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Advice & More September 2016

The Midnight Gardener

The Scent of Herbs

By Lori Rose

The leaves of the lemon-scented herbs are an irresistible mixture of sweet and citrus that compliments the lighter foods, drinks and desserts of summer. Use only the leaves when cooking or drying. Instead of discarding the leftover stems, run them through the garbage disposal with hot water and enjoy the clean, refreshing scent.

Here’s a perfect garden plant that grows up to two feet tall and wide, with flower colors ranging from white to deep purple. Although the flowers are edible, this plant is used primarily for its magnificent scent. What is this hearty garden lovely? Lavender.

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Zones 5-10) is a woody plant with gray-green leaves. It is famous for the fragrance of its dried flowers, is deer resistant, and attracts butterflies and bees to the garden. Try it en masse, or as a short hedge or border planting. The silvery leaves compliment nearly every flower color. Lavender plants are intriguing in containers and flower gardens as well as the herb garden.

Lavender thrives in dry, sunny locations and is drought tolerant. For best results, plant English lavender in a sheltered area out of the wind. Adding sand and/or lime to the soil, and planting it on a slope can help avoid winter-kill. French lavender is also lovely. Use it as an annual, as it will rarely survive our winters.

The fragrance of lavender is beloved in many parts of the world. Its essence can be found in oils, perfumes, soaps, and room sprays. But there is nothing like the scent of lavender flowers grown in your very own garden.

The fresh scent and flavor of lemons pervades our lives, from our cleaning products to our desserts. We can grow lemon trees in a greenhouse, but there’s another way to grow your own lemon scent and flavor with lemon-scented herbs. Use them fresh to give a lemony lift to chicken, fish, pasta, jellies, teas and desserts.

It would be easy to create a lemony herb garden, if these plants all required the same soil and light conditions, but they don’t. Still, it isn’t hard to find a spot for at least one lemony herb in your yard or on your patio. They all enjoy growing in containers, as either the container’s centerpiece or as an accent plant.

Not to give one preference over another, here they are in alphabetical order: Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), lemon basil (Ocimum basilicum citriodorum), and lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla).

Lemon balm gets two feet tall and wide when it has some shade and moist soil. It is a nice addition to any flower or herb garden, and is perennial in Zones 5-9. It has pretty, serrated leaves in a clear green that sets off any color flower. Lemon balm will produce hundreds of seedlings. If you prefer it didn't, cut off 1/3 of the plant when the flowers form in summer. The flowers are small and whitish, and can be hard to see under the leaves.

Lemon basil, like all basils, prefers light, well-drained soil, full sun, and the warmest part of the garden. Grow this annual from seeds or plants set in warm soil in late spring. Pinch it frequently to keep the plant about 18 inches tall. Also pinch off any flowers that form, as they make the leaves bitter. Lemon basil will thrive when grown with tomatoes, since they both love heat and lots of sunshine. And like tomatoes, this tender annual will be killed by frost.

Lemon verbena will grow tall in moist soil and a warm, sheltered location, like against the south side of the house. This shrub is a native of Chile and Argentina, and is grown as an annual from Zone 8 and colder. Or, it can be wintered over in a container after the leaves fall off. The sensory experience of the lemon scent is enhanced by masses of purple or white flowers in the summer. Lemon verbena has the strongest flavor of the lemony herbs, so use it sparingly. It grows well from plants or cuttings set about four feet apart.

The leaves of the lemon-scented herbs are an irresistible mixture of sweet and citrus that compliments the lighter foods, drinks and desserts of summer. Use only the leaves when cooking or drying. Instead of discarding the leftover stems, run them through the garbage disposal with hot water and enjoy the clean, refreshing scent.

Gently rub lavender and lemon-scented herb plants between your fingers to savor the lovely perfumes of summer in your very own garden.

 

Lori Rose, The Midnight Gardener, May all your weeds be dandelions from a child

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