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LIVING BETTER: Don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you

It’s time to start thinking about dismantling your garden. Instead of waiting for first frost when you feel compelled to clear your garden and pull anything that looks dried up, dead or decaying, apply the brakes. Your enthusiasm may get the better of you and you’ll wind up destroying part of next year’s crop.

Make sure you know difference between annuals and perennials. To most gardeners that sounds like a no-brainer — almost an insult. But it’s not, because it’s often hard to tell the difference, especially when the weather gets colder and your garden is drying up and cluttered with dead plants, leaves and branches. The goal for most homeowners is to clean up their gardens quickly, often forgetting about what they’re pulling from the ground. The last thing you want to do is pull roots of next year’s gorgeous perennials that ought to lie dormant until spring.

When it comes to herbs, however, the question seldom comes up because most herbs are perennials. Standard perennial herbs include basal, parsley, oregano, sage, chamomile, mint, cilantro, thyme, coriander, dill, marjoram and rosemary, to name a few.

Here is a brief description of a few popular herbs grown throughout North America:

Sage. A sturdy herb that will return even following brutal winters. The only drawback to growing sage for years is that it can become woody and the leaves will grow only on the end of the stems. Avoid this by keeping it pruned back to encourage new growth. The leaves will grow close to the cuts and result in a more beautiful specimen.

Thyme. A hearty herb that grows well in dry areas. Thyme ought to be trimmed regularly. It has a formal presence when trimmed into decorative shapes. It also can be easily multiplied by dividing or taking cuttings.

Lavender. A multipurpose herb, lavender is used for cooking and healing. It’s exquisite and colourful and can be grown throughout your garden. The trick to growing it properly is to give it plenty of space so it can grow with no restrictions. I’m still awed by how large it grows after a few years. If grown in large pots, make sure you move it to a protected area before first frost, and keep roots dry. Dampness will kill lavender.

Mint. It’s one of my favourite herbs, largely because it’s so versatile. Typically, I grow two or three varieties of mint. Next year, I plan to grow about six. If you love mint, check out Mountain Valley Growers website (www.mountainvalleygrowers.com). It listed 18 varieties of mint. Here are a few: Banana, Moroccan, Egyptian, Corsican, Pineapple and chocolate.

But there are hundreds of varieties of mints, all of them are edible. Aside from tasting good, mint has many health benefits, which I’ll get into in greater detail in next week’s column, plus tips for caring for herbs.

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