HOLIDAY WRAPPED IN HERBS
ATLANTA, Georgia—The end of the old year and the beginning of
the new one is a time of merrymaking to counteract the long nights
of winter. In the Southeast, the weather is typically sweater
weather, crisp and clear, though I remember several Christmases in
the high 70s. The ground doesn’t really freeze here, and I confess
throwing in some lycoris bulbs—a.k.a. naked ladies—in late January
(after they were discounted) with no problems.
Herbs traditionally associated with the holiday season include
bedstraw, sweet woodruff, rosemary, and holly. These are picked
fresh from the garden and pinned on wreaths or used in kissing
balls tied with red velvet ribbons. Our Lady’s-bedstraw (Galium
verum) and sweet woodruff (G. odoratum) have aromatic leaves in
whorls up the stems. Yellow or white clusters of tiny flowers
ornament the plants in spring. Bedstraw was traditionally used to
stuff mattresses, while sweet woodruff is used to flavor German May
Wine. They are assumed to have been used in the Christ child’s
manger and are therefore associated with Christmas. The red berries
of holly (Ilex aquifolium) are protection against all evil. If a
hardier holly grows in your part of the country, include it
instead. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), the herb of
remembrance, is sometimes in bloom by now, with beautiful blue
flowers on the ends of the long, pine-scented branches.
Bedstraw and sweet woodruff are assumed to have been
used in the Christ child’s manger.
Another way I like to use the traditional herbs is to steep them
in various holiday beverages. Perhaps you will join me in serving
this favorite for your merrymaking.
Geri’s Apricot Holiday Swizzle
Makes 1 gallon
2 cups fresh sweet woodruff leaves
4 cups (1 quart) strong tea
4 cups apricot nectar, chilled
1 teaspoon angostura bitters
Two 12-ounce cans frozen concentrated lemonade, thawed
6 cups (2 liters) ginger ale, chilled
2 cups peach brandy
3 cups vodka
Steep the sweet woodruff in the hot tea, covered. After 20
minutes, remove the herb by straining, and chill the tea. Mix all
of the ingredients in a large punch bowl. I like to float an ice
ring in the bowl that has peach slices, bedstraw, woodruff, and
rosemary frozen in the ice.
MORE HERBS IN STORE
LANSING, New York—Isn’t it wonderful to see culinary herbs among
the fruits and vegetables in the supermarkets today? Either growing
in small pots or fresh cut in plastic bags, there they are—Italian
and curly parsleys, thyme, basil, chives, dill, marjoram,
lemongrass, cilantro, sometimes even rosemary. In my part of the
country this has come about only in the last decade or so. Before
that, people either grew their own cooking herbs or bought them dry
in small bottles—except curly parsley, which was always offered but
mostly used only for garnishing. “Presentation,” the French call
The first time I ever saw fresh herbs in a grocery store was in
the early 1960s when we were living in Italy, where what I believe
was the first “supermercato” opened in Florence. I was pleased,
almost touched, to see that in the poultry department, each chicken
wrapped in cellophane had a large sprig of fresh rosemary pressed
against its breast. “Ah!” I thought, “Only in Europe!” But now such
things are common here in America. The other day, in a restaurant
that works toward “presentation,” I was served a crab salad
surrounded by greens, and in the middle, standing upright from the
crab salad, was a large sprig of fresh rosemary. I wasn’t
interested in eating the rosemary sprig with the crab salad, but it
showed the right spirit. I considered putting it in my pocket.
As I look out the window, watching the snow swirl about, I’m
thinking, of course, of next spring’s gardening chores and
projects. I’m working on a list titled “Spring Jobs, 2002.” 1. Move
the shasta daisies to the back of the east border. 2. Put white
Japanese iris where the shasta was. 3. Divide the Nepeta nervosa.
(By the way, don’t you think N. nervosa the best of the lot? Such a
sturdy, non-flopping little plant, and its flowers are such a good
color). And so on.
But in addition to thinking ahead, I’m thinking back to last
summer when I revisited one of my favorite gardens—the herb garden
at Cornell University. It was looking better than ever with its
wonderful plantings, stone walls, and small, stone-paved “rooms”
here and there. Different sections of the garden are reserved for
particular types of herbs—dye, medicinal, culinary, fragrant, and
sacred—more categories than I can just now remember. Maps are
provided, and every plant has its marker, so one can learn a lot
while making a leisurely tour.
One of the greatest things about this garden is that its
curator, Diane Miske, is not only a fine plantswoman, but an artist
as well, combining colors and textures with great skill. I
especially enjoyed what she does with black or wine-red foliage and
lemon yellow or orange. Beneath a great lavender and gray explosion
of Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), for example, is a mass
of ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil; a swath of silver spearmint (Mentha
spicata ‘Silver’), which repeats the gray foliage and lavender
blossoms of the Russian sage, backs clumps of purple-leaved
Peruvian pepper. And plants with green leaves variegated with
yellow pick up the color of yellow daisies in the background.
Rough, nubbly leaves of that delightful 6-foot gray ‘Berggarten’
sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’) contrast with the smooth,
silky foliage of nearby basils.
If you come to visit this garden, you’ll find many such
delights, plus beautiful plant combinations in pots and containers.
There are other gardens nearby as well.
A NEW LAVENDER TUNE
Andy Van Hevelingen
NEWBERG, Oregon—While listening to the radio recently, I heard
an old song that goes, “Lavender blue, dilly dilly, lavender green,
when I am king, dilly dilly, you’ll be my queen.” The lyrics
reminded me of a lavender called ‘Dilly Dilly’ that I saw in a
local garden nursery. That may be a great name for a lavender
cultivar, but it’s an imposter! I was given the same plant months
earlier, and after observation and research (including the
dependable Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder directory), I
figured out that the name is just a synonym for ‘Grosso’ lavandin
(Lavandula ¥intermedia ‘Grosso’). Apparently, the name mix-up
occurred in Australia, and the plant returned to England as a new
cultivar and then spread to the United States.
Along with this plant I was given ‘Andreas’ lavender. I was not
familiar with its name so I assumed it was a new Californian
cultivar named for the San Andreas fault. I later found out it was
originally from New Zealand. It is a cross between L. angustifolia
and L. lanata that has a beautiful silver cast to its foliage and
long velvety flower stems with dark flowers.
With New Year’s resolutions before me, I must make a clean
breast of it, and confess to an error in lavender judgment. Earlier
this year, I made some disparaging remarks about the new Madrid
Series of Spanish lavender (L. stoechas). Now, I want to make
amends and retract my statements about the lax growth of L.
stoechas ‘Madrid White’. Although it has floppy growth habits in
the greenhouse, it is a good compact upright grower in the field.
Furthermore, it has noticeably larger and superior white flower
bracts (the “rabbit ears”) than the typical white-flowered Spanish
lavender. It bloomed continuously and abundantly throughout the
summer and was easy to pick out in the lavender field.
The English lavender ‘DeLavande’ has a remarkably long
I was also delighted with a local introduction by Rhonda Whetham
(Forever Lavender) of ‘Caty Blanc’ lavender (also called ‘Cathy’s
White’ or ‘White Grosso’). It is a lavandin she brought back from
France that she named after her French friend, Caty. It grows like
a ‘Grosso’ but has long white flower heads—at least two to three
times longer than the typical white lavandin. It made lovely
lavender wands— although no one knew it had white flowers inside
rather than lavender ones!
And for those of you who have seen the English lavender
‘DeLavande’, I found it has a remarkably long blooming season, from
June to August, and is very fragrant. I understand it can grow at
altitudes to 4,000 feet above sea level and is used by French
aromatherapists for its essential oil. It is propagated from seed
and consequently variable in growth and flower. It is not just one
specific cultivar but a genotype; I have about ten distinct types
of ‘DeLavande’ lavender.
But enough talk of lavenders. Watch for an exciting new
introduction of tricolor sage called ‘Mildred Faye’s Rainbow’ from
a grower in Tenino, Washington. Instead of the three colors (gray,
purple, and white) of the classic tricolor, this cultivar adds a
variety of cream and pink colors. It will provide an exciting
foliage contrast in the herb and perennial garden. It is named
after an herb grower’s mother who recently passed away.