Many of the plants in our kitchen or herb gardens are as familiar as the palm of a hand, or as comfortable as an old shoe — thyme and marjoram, summer savory, rosemary and rue, sweet basil, and parsley.
For kitchen and still room, dressing table and apothecary shop knew them of old. As humble servants, they satisfy hunger, ease our pains and heartaches, and please our senses with their characteristic oils and fragrances.
Herb gardeners today are an adventurous lot and are constantly discovering plants that are unfamiliar to them.
Some of them are gigantic in size and importance, and though others are dwarf, they take their places in gardens with a great deal of grace and personality.
One small but lovely herb is the silvery-foliaged cinquefoil, which some call Potentilla argentea. It has definite characteristics of potentilla replan: whose leaves, said Gerard, are “snipt about the ends, not all along the edges.”
Forming a closely-mounded mat of silvery-grey digitate foliage, the plants produce flowers of the palest yellow in Midsummer — all small and perfect.
This potentilla makes a tidy edging plant and is entitled to a spot among the herbs because it has medicinal uses like other potentillas — silverweed, tormentil, five fingers, goose-grass, and silvery cinquefoil.
Artemisia Schmidtiana Nana
All are astringent and efficacious for cramps as well as for fevers. Another herb with similar coloring is Artemisia schmidtiana nana.
If kept in shape by trimming once during the Summer, it makes a delightfully glistening mound of silvery filaments that are silky-soft to the touch. The plant is hardy throughout our below-zero Winters.
The Versatile Artemisias
Difficult to do without, artemisias are variable in growth and have contrasting foliage that ranges from white to grey and green. Thus we have a choice for every garden design.
The beach wormwood is useful for its sprawling, heavily-patterned drifts of near-white irregular foliage.
- Artemisias pontica, as an edging of finely dissected grey, needs to be severely trimmed both above and below ground, as its root runners will creep alarmingly.
- Artemisias frigida has a silky quality; it grows a foot high and is lanky if not cut back.
All these artemisias are arresting contrasts of color and form when planted near the purple basil, Coleus amboinicus.
The latter is native to India and the East Indies but is grown in Spanish American countries as seasoning. The perennial controversy about the identity of the seasoning oregano at times involves this coleus.
The weedy Chelidonium majus, greater celandine, takes over a garden with its scattered offspring, but a few plants in a wild corner are welcome.
The so-called lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, of smaller stature, is well known as a pot herb in this country. It is sometimes gathered in the Spring when the leaves are young and tender for such use.
However, such ruthless gathering will undoubtedly ruin the tubers, and the Spring will be the poorer for the loss of its pure gold flowers. A few small tubers will increase quickly in a shady moist spot, and produce their fresh greens, so full of mildly acrid flavor.
Another small-growing herb garden plants are the Micromeria.
- Micromeria chamissonis, the yerba buena of Californian delight and fame, has fragrant mint-like, shining foliage.
- Micromeria piperella, taller but still dwarf-like, is useful as a border plant. It has a sharp peppermint fragrance.
- Micromeria rupestris has white blooms and dark-green leaves.
The last two are hardy in Westchester County, New York, but I do not know about the reliability of yerba buena.
Salvia lavandulifolia is the last of the low-growing herbs in this study. Brought here from England by Jacques Legendre, it is a neat and beautiful small shrub, with sage-like fragrance and attractively proportioned grey-green foliage.
More compact in growth than Salvia Officinalis, it is adapted for edging; it grows about six inches high. I have not tested it for hardiness yet.
As for the large herbs, what could be more for growing among herbs than Petasites vulgaris, with its giant leaves that measure 18” inches and more in diameter!
The short, thickset blossom spike appears before the leaves in April and is rather sharply. though not pleasantly, fragrant.
It should be planted outside the garden, as it spreads very rapidly in moist areas. The roots have been used medicinally as a diuretic and as a heart tonic.
Persea barbonia, the red bay persea, or hull bay, is used in Virginia gardens effectively, as an accent tree or as a shrubby hedge. There it grows as tall as lilacs do in Westchester County.
This Carolina bay is a handsome-foliaged shrub that has the added interest of culinary usage. Its shining leaves are used as a substitute for bay leaves in pot roasts and soups.
44659 by Elizabeth Brunt