Are you going to Scarborough Fair? By Lorraine Kiefer

The New Jersey coast is one of the best places to have an herb garden. The well drained soil, sunshine and breezes all encourage healthy plants. 

Rosemary and lavender grow best at the shore and throughout most of the Delaware Valley, but then so do many other herbs. A mild but cool winter allows perennial herbs the rest they need and the long growing season from frost to frost gives them plenty of time to grow.
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme as the old song goes are among of the most popular herbs of all and almost everyone is familiar with them.  There are many more, many culinary but some fragrant, historic or native. Herbs are fun, they smell good, and they are useful. They make me think of a peaceful sunny garden of long ago, and they are among the oldest plants grown by man. Herbs are timeless! Early man used them for medicines, food, and pleasure. People have always been fascinated by the fragrant, medicinal, and culinary qualities displayed by many of these plants.

An herb garden can be as small as a barrel or window box, as fancy as a bricked path knot garden, or as casual as some generous rows planted among the tomatoes and beans. There are many such examples in Cape May. Several of the historic places such as the Physick house have herb gardens. Many home owners have herbs in both their flower beds and vegetable gardens and there are pots and window boxes every where with the homeowners favorite basils, parsley, and other culinary herbs.

An herb garden is so essential to a home and family. There is lavender for love and fragrance. Make potpourri with it or tie it into bath bags. There is basil for all the Italian dishes, sage for immortality and Thanksgiving dinner. How about using rosemary for remembrance and for the pork roast for Sunday dinner?  Fragrant mint for tea, chives for the baked potato, dill to toss with sour cream on cucumbers and lots and lots of parsley for just about everything you serve. Sweet woodruff can go in the May wine with strawberries, and thyme has many uses too. The list goes on and on and on and on.

Although most culinary herbs do best in sun, there are a few exceptions that can take less than full sun if they get good sun at noon.  A lot of this placement is trial and error. Some spreading herbs such as mints, lemon balm, monarda, and even woodruff are all best grown under trees where they become a useful ground cover and smother out weeds. Try mowing mint before a picnic and the whole yard smells nice and is said to be insect-free. This is a good reason to grow mint beneath the picnic table. 

To begin your herb garden now or any time this summer choose a sunny spot in which to grow your favorite herbs.  Landscape ties (8x8x4) filled with a good, well-drained soil work very well.  You can edge this with thymes, parsley, nasturtium and viola.

As you move near the center use the shorter herbs and then plant the tall ones in the center. Try sage, lavender, rosemary, basil, Italian parsley, lovage, chives, tarragon, dill, cilantro, lemon verbena, lemon grass and scented geraniums for a few that will be fun to grow and use. Save the mints, lemon balm, bergamot and oregano for a spot outside the raised bed where they can spread readily. I use many of these under tress as a ground cover that is fragrant and easy to grow to keep weeds away. Try a few herbs now, they will grow on you!

75th anniversary of Herb Society of America!

In 1933 group of woman in Boston first met in a garden to share their knowledge and enjoyment of herbs.  This was the beginning of the Herb Society of America. Their mission states "The Herb Society of America is dedicated to promoting the knowledge, use, and delight of herbs through educational programs, research, and sharing the experience of its members with the community."  This national society is open to all and has local units in many areas.
  I have been a member of this group for over 25 years.  Ten years ago we have started a local South Jersey unit of the Herb Society of America, which has members from Cape May, Gloucester, Camden, Cumberland, Salem, and Burlington counties. This group meets throughout the region with some meetings in Camden County, others in Cape May County, and several rights in the middle at the Franklin Township community center in Gloucester County. Meetings range from teas to garden visits to programs with speakers on herbal lore, crafts, food, and history.  Many of the members have an herb garden ranging from a large pot or barrel to a large plot.  Some members volunteer to work on public herb gardens as helpers and many do educational projects such as talks and demonstrations at public events.  The group plants and maintains a garden at Scotland Run Nature Center.

- Lorraine Kiefer

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