Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners
NEWBERG, Oregon—Feeling pooped after a long, hot summer? I know I am! I am tired of the sun, the heat, the weeds going to seed, the constant daily watering of plants, and the ceaseless applications of greasy sunblock. I look forward to the cooler and wetter days of Oregon’s fall period (I am a true Oregonian!). As I sit on the bench outside my greenhouse, I notice that I am not the only one that is weary. There are a lot of containerized stock plants that look a bit peckish. In fact, some look downright anemic!
All my citrus plants, including Meyer lemon (Citrus meyeri), Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix), and Buddha’s hand (a member of the Citrus family which has yellow fruit in the shape of a hand) have an overall yellowing of leaves. But what is really noticeable is that out of my entire collection of more than 100 lavenders only the Lavandula stoechas species show a distinctive yellowing of the tips of branches. But I’m not worried, as I discovered a product called Ironite for iron-deficient plants. It’s easy to apply without many additives. Containing only 1 percent nitrogen, the product package claims you can’t burn plants with overfertilization. It goes on to advertise that within twenty-four hours and deep watering of the product, greening will result. Well, I have to admit that my plants did transform. They greened up very quickly. I was so impressed I actually went through my entire stockpile of tortured container plants that over the years I have collected and neglected shamefully. I am reformed!
I find that sowing seeds of some of the more finicky herbs in the compost pile works wonders. Herbs such as sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), Korean angelica (Angelica gigas), and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), which need some sort of seed stratification to break down their hard seed coat or a cold period to break their dormancy, are easily germinated in the compost under Mother Nature’s rule. It is much easier than refrigerating the seeds for months and then sowing them under sterile conditions. The only trick is to remember what part of the compost they are planted in and not use it. When they come up, I take what I want and quickly compost the remainder to prevent thousands from appearing!
This past summer, I didn’t have good results from cuttings of Lavandula viridis—that is the species that has a pinecone-shaped flower head with pale-yellow bracts. But much to my delight, I found many had self-sown in the garden where I had left a pile of old flower heads. It was just a matter of finding them among the weeds and transplanting them up into pots. Some of my nursery friends choose to propagate L. viridis by seed rather than from cuttings, as it can be finicky to root from cuttings.
Conversely, L. angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ is so easily propagated from seed that over the years many of the large nurseries have generated thousands of seed-grown variable ‘Hidcote’ plants, while the true genetic ‘Hidcote’ has almost been lost to the trade. (I know of only one nursery in England that boasts the true ‘Hidcote’ cultivar from original stock that has been carefully propagated by vegetative cuttings only.) I assume the new cultivars L. a. ‘Hidcote Blue’ and L. a. ‘Hidcote Superior’ that have recently appeared on the market are just selected forms from originally seed-grown ‘Hidcote’ stock.
The Royal Botanic Garden in Kew Gardens in England has just finished a four-year trial on fifty-five lavender cultivars and species. Its focus was on flower color, foliage color, scent, length of flowering period, growth habit, and winter hardiness. From this criteria they awarded the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit (AGM) to only sixteen cultivars. The following is a partial list of the lavenders receiving the AGM awards: blue-flowered lavenders (L. a. ‘Imperial Gem’, L. a. ‘Loddon Blue’), dwarf plants (L. a. ‘Little Lottie’ and L. a. ‘Nana Alba’), pink-flowered lavender (L. a. ‘Miss Katherine’), white-flowered and large (L. ¥intermedia ‘Alba’), silver-foliaged (L. ‘Richard Gray’ and L. ‘Sawyers’), and L. stoechas ‘Willow Vale’. To emphasize the importance of buying vegetatively propagated cultivars, the RHS rescinded their former Award of Garden Merit to L. angustifolia ‘Twickel Purple’, probably due in part to the numerous different selections sold under this name. I, too, have three or four different plants all sold under the name of L. ‘Twickel Purple’. What’s an herbalist to do? All this nomenclature confusion makes my mind a muddle.
Andrew Van Hevelingen is a professional herb grower and frequent contributor to The Herb Companion. He enjoys writing, photography and gardening at his Newberg, Oregon, home.
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