Herb gardening in Charlotte

Herb gardening in Charlotte

by Ellen Goff

Herbs have been cultivated by cultures around the world since ancient times. The number of species identified as useful herbs has varied along with their application for medicinal, culinary, ceremonial, cosmetic and household purposes. The earliest botanical illustrations were drawn as a guide for plant gatherers to identify the correct plant for a specific application.

The classification of a plant as an herb depends on how someone uses it. Select species of trees; shrubs; perennial, annual and biennial plants; vines; ferns; and mosses all have herbal qualities. Most Americans can name a small group of plants used to flavor cooked food, but most sources agree each culture uses herbs in a different way.

It may seem strange that a tree could be considered a herb, but consider Bay Laurel leaves used for cooking; Sassafras as a flavoring and the key ingredient in gumbo's file powder; Sandalwood as an essential oil for perfume and incense; and Cinnamon, Allspice and Calabash Nutmeg trees for their spice nuts.

"Herbs are relatively pest- and disease-free, requiring little more than a well-drained, sunny location and moderately fertile soil," says Deborah Moore Clark, an author, lecturer and local Master Gardener who has 20 years of experience growing herbs in our region's red clay soil. "They can take much more heat and much less water than many summer flowers, and have fewer demands than vegetables. Proper soil preparation is the key to success with herbs."

Clark suggests adding compost to loosen the clay soil structure, supply nutrients and provide adequate drainage for herbs. Her favorite herbs include rosemary and Genovese basil. Rosemary is beautiful all year and can serve as a foundation shrub. It's fresh piney leaves are great for cooking. To grow this herb, raise the pH of the soil with a little Dolomitic lime. Genovese basil is a sweet, leafy variety used in pesto sauce and fresh Italian salads.

"To me, herbs are irresistible," Clark says. "They delight your senses, your palate and your spirit. I could never garden without them."

Ellen Goff is a master gardener and environmental advocate. Aside from writing about and photographing plants, Ellen tends to a 3-acre landscape she shares with her husband, cat and border collie on the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.



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