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THE ORGANIC LANDSCAPE: Herbal Landscapes

by Susan Hamilton

 

My ideal landscape is one filled with hardy perennial and annual herbs. Herbs generally do not require rich soil but do like a loose texture. Often, herb leaves are more obvious than their flowers.

Most of the following plants survive winter temperatures of minus 40. Perennials are noted as P.

 

COMFREY (P, 30" /76cm): This herb provides the most effective break between the tall wild grasses and the mowed lawn. Used to encircle large trees, Comfrey provides aesthetically pleasing lawn transitions, reminiscent of English heritage gardens. Growing in full sun, and less robustly in shade, it competes with the most determined scotch grass. However, it is not recommended for small gardens as its root/leaf structures grow too large.

Comfrey keeps grasses out of our vegetable garden; we segregate it from the veggies with a row of tilling. If it gets too leggy, a brusque cut rejuvenates. Comfrey leaves add essential nutrients to compost piles and tomato plants.

The most desirable landscaping and medicinal variety is Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum): Bocking #14 has lavender flowers, a high alkaloid content, and rust resistance, while the plain Bocking variety is good for goats, pigs and poultry. Ordinary Symphytum Officinale comes with purple, rose or white flowers and is not as rust resistant as Bocking #14. Dwarf Comfrey (Symphytum Grandiflorum), with cream and pink flowers, is for smaller gardens.

 

ANGELICA (6'/2m): Angelica archangelica is a stunning dark green biennial that will grow in full sun or semi shade. This large plant provides a terrific edging or backdrop for the garden. The young stems are delicious candied. Massive seed heads are attractive to small birds, and it’s a stimulating substitute for chewing gum or coffee.

CATNIP (P, 24" /61cm): Nepeta cateria , with its soft grey-green foliage, often grows in sunny and shady nooks where other plants die. Top catnip occasionally in the summer so it doesn’t go to seed. The cuttings make a wonderful relaxing summer tea, good for a gentle night’s sleep, and a winter tea for colds.

WORMWOOD (P, 24"+/60 cm+): Artemisia absinthium and members of its family are mid-size plants. These add silver-green accents to sunny areas. We stop robbing in our beehives by stuffing wormwood in their entrances. Silver King Wormwood (A. Ludoviciana albula) has a distinctive foliage that does double duty in dried flower arrangements.

SOUTHERNWOOD (P, 18"/46cm): Artemisia abrotanum is a more delicate, fragrant plant, with leaves like a fine greyish-green mist.

SILVER MOUND WORMWOOD (12" /30cm): Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’ forms small compact mounds.

CHIVES (P, 16"/41 cm): Allium Schoenoprasum has a short, more compact growth, useful for hiding the unsightly foundations of homes and encircling gardens, fruit trees and rose bushes. Once established, chives are very competitive with weeds and grasses. We have huge productive rows of chives and clumps of thyme, left untended in fields for ten years. Chives grow in full sun and partial shade. Beware though: they get rust if kept too dry. Chives provide one of our first spring greens. In mid June, we pick the delicate pink blossoms and cover them with vinegar, producing a delicious fragrant pink salad vinegar.

GARLIC CHIVES (P, 12"/30 cm): Allium tuberosum are more delicate aesthetically, and slightly less competitive. Growth is sparser, with a wider, flatter leaf and striking white flowers. Allium sp. has mauve flowers. This herb is a culinary and aesthetic delight.

CELANDINE (P, 16"/41 cm): Chelidonium majus lives happily in a woodland setting in the shade of trees and bushes. Verdant green clumps produce small yellow flowers. It may prove too prolific for some, but for me it is one of the most aesthetically pleasing landscape herbs. Celandine can be used to encircle trees for a soft visual effect. The yellow sap is a great wart remedy, but celandine is NOT EDIBLE.

THYME: Members of the low growing Thyme family are perfect in sunny dry places. They are perennials which provide a wide range of textures, flavors, fragrance, and pinkish blossoms. All thymes need to be weeded diligently initially. Winter survival is variable but the following have proven themselves. Mother of Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) has pink flowers and is the most hardy. It complements rocky areas and disguises rubble. Thymus vulgaris or English Thyme has dark green, easy-to-pick leaves. Once established in dry sandy area, it survives nicely. No kitchen or medicine cabinet should be without it.

 

Thymus pulegioides or Doone Valley Lemon Thyme is a variegated creeping thyme. The dark green and brilliant yellow leaves delight the eye. It’s quite hardy and my favorite for cooking. The smaller varieties, crimson creeping, woolly and variegated silver thyme, are lovely in rock gardens but their hardiness is variable.

 

CALENDULA (12"/30cm): Calendula Officinalis is a colorful flowering annual that lasts well into autumn. Crushed leaves are superb for insect bites, and fresh and dried flower petals are a welcome addition to food.

BASIL: My landscape includes pasta consciousness, meaning the Basil family (tender fussy annuals). Ocimum basilicum has 24 different varieties listed in Richter's Herb Catalogue. Bush Basil (Ocimum basilicum minimum) forms compact 10"/25cm balls that mimic topiary without the work. Tender Purple Ruffles Basil adds distinctive color contrast amid the bright greens of parsley and silver greys of the Artemisia family.

These are only a few of the landscape herbs you can learn to enjoy.

 

Best herb sources:

Plants and Seeds: Richters, Goodwood, Ontario LOC 1A0

Seeds: William Dam, Box 8400, Dundas, Ontario L9H 6M1

 

Susan Hamilton of South Mountain, Ontario has been an organic herb grower for 26 years, a member of the Herb Society of America for 18 years, and a member of COG for 15 years

 

 

 

Copyright 1995. Susan Hamilton

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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