with drainage, some potting mix, a couple of transplants, and of course a little bit of water. I actually don’t think you need any special gardening tools for herb gardening, particularly if you’re gardening in containers and using potting mix. You don’t need a trowel or a digging tool if you want to keep it simple. I use my hands.
Another thing I love about gardening in general, it really is a tactile activity. Now, just one word of caution, and this is something that there’s really not a lot of wiggle room about, most herbs prefer a good amount of sunlight. So you need to identify which part of your porch or your patio or what window you’re going to grow your herbs in, and make sure that spot gets a good five to six hours of sunlight daily, more if possible. So most herbs need a good sunny location. They won’t thrive in shade.
So, we’ve identified that we’re going to talk about culinary herbs today. And I’d like to talk about some specific types of culinary herbs that I recommend folks try to grow. Most of these are easily available and I’ve chosen these particular ones because I think they have such a huge payoff in terms of their versatility, hardiness and their usefulness in the kitchen. Oh – I should warn you as well, because we’re talking about culinary herbs we occasionally I’ll be bringing up the subject of food. So if you went without lunch, my apologies – I’ll try not to make anybody hungry. But I just can’t talk about herbs without talking about the food that they go in. So, be warned.

All right. Here’s my, almost my first choice for any gardener who wants to grow a culinary herb. This plant is incredibly hardy. That means it’s tough. It multiplies, so you can divide it each season. It has wonderful flowers and it can self-seed. By that I mean it can produce fertile seed that will fall to your soil and grow again into small plants. It’s a fantastic garnish or flavoring in many dishes and I’m talking about Chives. C-H-I-V-E-S - Chives.

First choice – right off the top. Chives are in the onion or the garlic family. And the foliage is wonderful. It consists of clumps of green shoots that rise above the soil about twelve to sixteen inches high. Almost like clusters of bright green knitting needles. It’s very, very cheerful. And these shoots, actually they’re leaves, they can be harvested when they’re very small or very large. You just snip them off a couple inches above the soil line and they have a mild, oniony taste, but very mild and quite nice.
I also like the chive flowers. They really look great. They’re a bright purple, or bluish-purple ball that rises up above the clumps of foliage on just a single stem, like a pompon. A bit bigger than a ping pong ball. It almost looks like the kind of flower that you might see in a Dr. Seuss illustration. And the great thing about them, in addition to them being very pretty, is that they’re edible. So, they make a terrific garnish for salads, but they also just look beautiful in your garden.
And I mentioned already, if you don’t pick the flowers, eventually they turn brown and the seeds mature and fall to the ground and often by the next season you’ll have lots of little chive plants popping up nearby your parent plant, which I think is a whole lot of fun.

As I said before, Chives are used mainly as a garnish or a flavoring, but I have used the longer chive stems to tie up bundles of food for grilling, or for a decoration. I warned you – we’re going to be talking about food. They really are a multi-purpose plant. And anywhere you might want just a tiny oniony taste whether it be a salad or in a soup, Chives are the perfect herb to use. And all they really require is a little water and a sunny location. They’re actually a bulb, so a lot of their strength is below the soil. They will come back year after year in areas that experience winter and freezing, but they’re also a good plant to bring indoors and keep on a sunny window. Chives – you know what I like most about Chives? They’re just very cheerful. So, I love them, I recommend them.

All right, the next herb I’d to talk about is Dill. D-I-L-L. And I’m sure you’re all familiar with it. The nice thing about Dill is that I think it’s just a lovely growing plant. It grows to about two to three feet high and has very delicate fern-like foliage. And I think it makes a lovely show. If you brush against the leaves as you walk through your garden, you’ll release the fragrance of the Dill and it’s just a fresh, spring like fragrance.
And in addition to flavoring and garnishing food, one of the great qualities of this plant is it can be used to attract beneficial insects, particularly predatory wasps. I know having wasps in your garden doesn’t sound so terrific, but a lot of predatory wasps are smaller varieties of wasps that prey on worms and harmful caterpillars that will be eating the rest of your plants. So you want them there and they don’t bother people.
I will tell you, however, that Dill does attract caterpillars. But the nice thing is it attracts swallowtail butterfly caterpillars and also in my area, monarch butterfly caterpillars. For some reason, they really, really love Dill. If you have just a few of them, they won’t do too much damage, but you have to be aware that if you get an infestation of them, you might have to do something about them. I try to plant enough Dill so that there’s room for everyone. But, just be aware that before you use your Dill for cooking, you might have to double-check for some caterpillars.

Now, Dill is in the carrot family, so if you’re growing vegetables, don’t grow Dill anywhere near your carrots. It might impart a taste to the carrots. And the carrots might interfere with the growth of the Dill. I like Dill also because it’s more of a cold weather herb, so it does well in my climate. But that being said, it will go to seed quickly in hot weather, so if you live in the north, it’s best to plant Dill early in the spring and after the frost. If you live in the south, you might want to plant it in the fall so it will grow during the winter months. But, as I said, Dill looks beautiful in your container garden, but it also tastes wonderful in the kitchen.

There’s just hundreds of ways you can use Dill. Everyone eats Dill pickles of course, but you can flavor everything from dips to fish with, which I think is just a really versatile herb.
Well, speaking about versatile herbs, I’d like to move on and speak about Cilantro. C-I-L-A-N-T-R-O. Actually, the neat thing about Cilantro, it’s really two herbs, or it’s one herb and one spice, if you like. Cilantro and Coriander. Now Coriander we commonly think of as a spice, it’s usually ground up into a powder. But, Coriander is actually the seed of the Cilantro plant. You can grow Cilantro and use the greens as a flavoring in your dishes and use it as a green herb. And, you can let some of it mature and develop seed heads and when they dry, the seeds are called Coriander. You can harvest those yourself, and grind them up and use them as a spice.
It’s my impression that dishes from Mexico and India particularly lend themselves to Coriander. Cilantro is interesting because it has a long history of human cultivation and its use in cuisine is mentioned in ancient Hindu texts, even on Egyptian papyri, if I’m pronouncing that right, and in the Bible. Spanish conquistadors brought Cilantro to Mexico and South America, and as I mentioned it’s used widely there. Also, very popular in Asia.
A funny thing about Cilantro is that it has a very distinct flavor and it’s a flavor that people are never neutral about. Either they love it or they hate it. I happen to love it and I use it in all sorts of recipes. Cilantro is an easy, fast-growing plant. And here’s where I’m going to deviate from my original suggestion about using transplants. Unlike other herbs, Cilantro is pretty easy to grow from seed. And it’s a plant you can grow inside in the winter from seed, so you have something green and growing in the snowy months like I have plenty of, and you can cook all year round then with your fresh herb.

Cilantro is also, like Dill, a cool weather growing plant. So in the south or the southwest, it’s a winter herb and should be again, planted in the fall and will be most enjoyable when the weather cools. If you live in a cool climate, you can grow it in the spring of course, but once the weather gets hot, the plant will bolt. That’s a gardening term, bolt, and that means that the plant stops growing leaves and starts concentrating on growing seeds. So, when a plant bolts, it develops seed heads. If you let those seed heads mature and dry, you can harvest your Coriander seed, as I said. And, just like Dill, actually, Cilantro encourages beneficial insects in your garden and it also repels certain kinds of harmful insects, like spider mites and aphids.

All right, another wonderful culinary herb, again one of my favorites, and I’ll warn you they’re all my favorites, so I’ll say this about every herb that introduce. So, here’s another one of my favorites. It’s called Sage. S-A-G-E. Sate is a fantastic plant. It’s really very, very hardy. It tolerates dry conditions and it has so many uses. I like plants that tolerate dry conditions because I like to be able to forget to water my plants occasionally and not have a catastrophe on my hands. There are also lots of varieties of Sage. Most of them separated according to the color of their leaves, and some of them have quite beautiful leaves. There are purple-leaved varieties and also variegated varieties. There’s another gardening term. Variegated means the leaves are multi-colored, so one single leave may have blotches or stripes of purple and yellow and green. They’re just beautiful.
Almost all of them have beautiful flowers as well. As I said, Sage is one culinary herb that is just really hard to hurt. It loves to be dry, it’s not attractive to a whole lot of pests and it over winters even in tough northern climates. And, as I said, both the flowers and the leaves of Sage are edible. So, Sage is terrific, we all know, with roast turkey, et cetera, but it can be used in a lot of dishes. Italians use Sage with Cannellini beans. Sage infused butter over raviolis or other pastas. I’ve got to tell you – that can’t be beat.
In fact, if you brown Sage in butter without burning it, the Sage almost takes on a bacon flavor, so if you’re a vegetarian and you crave that bacon flavor, brown your Sage in butter and you won’t be missing a thing.

And as I said, Sage over winters quite well. I live in the far north, not as far north as some places in Canada, but actually farther north than other places in Canada, right on the shore of Lake Superior, and I have Sage plants that have survived for many, many years. They hide under the snow all winter long and finally the snow melts and those woody, dead looking branches and twigs of the sage shrub sprout green again in the spring with beautiful green leaves and beautiful blue flowers. So, Sage can take a lot of abuse.

Also, Sage is a great herb for drying. It retains its pungent fragrance even if it’s dried. You can pick bundles of Sage sprigs and tie them together and hang them out to dry in your kitchen window. It’s kind of picturesque. I think they look terrific, and also they make nice gifts as well.
Now, here’s another favorite. And I think this almost everyone’s favorite. I know very few people who don’t like Basil. Basil, again, is a fantastic plant. It is easy to grow and like Cilantro, I’m going to go against my advice regarding using only transplants when we talk about Basil. Basil germinates really well in warm weather from seed, and it grows quickly. So, Basil’s one of the few herbs that I recommend planting from both seed and transplant. At least that’s what I do. I buy a number of transplants so I can start harvesting the leaves very soon. Remember I said I like to have a quick payoff. So, I buy some transplants that are already going. I can harvest the leaves really within, you know, three weeks or so.
And then I also plant Basil seed. Usually at a couple of intervals of maybe three weeks apart because I want to have fresh Basil maturing at planned intervals. The thing about Basil is that it grows quickly and that means it goes to seed quickly. So, if you have some new plants coming up to replace the old ones that are going to see, you’ve got it made.
Once the Basil flowers and goes to seed, it stops growing and producing those wonderful leaves that make everything you cook taste better. But you can, you know, slow down, if you don’t feel like planting intervals of Basil, you can slow down the process of the plant going to seed by pinching the flower heads off the Basil plants as the flower heads form. Now you can feel the difference between the flower heads and the leaves. The flower heads grow in an upright, almost conical shape from the very top of the stem. And they feel kind of fuzzy.

The leaves, of course, grow more or less horizontally from the plant stem, and they’re shiny and generally fairly smooth. Pinching off the flower heads causes the plant to produce more stems. And those stems have leaves on them, so you can kind of postpone this process and keep your plant producing leaves for as long as possible. But it takes vigilance and as the hot weather goes on and as the season goes on, those flower heads keep popping up in abundance and you almost have to trim your plant once a day if you want to keep up with it. And even then, eventually the plant just gives up and says, okay, I’m done. I’ve tried, and that’s all I can do.

There are tons of varieties of Basil. It’s hard to know which variety to choose from. Of course a favorite variety in Europe and the Americas is Sweet Basil and we associate that with a lot of Italian recipes. But there are many varieties including Lemon Basil, Purple Basil, Globe Basil, and that’s globe, G-L-O-B-E which, by the way, is perfect for containers because it has a nice, compact globe shape and the leaves are quite small. So if you’re not looking to have herbs for massive amounts of recipes but you want a little Basil taste with your dishes of an evening, a Globe Basil plant is the way to go. There’s Greek Basil, Lettuce Leaf Basil, Thai Basil and Holy Basil.
This is an interesting side note. Holy Basil is called Tulsi, or Tulasi in India and, forgive my pronunciation, because I don’t know exactly how it’s pronounced. And many Hindu households have Holy Basil planted in the center of their courtyards. The plant has a great deal of religious significance as well as being used for medicinal purposes, so that’s a nice image for me to think of all these millions of Hindu households all over the world with a beautiful Basil plant planted in the center of the household somewhere.
Now, Basil is a good companion plant as well, particularly for tomatoes. There’s another gardening term – companion plant. That means that two plants, two different species, go well together and complement each other. So, it’s nice to have a container with a patio-type hybrid tomato, like Patio Princess or Tumbler, some small growing tomato plant, and then some Globe Basil planted around the perimeter of the pot. I think it looks terrific, and I can’t prove it, but it’s generally accepted knowledge that Basil planted with tomatoes makes tomatoes taste better.
And then, of course, you can harvest, if everything’s timed correctly, you can harvest both vegetable and herb together to make all sorts of wonderful things like sauces and salads.

Now, Basil does require a lot of sunlight and consistent moisture. It’s not like Sage where you can leave it for a week and not worry really about it. It is more delicate than some of the other herbs I’ve talked about. You need to pay attention to regular watering and have good well-drained soil. But, that being said, Basil grows extremely well in any kind of potting mix you care to plant it in, at least that’s been my experience.

Another popular culinary herb at least in the west is Parsley. And there are more or less two kinds of Parsley that are grown in the States and in Europe, and they are Flat Leaf and Curly Leaf Parsley. A lot of folks, especially if you talk to people that are in to cooking have very definite opinions about what kind of Parsley they prefer, and it’s sometimes said that Flat Leaf is more robust and flavorful and Curly Leaf is more appropriate for decoration or garnishing, but actually the tastes of either Parsley, according to science, are very much influences by the conditions under which they are grown.
So, probably in terms of a horticulturalist, it’s really kind of a tossup. But folks have their favorites. Both types of Parsley are easy and best grown from transplants. They do take a bit of time to mature from seed, so in common with a lot of herbs we’re talking about today, I do recommend using transplants for Parsley.
It’s also important to remember that Parsley is a biennial – not an annual. And what I mean by that is, a biennial plant, and there’s another gardening term for you, produces foliage the first year and then dies back and produces flowers and seeds the second year. Now that’s in contrast to Basil which produces foliage and seeds all in the same growing season. So, because your Parsley is a biennial, your Parsley plants will die back in the winter, but more than likely they’ll come back next year. The problem is they’ll grow very little foliage, but they’ll produce some nice stalks with flower head and I like the flower head. They’re clusters of small blooms that are a green to pale yellow color.

If I have room, and I generally do, I like to let my Parsley live the second season and produce flower heads. I think they make a nice show. They’re cheerful and if you let the flower heads dry, if you’re lucky, the seeds, like Chives, will drop into your garden bed or your container and the plant will reseed itself for the next season. So, you know what, that doesn’t always happen for me, but it’s fun when it does and it’s fun to see these little Parsley leaves popping up where I don’t expect them to be in my garden. And the nice thing about the initial leaves of the Parsley plant, the look just like the adult leaves so you know exactly what’s coming up. It’s definitely not a weed, and also they have the same pungent aroma and fragrance. So, it’s kind of neat. I like to let them seed themselves if I can.

Parsley can tolerate some pretty hard conditions, so it’s like Sage. It can take a lot of abuse, but that being said, it’s more of a cold weather plant. It’s often damaged more by heat than it is by cold temperatures. So, if you do live in a hot climate, you’ll need to give it some shelter or probably some shade from the hot sun and I recommend some good mulch as well.
The one issue I should warn you about with Parsley, and it’s a problem I have is that it seems to be a favorite with my neighborhood rabbits and deer. Particularly if I plant my Parsley in early spring and there’s not a lot of clover or other natural food for rabbits. They seem to just run right over and decimate my Parsley crop. So I have to actually use a protective cover. I put some screens over my young Parsley plants to keep them from being eaten down to the roots, especially when they’re young. Later in the season, I don’t worry about it. It seems like there’s enough natural food out there, the rabbits and the deer decide that they don’t want to bother with Parsley. Perhaps the Parsley is stronger flavored at that point, I don’t really know. But when they’re young and you know you have rabbits and deer in your neighborhood, you might want to give them some kind of protective covering.

Okay, we’ll move on to a nother herb. Oregano. O-R-E-G-A-N-O. Again, Oregano is an herb used all over the world. In China, actually, it’s a medicinal herb, but of course in a lot of Europe and the United States, Canada, it’s a culinary herb. And just like Sage, Oregano does really well in poor soil and neglect and dry conditions. Now, it does need good drainage. It doesn’t like to have its roots constantly wet. So if you have a wet, shady place in your garden, that’s not the place for Oregano. But if you have a nice dry, sunny spot, that’s where you can consider planting it. There are lots of different varieties of Oregano and there are some varieties that will grow quite happily in a hanging basket or a container. As I said, Oregano needs good sunlight, but it will tolerate a little bit of shade. A little more so than say Basil or some other herbs.

I have Oregano plants in my garden that have come back every year. They seem to last for about three to five years in my neck of the woods before they die back. And here’s something, and it’s probably my imagination, but in my northern climate I sometimes feel that my Oregano tastes more intense than other Oregano plants that I’ve grown when I lived in the south. I’m not sure why that is, maybe it’s my imagination, but I don’t think so. In my climate, to give you an example of how hardy Oregano is, when the flowers go to seed and the seeds fall on the lawn, I have Oregano that germinates right in my turf. Right in my lawn. And when I mow the grass, I mow over the Oregano and it smells just fantastic.
Now we all know Oregano does, of course, taste great in pizza or pasta sauce. But it can be chopped up, especially when new in the spring when the leaves are tender. I chop it up and use it as a garnish. I also like to use some of the leaves in green salads.
Well, as Dawn pointed out, the title of this webinar is a little corny. It’s “Have a Great Thyme with Herbs,” so it’s appropriate that we do talk about Thyme and that’s T-H-Y-M-E. And, by the way, I take full responsibility for the title. That was not Dawn’s doing. Thyme is just another fantastic culinary herb to grow, either in containers or in your garden beds. Like a lot of other Mediterranean herbs such as Oregano, Thyme does very well with neglect. That’s what I love. It likes heat and sun and dry rocky soil and it really can only be killed if the roots stay wet and soggy. Otherwise, it can handle a lot of abuse and still do very well indeed.

I mentioned just a minute ago that my Oregano naturalizes in my garden and my Thyme does this as well. In fact, I have a friend who, at some point, and it must have been years and years ago, long before he bought the house, he has a home with an entire front lawn that is more or less taken over with an older variety of Thyme so that when he, in the springtime when it flowers with beautiful delicate pink blooms, his yard just looks terrific. And then when he mows his yard, the whole area is overwhelmed with the fragrance of fresh Thyme and I just can’t even describe it it’s so great.

Now there’s three basic varieties of Thyme. And they’re just really classed according to size in terms of their varieties. There are upright plants that grow to about twelve to eighteen inches tall. There are varieties that grow about six inches tall, and there’s some very low-growing varieties that people often plant in cracks between flagstones or on footpaths. And, of course, the purpose of that is that when you walk on the Thyme it releases the fragrance. Most of culinary Thyme is the taller variety. There are lots of flavors of it. But because it’s a taller variety, Thyme can get a little woody and gangly, so I recommend pruning it back to encourage new growth.
And it’s probably best to prune it on a regular basis, because sometimes, a couple times a season at least. Because you can sometimes kill the plant if you prune it just once a year, so, just keep track of it. If it gets really leggy, you might want to prune it gently. If you have a shape you want the plant to maintain, prune it regularly to that shape.
I’ll mention one more thing about Thyme. There’s a specific variety of Thyme of called Lemon Thyme, and it is absolutely my favorite kind of Thyme. It’s perfect to flavor fish dishes, used raw in salads, it seems to be extremely hardy and in my northern climate, I have a Lemon Thyme plant that has lasted easily twenty years and it still comes and flowers every spring and produces as much Thyme as I can possibly use. So, just throwing that out there for folks that are looking for a really tough variety of Thyme.

Now, we’ll move on to Rosemary. It sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel song here. Rosemary is wonderful and I recommend using transplants for Rosemary. Like a lot of the woody herbs, it is slow growing. It’s slow to germinate from seed and Rosemary will tolerate a certain amount of neglect and dry soil, so it’s perfect for containers. If you live in a southern climate you can grow Rosemary as a perennial shrub, and I’m so jealous of people that can do that.

I’ve been in Australia and Italy and I’ve seen Rosemary plants that are grown as high hedges. And they’re just unbelievable, and when they flower in the spring it’s a beautiful show. It’s a wonderful thing, but in my reality here in my northern climate, Rosemary is an annual. Now that being said, Rosemary does pretty well if you want to over winter it inside your home. So, if you live in a cold climate, if you have a good sunny spot to keep it in, you can dig it up out of your garden bed, or try moving the container in for the winter. It should over winter pretty well.
Now, I’d like to talk a little bit about a craft project here because Rosemary is one of those plants that’s fun to use for topiary, and there’s another gardening term. Topiary is the practice of trimming a plant into an ornamental shape. The nice thing about Rosemary is that it resembles small evergreen trees. The needles, the leaves of a Rosemary plant look like little tiny pine needles. So people like to shape them in the same way they shape evergreen shrubs or trees in their yard, and in fact you may have notices around Christmas time, grocery stores sell Rosemary plants trimmed into small Christmas tree shapes, and maybe they have some ribbons or decorations on them as well.
It takes a couple years to get a good topiary out of a Rosemary plant, and as I said before, if you do live in a northern climate, it’s important you have a really good sunny place to overwinter your plant so it keeps growing and thriving all year around. But if you do trim your Rosemary plant regularly, not only will you achieve a nice specimen of topiary, but you can use the trimmings to flavor your food. So you can do landscaping and cooking all at the same time.

I want to give you just some simple instructions for making a Rosemary Topiary. It’s a fairly easy project to make and very rewarding. So I’ll give you instructions for making a standard topiary. There’s another gardening term. A standard means that the plant has a strong, single, thick stem that becomes kind of like a trunk. Then the stems at the leaves of the Rosemary plant are pruned at the top and clipped into a certain shape. That’s a standard.

Now, that shape can be anything, a geometric pattern like a square, or a pyramid or a sphere or something more elaborate, but I like to keep it simple. I recommend starting with a Rosemary plant that is at least eight inches tall. That’s not that tall, and has a good upright growth pattern with a really single, strong, central stem. That’s the most important thing. And you can find Rosemary at lots of garden centers or nurseries.
And as I said, around Christmas, you can buy one already made and you can just keep growing it. I start by repotting the Rosemary plant into a larger container. Because, really, the plan is it’s going to be growing for several years. And I want to have a container that’s going to have room for a larger plant. And I also wait a week or so after repotting to give the plant time to get over transplant shock. There’s another term – transplant shock. Like every living thing, when something’s uprooted and put into a new environment, it takes a little time to get over the shock of that and then start growing again.
So once it’s repotted, it’s over transplant shock, I remove all the side shoots and leaves from the lower two-thirds of the plant. Now you can use your fingers to pinch them off, or you can use scissors or clippers. The important thing is that you don’t pull them off by pulling down or pulling up, because you don’t want to pull off some of the bark of the central stem that might peel off as these little side shoots are pulled off. You need to pinch them or cut them. These side shoots are easy to locate by feel and it’s really not that hard.

Then I get a piece of bamboo, maybe fourteen to sixteen inches long. I put it into the pot right next to the central stem and then tie the central stem to the bamboo stake, which is what it is, in two or three places and use something like yarn, or something that’s not going to cut into the stem itself. Don’t use a twisty. It’s tempting because they’re so easy to find in your kitchen drawer, but as the plant grows that little bit of paper around the wire disintegrates and then you have wire cutting into your stem.

The point is, as the stem grows I want the central stem to be upright and straight, just like a tree trunk. I should say also there’s a bit of a hazard if you have a bamboo stake poking out of your container. Be aware that now there’s a sharp stick sticking straight out of your flowerpot that can poke you in the face while you’re leaning in to examine your plant. If you think this might be a problem, and it can be, you want to be cautious. You can insert a ping pong ball or something like that over the tip of the bamboo stake. Number one, you can see the ping pong ball more clearly if you have low vision, and it of course makes the stake harmless if you bump into it or lower your head down on it. So just a little caveat there.
Once the plant gets to the height that you want, start imagining what type of shape you’d like the top third of the plant to become. If you have a Rosemary plant that’s about a foot high, you’ll want a shape about the size of a grapefruit maybe, or a softball, maybe a little larger. And as the foliage grows beyond the boundaries you’ve planned, trim the tips of the stems to encourage thicker growth and to maintain the shape you have in mind. This part of the process takes a while, but it’s fun. A couple of growing seasons, possibly, but I think the effort is worth it. It’s a fun project and if you are interested in growing topiary Rosemary, you just have to Google “Rosemary topiary.” There are tons of websites devoted to the subject and also lots of YouTube videos.

All right. We’ll move on to a subject that’s a little less fussy, a little less crafty. I’m talking about Mint. M-I-N-T. Everyone should have at least one container of Mint. If you don’t, you’re missing out and there absolutely is no effort to having Mint. Mint is versatile. Of course you know it can be used in all sorts of culinary combinations. Mint pesto for meat dishes, Mint chopped up in Tabouli or other Mediterranean dishes. Mint garnishing ice cream – the list is endless. The great thing about Mint is that you will more than likely have a neighbor or a friend that already has a bunch of Mint, a big patch of Mint, and they will be more than happy to give you a start.

For that very same reason, the bad thing about Mint is that it is very, very invasive. Invasive means it spreads easily and it’s more dominant than other plants. It will take over. So, once you’ve planted it in an open garden bed, it will try to take over. So for that reason, I recommend planting Mint in a container or in some kind of container that’s buried in your garden bed. That way you’ll keep it in one spot.
Mint can come in a variety of flavors. There’s Spearmint, Peppermint, Lemon Mint and I even have some Chocolate Mint that is taking over a garden bed. I didn’t plan for it to do so, but now it has. And each variety has specific uses in the kitchen.
Mint is not demanding at all. It only needs about a quarter to half day of direct sun, fairly moist soil, but it will survive in very difficult conditions and I’ll give you an example. I have a patch of Mint that’s right against my concrete parking pad behind my house. And I live in a very northern climate, so all winter long I shovel snow and ice and accumulated road salt that’s fallen from my vehicle onto my Mint bed. And guess what? Every spring that soil has to be toxic at this point – the Mint pops right up. It’s unphased. I reappears year after year. So if you want a foolproof herb and you want something to start with, you can’t go wrong with Mint. And, really, there is nothing better on a hot summer day than a glass of iced tea with lemon and a big sprig of your own, home grown, fresh Mint.
Now, we’re already, we’re fifty minutes into our presentation here and there are lots and lots of more herbs I could mention. But we only have a limited amount of time, so I’m going to stop at this point. I have even other things on my list I haven’t been able to touch on. And, of course we haven’t talked about medicinal herbs at all. That’s just a whole other topic.

But I do want to say one thing in closing about culinary herbs. I’d like to speak to the people who think that because they don’t cook, culinary herbs are not for them. Well, let me reassure you, culinary herbs are not just for foodies or people who spend all their time in the kitchen. I have plenty of friends who don’t enjoy cooking at all, and I’ve persuaded quite a few to try growing a few containers of culinary herbs. And here’s why.

Just the addition of a few herbs can really improve the taste of any food you’re eating. Even if you haven’t cooked it yourself. Now here’s some example for maybe college students out there, or people that just hate to be in the kitchen. If you have a couple slices of ham and cheese and a couple slices of bread, put some fresh Basil leaves in with the ham and cheese sandwich and you’ll find that the taste just jumps way up to two hundred percent better.
If you’re heating up a can of tomato soup from the supermarket, sprinkle some fresh chopped Chives in the bowl – you won’t believe how much better it tastes. It will taste gourmet. If you have a bag of salad, like me, you don’t want to be washing a lot of lettuce, but just opening a bag and dumping some in a bowl, chop up a few leaves of Thyme, some fresh Oregano, some Chives, put it in your salad, you’ll be amazed at how fresh and piquant the taste is. Fresh Dill is fantastic as well.
Here’s one for college students. Do you have leftover pizza from the night before? You warm it up in the microwave for lunch? Put a few Basil leaves on there after you take it out – you’ll love the fresh taste. And finally, if you have Chinese food that was delivered a few days ago and it’s in paper cartons sitting in the fridge, heat it up in the microwave, sprinkle it with chopped Cilantro and Chives and you just won’t believe the difference. I suppose you guys can tell I love to eat….

So, what I’m trying to say is that culinary herbs are not just for people who are in to cooking. They are for everyone. The reward of growing culinary herbs, I think, far outweighs the small amount of effort it takes to plant and cultivate them. As I stated throughout this webinar, herbs are generally very, very easy to grow. They don’t have a lot of pests or diseases, and even if you don’t cook with them yourself, fresh herbs make a great gift to hand out to your friends. You’ll get invited over for dinner to other people’s houses more, I promise.

And I do promise you, your fresh herbs will taste better than any herbs you can buy at a Farmer’s Market or a grocery store. And when you grow your own culinary herbs you’re giving yourself an experience that money can’t buy.
Well, thanks very much for listening. That ends my presentation today. And I really appreciate your attention.
Dawn Turco

And I took it right away, Ed – oh – my goodness you so delivered on this. So many great ideas and tips. I’m so motivated. And now I know what went wrong with my Basil last year. Anyway, I’m going to start with a question that was texted in while the people with the mics can get themselves organized. And we have the question, when you speak about plants living for many years, are these in containers or are they in the ground?

Ed Haines

That’s a good question. The herb plants that I have that have survived for many, many years have actually been in the ground. They’re actually in raised beds. One of the advantages I have here where I live is that we get many, many inches of snow. Lots of inches of snow. And that actually acts as an insulation, so we are able to grow plants that over winter plants in the garden that sometimes people further south of us can’t because their ground freezes more deeply. If you want to over winter herbs in a container, it’s best to have a really large container. And you might have to put some pretty heavy mulch over the top of it as well.

Dawn Turco

The other text message we had was, do you need to wash our hands after picking? And I’m not sure which herb you were talking about when this question came in. And if so, how?

Ed Haines

Well, you know, herbs, a lot of these herbs are smallish plants, so they do grow low to the ground. Therefore, there will be a certain amount of dirt on the leaves or a certain amount of grit, depending on whether it rained recently or you’ve watered it recently or if you have a layer of mulch between the leaves and the dirt. So, it’s a good idea to wash the leaves. But you can actually feel whether there’s grit on the leaves or not. It’ll feel like sand. So, a lot of times if I’m fairly confident the leaves are pretty clean, I don’t wash them. Many herbs have volatile or oils, not volatile oils, sorry, they have oils that will get on your fingers and I supposed those oils might irritate your eyes if you rubbed your eyes right after picking herbs. But I’ve never had that experience.

Dawn Turco

All right. Let’s open it up to the microphone.


Would you consider Oregano and Dill to also be invasive? We have Dill in one of the gardens that’s outside in the backyard of my house. I live in Canada, I’m just east of Toronto, Ontario, so I believe that is Zone 5B and the Mint of course takes over everything, but we find that also Oregano and Dill can also take over. Also Tarragon which was one herb that you didn’t get to, I find those tend to be invasive, if you will.

Ed Haines

Yeah, I think I mentioned that, you know, the Oregano actually comes up in my yard. I’ve not had as much luck with Dill over wintering. Usually my Dill plants die off and I have replant them in the spring or else maybe they’ll self-seed. So I haven’t had that luck. For the most part, I’m in huge favor of invasive plants. Because it means I have to do less planting. If they just show up in other parts of the garden, I pull them up where I don’t want them and I leave them where I do. And you’re right, Tarragon is a fantastic herb. I didn’t have time to get to it, but that does over winter here in the north and it’s one that’s less common to purchase fresh in supermarkets, so it is a terrific one to try to grow.

Dawn Turco

We have another text question, Ed, about can you put different kinds of plants in the same planter box?

Ed Haines

Sure. Absolutely. You can have an herb planter with three or four different kinds of culinary herbs. I’ve seen people create planters with certain types of foods in mind. For instance, they might have one planter that has Oregano and Basil together because they’re making pasta sauce, even with some Garlic plants growing up in the middle. So you can choose a theme as well. Herbs generally do very well with other plants and they do well together and they make a nice show. The foliage is very distinctive in different herbs, so when it’s all blended together it looks quite pretty.

Dawn Turco

Any other questions from the group?


Ed, we tried to over winter Sage because we thought we needed to bring it in because as you know, being in the north here we had a very harsh winter this year. And we tried to bring the Sage in and let’s see what else. I think we tried to bring in Sage, Rosemary and I can’t remember if it was Basil. I’m not sure. And they did okay for a little bit and then they all died off. So we’re probably going to need to replant the Sage this spring. Can you over winter Sage in a container in side or is it better to keep it, you know, keep it outside? Also, if we do have to in fact replant our Sage, should be start from seed or should be start from transplants that you’ve say buy at a local garden center?

Ed Haines

I suspect that the over wintering difficulties arose from perhaps not a sufficient amount of sunlight. I’ve never had to over winter my Sage indoors because it seems once it gets covered with snow, it seems to withstand the temperatures. That being said, we just had an historically cold, cold winter and I’ve yet to see any growth on my Sage plant, so the jury is out right now. But Rosemary should do fairly well if you have a good sunny location. If you’re starting over again with Sage, I would get transplants. It’s just quicker.


I’ll tell you one plant that did survive this harsh winter that had, and it’s out in our front yard. We have a west-facing backyard, so the front is east. Lavender. The Lavender has sprouted again this spring and it was, like you say, historically frigid this winter. And the Lavender is going strong. We’ll have to see, the jury is out for the rest of the ones that are out back. The Chives, the Dill, I think we’ve got a little bit of mint back there, Oregano, we’ll see if any of them come back.

Dawn Turco

Ed, I’m going to get one last text message in, and it’s a good one. We’re going to move to a different part of this country and the question is, what are good herbs for the Pacific Northwest? Not much sun, lots of moisture, in container gardens? That’s the question.

Ed Haines

Well, these are the questions I’m always afraid of because every region is so different and I wish I knew exactly what to tell you. However, I can tell you that I was just in Bellingham, Washington a couple of weeks ago. And I saw quite a few different container gardens there. And people were growing herbs. I think here’s the key – because there’s so much moisture, I would think that herbs, generally, you could grow most of the herbs we’re talking about, particularly when the weather gets warmer. But they would grow best in containers because they containers can be drained properly and even if it does rain, the water will, they won’t have wet feet, as I mentioned in the webinar.

I went to a Farmer’s Market in Bellingham and I saw lots of fresh herbs there. I didn’t have the wherewithal to ask if those were grown in greenhouses or outside, but I did notice that there were lots and lots of beautiful gardens, ornamental and culinary gardens, around town and things seemed to be going pretty well. So, even though there isn’t much sun, I think you have sufficient sun. It may be cloudy, but you’re getting the sunlight. The plants don’t have to have blaring sun to thrive. They just have to have sun and not shade, if that makes any sense.
Dawn Turco

Ed, I took the microphone back because we are out of time and I’ll read one last comment that came in. “Great topic! Ed is an excellent and enthusiastic presenter. I’m off to the nursery.” I suspect the rest of us are planning that trip as well. What an absolutely fabulous seminar. I’m going to have to relisten to it to pick up the points. I know I was missing them as we went along.

For those who might want to do the same, the seminar as always will be posted on Hadley’s Past Seminars page and it will take us just a couple days to get it there. It will be at the top of the list of the newest recordings and then moved down later on. Maybe we’ll put it next to your other presentation you did on container gardening a couple years ago, because there all so good.

Ed, thank you so much. Let me hand the microphone back to you for a final thought or farewell. And for those who are able to hand in there with us, we will launch the short survey. But you always have feedback at Hadley.edu if you have a thought or question after the close of the seminar. Send it along and if it’s for Ed, I’ll get it to him. Ed, here’s the microphone.
Ed Haines

Well, Dawn, thanks once again for giving me this opportunity. It’s just a favorite topic of mine and I appreciate everyone taking the time to listen today. And I hope maybe you’ll think about going out to that nursery and just getting a few little plants and giving it a try. Thanks so much!

Dawn Turco

Thanks, Ed. We appreciate all the thought and effort and preparation you put into today’s seminar. I’ll say farewell officially. Bye bye all and thank you for attending.

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