Gardening during the holiday season is nearly at a standstill except for harvesting late vegetables and enjoying late fall color. But there is more — add to that appreciating those cold-hardy herbs that keep going straight through the winter.
“Tuscan Blue” Rosemary
Location, location, location … that’s all you need to grow enough rosemary to supply the neighborhood. Rosemary officianalis “Tuscan Blue” is an evergreen shrub that blooms winter through spring. It only requires a sunny, infertile spot with occasional deep watering. It grows best in the ground but can also be grown in a container. And it only fails when it’s too wet in winter — not because it’s too cold. It survives temperatures as low as 10 degrees. ‘Tuscan Blue’ is particularly cold-hardy. Plant it in soil that doesn’t retain water. Once it takes, off you can forget about it until it’s getting in your way, or you need it for cooking, or making hair rinse (really). And you can put rosemary branches on a baking sheet and bake on low for about an hour just to fool people into thinking you cooked, a trick you can apply year-round.
The Noble “Sweet Bay”
Laurus nobilis “Sweet bay” is a trickier herb to grow, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Farther south it’s a tree, but in the South Sound, “Sweet Bay” is a dark green, shiny-leaved shrub. Like all of the Mediterranean plants that grow well here, its needs are simple: as much sun as possible and excellent drainage. Bay is slow-growing and thrives particularly well in a moveable container, one that can be placed in a sheltered spot if we get a dreaded Arctic blast. Freshly dried bay leaves add a slightly floral or herbal fragrance to soups, stews, and spaghetti sauce. Fresh-from-the-tree bay adds a menthol, minty, or clovelike fragrance to meats and stews. Bay is evergreen and deer-resistant. Cook with it, or mix it in a holiday wreath. It’s the fragrance that makes bay the most-used herb. Rosemary and bay are both culinary and ornamental marvels and loom large in a local book I must now recommend.
A Taste for Herbs by Sue Goetz
The second book by Sue Goetz, Tacoma’s local herb expert, is a companion book to her first book, The Herb Lover’s Spa Book.
Sue is a designer (thecreativegardener.com) and popular speaker, both locally and nationally. She knows herbs and their uses inside and out. This companion to her spa herb book focuses on herbs as seasonings, mixes, and blends.
A Taste for Herbs is filled with unique ways to mix and use herbs you probably already grow. Sweet mixes like basic herb sugar for baking or rosemary-infused agave are explained along with savory herb flavored oils and vinegars and mixes for flavorful tea infusions. Page 120 has a good Mojito recipe. St. Lynn’s Press; $23.95