Maria Griener is a freelance writer, novelist, and landscape contractor.

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Garden Hotties
by Maria Griener    


This variegated sage against a background of flowering garden sage is a lovely and hardy addition to any herb garden.


Mexican tarragon will grow up to 3 feet.
 


These rosemary bushes were planted as a half dozen seedlings. Now they’re a forest of culinary delight.


Mint has a reputation of growing unchecked in herb gardens, so watch where you plant it.


These giant clumps of garlic chives will easily enhance a summer’s worth of pasta.


Don’t forget to trim the seed heads from basil in order to promote full leaf growth.


Surprisingly, passionflower is considered an herb by some. It has medicinal as well as ornamental
properties.

’Tis the season of the “Twin 95s.” Ninety-five degrees and 95 percent humidity, that is.  As a result, the parsley has gone to seed in most gardens. So has the dill. The nasturtium flowers have withered away. But fear not. The hotties are here to stay, bringing forth blooms and new growth despite the Deep South’s mantle of full sun.

 

Rosemary

Rosemary tops the list. It thrives in the heat. I once saw a rosemary bush with a diameter of 5 feet growing from a split-oak barrel. Its soil was chalky gray and hard as cement. All the better for rosemary. They need well-drained soil and plenty of sun. One gardener lined his bed with pea gravel and devoted that area to rosemary. Now, years later, the half dozen seedlings have grown into a forest that blankets the entire bed.

 

The Herb Trinity

Oregano and garlic chives along with rosemary are the herb trinity, as far as my herb garden is concerned. When I have all three of them established, I can begin to expand my horizons. Oregano is rock solid in its ability to withstand hot sun and even occasional neglect. And the more of its leaves I cull, the bushier it becomes. The same goes for the garlic chives.

 

Basil

As long as basil is planted in an area that doesn’t get full sun all day, it thrives through the summer months. And the varieties of basil out there today expand the color spectrum in the garden as well as the culinary pleasures from your kitchen. Lemon basil, anise basil, purple basil, green ruffles basil and sweet basil grow well in the South. Avoid planting them near mint but do plant them near tomatoes and peppers.

 

Tansy

Tansy, also known as golden buttons, is a potent medicinal herb that grows easily and gives great annual color to your garden. When many herbs and plants have given their last performance, tansy is just coming into its own right there in full sun. It starts to bloom in June and won’t stop until September. Give it lots of room because it will increase its mass several fold. They’re great as cut flowers and retain most of their color when dried. Tansy does well in many different garden soils and its camphor-like scent offers insecticidal and deodorizing properties.

 

Bee Balm

Native to North America, bee balm, also called bergamot, has a citrus scent and lovely scarlet, pink or purple flower heads that look like miniature crowns with whorls of petal-like jewels. It is also known as Oswego tea and was drunk regularly by Native Americans. Bee balm likes some sun but also needs shade for part of the day. In the wild, it grows in moist soils of thickets and deciduous woodlands. Flowers start to bloom in late May or early June and continue for several weeks. Sometimes, bee balm gets so leggy that it may need to be staked. Plant them toward the back of your herb garden and you’ll notice that not only the bees will stop to drink in their beauty, the two-leggeds will stop to admire them as well!

 

Mexican Tarragon

Mexican tarragon, also known as mint marigold, has an anise scent and flavor to its leaves and does well in our hot summers. This bushy shrub can grow up to 3 feet high and is very easy to maintain. In the summer, small yellow flower heads appear in clusters on the ends of the stems. This is a good herb to have close to your garden edge so you can brush your hands along the leaves and release its tarragon-like scent. If using Mexican tarragon as a replacement for French tarragon, use less because the flavors are more pronounced.

Mexican mint marigold also attracts beneficial bugs, so its surrounding herb companions will also be pleased with its presence.

 

Mints

Speaking of mint, how can we forget that family of herbs? The repertoire of scents that the mint family provides is astounding. There’s peppermint, spearmint, apple mint and even a pineapple mint. They will take over a garden bed if you don’t watch it. All these mints will do fine all summer, but do give them some shade and don’t forget that they like plenty of moisture. The more you harvest your mint bed, the more they will like you and reward you with lush growth.

Red shisho (Perilla frutescens) is also a member of the mint family. It has deep reddish-purple leaves with a bronze metallic sheen and grows up to 3 feet tall. It looks much like coleus. Sporting pale lavender, pink or white flowers, this annual plant needs well-drained soil and full sun. It is known to be drought-tolerant and doesn’t start to bolt until the fall. Watch for potential invasiveness, especially in Tennessee and Virginia.

 

Burnet

Who said you can’t grow salad in the summer in the South? Burnet, also known as salad burnet, has a flavor that is reminiscent of cucumbers and will add zing to your garden salads. It is also an attractive edging plant, particularly because of its dainty foliage. It can grow up to 3 feet in height and often reseeds itself. Once it is established, it is a tough-as-nails plant. One of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, ordered enough burnet seed to plant up to 16 acres. He (and his cattle) liked it that much!

 

Herbal Trees

Remember, herbs are not just small, low-growing shrubs with maximum heights of 3 feet or so. There are some trees and shrublike trees that have herbal properties and are thus included in herbal compendiums. Sassafras, eucalyptus and bay are some examples, and all do well through our summer months. Chaste tree, Vitex agnus-castus, which has herbal properties, thrives in our heat, and its white or purplish flower panicles that appear in late May and early June never cease to delight.

 

Violet and Elderberry

Two of my favorite native herbs are sweet violet and elderberry. Sweet violet is a low-growing perennial herb with heart-shaped, slightly downy leaves; they have formed a thick carpet in one corner of my back field. The tiny flowers in spring can be eaten and you don’t need to be concerned about putting a stop to their growth cycle. The spring-blooming flowers are “false flowers,” meaning they are sterile. Only the fall flowers yield seeds.

I’ve heard that wild violets can be transplanted easily if the growing environment is maintained, and even though they only reach a height of up to 6 inches, they will make a lovely border around the herb garden with their delicate, scalloped leaves.

Elderberry makes me think of my grandparents and their generation. I wish I had access to elderberry wine like they did. Just about everyone knows an elderberry bush on a personal basis. If they’re not growing in that empty lot in your neighborhood, then you can find them growing along your local highway. Even Shakespeare had something to say about them.

 

The List Goes On

This list is by no means extensive. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about yarrow or wormwood. Or hyssop or sage. Did you know that passionflower is considered an herb? It was once used to treat tension, fatigue, insomnia and muscle spasms. In Italy it is used to treat hyperactive children.

The wonderful thing about herbs is that once you get to know a dozen or so of them, you’ll want to start growing others, even if they’re not tried-and-true heat-resistant plants. This year I’m growing lemon grass to see how it weathers August and September. So far, so good. My Asian cookbooks are on hand . . .

 

(From Louisiana Gardener Volume VI Issue VII. Photography by Maria  Griener)    

 

 

Posted: 06/24/11   RSS | Print

 

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COMMENTS

klawdya - 08/13/2015

Miss Huff lantana thrives in full sun and ninety-five degree heat. It looks beautiful in Atlanta all summer. It is however, slow to leaf out in the spring, but well worth the wait. Also attracts tons of butterflies.

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