This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
There is a surprising array of hardy herbs that we can grow in our northwest marine climate and not have to worry about replanting every spring. Many of them can actually be brought inside and placed on a bright windowsill for the winter where sprigs can be plucked as needed.
Left outside, many can even still be harvested throughout the winter. Here are several hardy options that I discovered while walking through our herb department this last week…
Thyme: I don’t think I ever truly realized how many variations of thyme there are to choose from. There is of course the traditional English thyme, along with a multitude of ornamental varieties that we can use in the landscape as ground covers.
While these ornamental varieties can indeed be consumed, most of them grow so close to the ground that there isn‘t much to harvest. But on the culinary spectrum there are the standard varieties to choose from or unique citrus flavored varieties, like lemon, orange or lime, both of which will add great depth of flavor to marinades and soups or to salads and roasted veggies or meats (especially chicken).
Rosemary: It used to be that we only offered rosemary as a tender perennial, but thanks to global warming, virtually all of the varieties are proving to be hardy. "Arp" has been considered the hardiest, but I counted no less than six different varieties on our tables this week that are great options too.
If you prefer a trailing variety that will spill over the edges of a planter, give "Huntington Carpet" a try. In addition to the fragrant foliage of rosemary, the clear blue flowers are a treat in late winter and early spring.
Rosemary is traditionally used with chicken or roasted lamb, but it is a nice addition to almost any Italian and/or Greek dishes.
Mint: If you thought thyme came in lots of flavors, you would be amazed at the choices of mint on the market. In addition to traditional spearmint and peppermint, you can also find chocolate, orange, pineapple, lemon mint (known as lemon balm), apple mint and a whole host of other flavors to try.
All mints are vigorous, so it may be best to confine them in a pot. Mints have repellant properties in the garden and can deter mosquitos and even squirrels.
You can add mint to pesto, yogurt, smoothies, salads or soup, or my favorite, mojitos. In addition to the flavor, it has herbal properties as well which can aid with digestive disorders and other ailments.
Sage: There are many types of sage on the market, the vast majority of which are first, ornamental, and second, culinary. But the truth is that they can all do double duty. Sage has an earthy flavor that is the key ingredient in thanksgiving turkey stuffing. It is often combined with other herbs and sold as poultry seasoning.
One of my favorite sages is a golden-leaved pineapple sage called "Golden Delicious." We sell it as an annual since it will rarely overwinter in our wet winters but in the summer, the pineapple flavor is unsurpassed. Purple, Tricolor, and Golden sage are three culinary varieties that will survive well in our growing climate and make attractive low-growing evergreen perennials for a sunny, well-draining location in the garden.
Oregano: A classic herb that is a low growing perennial, it comes in several variations of flavors making it suitable for lots of cuisine genres. Look for Greek, Italian, golden, sweet marjoram, "Hot and Spicy," and a few ornamental ones like "Kent Beauty." Most oreganos form low growing mats of foliage and will spread nicely in medium rich soil.
Lavender: As much an ornamental as a culinary herb, we must sell over two dozen different cultivars in the height of the summer. English lavender is by far the most popular, but Spanish lavender is a close second and to a lesser degree French lavender.
For culinary purposes, it is most widely used in desserts and baked goods, also great when paired with lemon flavors. All lavender plants require full sun and good drainage and make an attractive plant in the landscape.
Bay Laurel: This is our classic bay leaf that gets plopped into many soups and stews. The plant is actually a woody evergreen shrub, which can make a small tree in a milder climate. Around the northwest, it will typically stay small and may need a little trimming in the spring after Mother Nature zings it with a few hard frosts.
Parsley and Chives: These perennials are both evergreen and winter hardy and can be harvested all season long. Parsley is great for pairing with Rosemary and Thyme in culinary uses. Chives are good for potato dishes, dips and garnishes - you can even eat the flowers.
Whether you keep your herbs in pots or in the kitchen garden, growing herbs for year around enjoyment is easy to do. Get started today! Stay safe and keep on gardening!
Sunnyside will be hosting our next free online class, "Refresh Your Lawn," on Saturday, September 12th, at 10:00 am. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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