What’s Growing (Part 1)
When my yearly rhythms were shaped by school vacations, Summer was by far my favorite season. And while I love the family adventures that Summer brings, Spring definitely brings a lot of joy to my heart! Growth, re-awakening, new beginnings – all cliches but as I gain years of experience and (hopefully) wisdom, these are the simple reminders I need to hear, every year.
In past years, the patch of land that I was looking after was just a small raised bed. This year I have a backyard garden and I am also Garden Manager at Laughing Buck Farm. I’m sure I will have more to say about the vegetables as the Summer months move on but what I’m really excited about is the herbs (surprise!). So if you are wondering about what herbs you could be planting, here’s a peek at what I’ve got growing and why.
Everyone is at least somewhat familiar with chamomile, but no one ever told me that if you brush by the plant with its tiny flowers, you will automatically take a deep breath and let go of some stress. So plant yourself a bed of chamomile for Summer napping! You will come across both German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile. German (Matricaria recuitita) chamomile is an annual but readily seeds itself. It grows in small clumps and grows anywhere from 6 to 24 inches tall. It does not require much water to grow well making it a wonderful herb to grow here in Colorado! The plant flowers generously and both tea and essential oil are used to calm the nervous system as well as improve digestion. Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelium nobile) is perennial. It grows close to the ground and is only 8 to 10 inches tall. The flowers are less profuse and smell more like sweet straw than sweet apples. But it makes a lovely ground cover and while it prefers a little more water than German Chamomile, it does like well-drained soil. There is still time to get seeds in the ground this year and still be able to harvest flowers for tea, salad, bath sachets and just general relaxation. (Note: If you have allergy to plants in the ragweed family, you may be allergic to Chamomile.)
A reflection of the Sun in bloom! Calendula – Calendula officinales – is not in the same genus as the common marigold even though it is sometimes called pot marigold. It is an annual but seeds itself very generously if you don’t deadhead often while it is in bloom. I have seen flowers of different sizes and colors (yellow and orange) but the plants grow to about 12 to 15 inches in height and fill in a space nicely. Last year I visited a garden with a 30 foot long row of Calendula. They smell sweet and seem to glow in the sun (they prefer to grow in full sun). The bees love them. If you are looking to get started with herbal oils or salves, I highly recommend starting with Calendula. Picking the flowers you will notice a sticky residue on your fingers – an indication of an herb with wonderful benefits to your skin!
It used to be that when I heard mention of Catnip, I thought it was some kind of cat toy. And while that isn’t too far from the truth – cats do love it and you can make some wonderful cat toys stuffed with it – Catnip also offers wonderful relaxation for us humans. Being the mint family, Catnip – Nepeta cataria – is a perennial that is pretty easy to grow. It is happy in full sun, partial shade, or shade and doesn’t require much water. I have found it growing wild in the hillsides near me. It looks kind of like a fuzzy mint, but the scent is more musty than what one usually finds in the mint family. It grows between 1 and 2 feet tall and will come back year after year, spreading itself by runners underground. Adding the leaves to tea is wonderful when you just want breath deep and relax.
Before I knew Comfrey existed, I was oblivious to what I was missing. Then I saw it at a local plant nursery. It was Russian Comfrey – Symphytum x uplandicum – which is a naturally occurring hybrid (S. officinale x S. asperum). The leaves are strong yet the flowers are dainty. It has presence without being gaudy. I’ve already talked about why I love this plant, so I’ll just talk about growing it here. You definitely want to be particular about placement, because it isn’t going anywhere. This plant will grow from tiny pieces of root! So put it in a spot where it can make itself at home, or even in a pot. While sources say that Comfrey prefers shade and plenty of water, I have also grown it in the sun and it has survived dry conditions. The clump of leaves grows to about 2 feet tall and the flower stalk can grown another foot or two above that. Be sure to read about why you should have Comfrey growing in your garden.
That’s just a few of the herbs I have growing this year. I’ll share more soon. But what do you have growing?