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A Sense of Herbs - Next Winter's Pleasures

March 03, 2003|by Dorry Baird Norris

The seed catalogs arrive and I plunge headlong into the abyss that promises instant gratification for the summer garden. But I should also be remembering the plants I thought about in January that would help lighten the gloom of next winter.

It's always a delight to have a store of dried things to brighten up the place after the holidays. Here of few of those. They aren't the dressiest in the garden but do wonders for winter morale. And they are easy-to-grow perennials. As well as simple to dry.

Does your house smell stale? Shade-loving sweet woodruff (Galium odorata), a wonderful groundcover, picked just as it blooms and tossed into baskets to dry, serve to absorb odors and lend the house the sweet scent of new mown hay.

No garden ever has too many lavender plants. Dried, the stems are fragrant as well as beautiful. Lavendula angustifolia 'Hidcote' is compact, hardy and fragrant. This year, I will be trying the new English lavender 'Royal Velvet,' which is said to have darker flower stalks than other varieties.

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Your lavender plants will relish having eggshells, crushed in water, worked in around their bases.

Looking for interesting seed pods to lend height to winter arrangements? Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is just the ticket. This tall ferny-leafed plant thrives in sun or shade and reseeds its ridged, brown seeds with abandon. The seeds were once ground and used to polish oak furniture.

Sun-loving bee balm (Monarda didyma) flowers dry to a rich red. M. didyma 'Jacob Kline' and 'Gardenview Scarlet' both are mildew resistant with large bracts. You can also add the dried flowers to winter salads for a minty taste.

The dried seed heads of fragrant garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), look like tiny tan flowers. Mixed with branches of sweet cicely seed heads and the stems of blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis), these make stately dried arrangements.

Blackberry lily sports a beautiful orange-red flower that looks like a cross between a lily and an iris. The flower becomes a pod that splits opens to reveal what looks like a clump of shiny, black berries. It likes a sunny spot with rich soil.

When dried, the leaves of the native hoary mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum,) turn silvery white looking like they have been frosted. An added bonus is that they retain their spearmint fragrance. Mountain mints are less invasive than some of the other mints.

Tansy (Tanecetum vulgare) can be a bully in the garden but if you have a wild spot, it is worth growing. The yellow yarrow-like flowers dry nicely.

Sanguisorba canadensis - great burnet - is an erect, perennial growing to three feet. Burnet enjoys damp, acid soil and some afternoon shade. The four-inch seed head reminds one of a maroon pipe cleaner. It is especially nice in winter bouquets in combination with Herrenhausen oregano.

If you're in the market for an interesting vine, hops (Humulus lupulus) will quickly cover a trellis. It produces delightful green husks (like papery pine cones). The pods have a slightly yeasty smell and a reputation for alleviating tension and insomnia. Dried hops are used as an ingredient in sleep pillows.

And don't forget the rose hips. Besides making a wonderful vitamin C rich tea, rose hips from your rugosa roses add a welcome touch of red to wreaths and bouquets.

There you have it: easy plants that will pay off next winter with their decorative value.

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