Documents: Special Interest: Herbs:

Herbs Can Sustain a Summer Border
by Marg Fleming
August 26, 2012

In the heat of mid summer, we can expect many of our earlier-performing perennials to take a breather and cease growth. Hot days cause them to flag - a defensive response to the threat of excessive moisture loss. Though these past-blooming specimens have involuntarily abandoned their former glory, they can be expected to revive when fall rains arrive. In the meantime, what can we incorporate into our garden design that will provide some interest and colour during the hot, dry peak summer weeks? Consider herbs.
Herbs are not necessarily only for culinary use. Some plants are considered herbs in view of their medicinal uses or their fragrance. Butterfly weed for example, is seen growing wild at this time of year. It is also called pleurisy root for the belief that it was once thought to reduce the inflammation of pleurisy. Butterfly weed studs country roadsides and vacant fields with its brilliant orange flower clusters. Its deep fleshy tap root is a reservoir for water, and thick milky sap resists moisture loss. Small wonder that a plant so equipped feels confident blooming in July when other plants retreat from the heat.
Sage is a semi-woody, shrubby herb that produces fragrant greyish-green leaves with an unusual pebbly texture. Sage is a common seasoning added to poultry dressing. Leaves can be picked and dried when mature, then crumbled and stored dry or frozen. Earlier in the spring, sage plants produce attractive spikes of medium purple flowers. Each lipped floret is a haven for pollinating insects. Eventually the blooms fade and the plant begins to develop its new growth. Each plant grows substantially each year. The secret to maintaining healthy sage plants year by year is to ruthlessly cut back the previous year's growth each spring thereby encouraging new shoots. The resulting rejuvenated plant is stronger and healthier to help it survive the coming winter.
A tasty and unique appetite teaser can be made by coating sage leaves with batter, then deep-frying. This unusual snack will defy your guest's best guess.
In the past, rue has been used for medicinal purposes that should probably not be pursued in modern times. However the lacy, bluish leaves provide some relief from the usual drab foliage that monopolizes a hot, dry garden. Contrasting clusters of greenish-yellow flowers develop during July that later mature to produce unusual seed pods. These retain their fresh green colour and can be dried to brighten winter bouquets.
Summer savoury is another herb welcome for the flavour it contributes to poultry dressings. Its kinky stems and dainty flowers and foliage do not make a dramatic contribution to the border, but its sister plant, winter savoury, makes a much bigger splash. Winter savoury is cold hardy, and provides a similar though milder taste to meat dishes. Keep this perennial herb under control by clipping short each spring thereby encouraging tasty new growth. Tiny whitish flowers are produced each summer to lighten a thirsty border.
Perhaps the most versatile of the herbs is thyme. This drought tolerant plant can be perennial or annual, but even the annual varieties are bound to recur by self-seeding. Small, ground-hugging varieties with tiny leaves and white flowers, slightly taller varieties with mauve blooms, and English thyme that shuns winter cold all thrive in hot, dry beds. These plants tend to spread dramatically, but because they produce root systems that are compact and shallow they can be easily controlled by pulling up the foliar mats. At a time when pesticides are being reconsidered as solutions for insect and weed control in lawns, incorporating a thyme factor into your turf can produce a tougher lawn that stays green through the summer heat.
Thyme is a main ingredient in embalming fluid. Is it any wonder that in the kitchen this herb is used in moderation?
One of the most useful of herbs from an ornamental aspect is hyssop. For those of us who long for the beauty of a lavender hedge free of disappointing winter kill, hyssop can make a reasonable substitute. Hyssop plants installed as a short hedge around an herb garden or knot garden can be easily trimmed to shape. Two trims per season will keep new growth shapely, neat, and tidy. And blooms similar to lavender appear regularly on new growth. Being winter hardy this herb is far superior to lavender as hedging material for this area.
Most herbs are heat and drought tolerant. They can certainly be relied upon to supply culinary needs and a variety of interest in foliar texture to a summer-dormant garden. 

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row