Category: Herb Highlights

Freedom from store-bought herbs. You Can Grow That!

Gain freedom from store-bought herbs. Plant your own. Herbs are generally easy to grow, many are perennial in northern regions, and the flavor of fresh picked or home-grown and preserved herbs is so full and intense you may never need to purchase store-bought again. Basil, rosemary, chives, mints, savory, thyme, sage and/or marjoram … You Can Grow That!

ycgt_blog_post_graphic On the 4th of each month, C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening urges garden bloggers to champion the virtues of gardening. Many garden bloggers do just that in their You Can Grow That! posts. All of this month’s, as well as previous posts, can be found at the You Can Grow That! website. Go there to dig into the brains of gardeners with a passion for encouraging others to green up their thumbs.

We often think formal when imagining how to incorporate the vast array of of herbs into our planting schemes, but there’s no need a formal herb garden to enjoy the beauty and culinary uses of herbs.

Sage and chives blend beautifully into perennial beds, while thyme and marjoram are great border and edging plants, or trailing plants in a container combination.


Interplant shorter, long-season blooming annuals, such as ageratum, with bush basil for an interesting border, and plant large-leaf basil in pots or as companions to potted or in-ground tomatoes.


Give mint room … lots of room, it can be a thug when left on its own … or contain it into an established area or pot.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA border of herbs can dress up a planting of other edibles.

This photo is my border, starting from the foreground, of thyme in bloom, blue-green ornamental curly chives, savory, more curly chives, another smaller savory, two young santolina transplants surrounded with various sedum, lavender, and more thyme.

This border combination sets off the edges of the lawn and larger beds planted with common and garlic chives, horseradish, and garlic.

Since the herbs bloom at different times throughout the growing season – chives in spring, thyme and lavender in early summer, curly chives and savory later in summer, and chives, lavender, and thyme intermittently in late summer – they help dress up the more utilitarian neighboring beds.

But … even better … these herbs can be used to flavor summer dishes and be preserved for winter use.

Potted ginger mint, rosemary, and lemon basil are easily snipped and added to summer dishes and beverages. Pair lemon basil with fresh tomatoes, rosemary with grilled chicken and fish, and sprigs of ginger mint with iced tea or mojitos


Minced chive leaves freeze well in small tightly-packed containers while chive blossoms turn plain white vinegar into a tasty, pink-tinged, chive vinegar for dressings. Or, mix minced chives with softened butter, place on waxed paper, and roll into a long,  1” diameter form – like a skinny baguette. Freeze and cut off slices as needed for garnishing warmed breads or baked potatoes.


Thyme, rosemary, savory and marjoram dry well when cut at peak and placed in brown paper bags left in a dry location for a month or two. Once dry, they can replace less-flavorful store-bought herbs for winter meals.


Sage can be cut, tied in bunches, and hung on a hook to dry,


but basils are best preserved as pesto or blended with olive oil into a green slurry and frozen as cubes for winter use in soups and sauces.

You Can Grow That! home-grown herbs can expand your garden design choices and enhance your culinary exploration. After nearly 40 years of growing herbs in my Connecticut gardens, I’m still discovering new ways to grow, use, and store them … and I rarely have to resort to using store-bought.

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Swallowtail caterpillars and rue

Swallowtail caterpillars are decorating, and eating, the rue planted here and there in my garden beds.


The caterpillars are beautiful, and contrast so well against the blue green foliage of the rue. The yellow on the caterpillars’ body even matches the shade of the rue blossoms.


I don’t mind that they are making a meal of the rue’s tender leaf tips or have munched off some of the flowers. Rue (Ruta graveolens) easily self-sows in my Connecticut gardens. A few volunteer rue have sprung up here and there from seeds dropped by the mother plants last year. These caterpillars are actually doing me a favor. Their meal of rue flowers and leaf tips means less deadheading for me later this season. Plus, I anticipate the joy of watching black swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes) flit about the gardens after the caterpillars have their fill of food and undergo their amazing transformation.

Rue is an aromatic, shrubby perennial preferring dry, rocky soils. It’s a perennial with both positive and negative attributes. Rue has dainty, rounded, blue-green leaves and, with a small bit of shaping, grows into a 1-2 foot rounded form. It’s yellow flowers attract pollinators and, in my area, one big plus is that deer do not browse rue shrubs.

Rue is often mentioned as a traditional herb garden plant. While historically listed as a medicinal herb, rue leaves can be toxic if ingested (seems that deer know this!), and the sap can cause a blistery skin rash.  If you have sensitive skin, do not work around rue unless your hands and arms are well protected. I’ve grown rue for years and, though very sensitive to poison ivy, I have not developed a rash from rue. Still, when pruning rue I’m careful to keep sap from contacting my skin.

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden website, rue is native to Southern Europe. It’s self-sowing habits have allowed it to spread in some areas. It’s best to deadhead rue flowers to prevent seed production. Plants will self-sow if seeds are left to form and fall. Visit  the Go Botany page about rue to learn more.

Fortunately, black swallowtails use plants besides rue as hosts. If you rue the thought of growing rue, you can attract black swallowtails with plants in the parsley (Apiaceae) family such as Queen Anne’s Lace, carrots, dill, and celery.

Have you seen any of these caterpillars in your garden this year?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry