Freshly Minted Mints

Everything you ever wanted to know about mint.

| April/May 2004

  • Mint breeder Jim Westerfield extends the boundaries of common notions regarding mints.
    Jim Long
  • 'Marilyn's Sweet Salad' mint is named for Westerfield's wife, Marilyn. "The mint is strong, robust and full of life, just like my dear, sweet wife," he says.
    Jim Long
  • Westerfield trials several mints in his garden and continually documents every aspect of the plants before patenting or trademarking and releasing them commercially.
    Jim Long
  • 'Fruit Sensations' mint is one of several crossbred mints still under investigation in Westerfield's mint-testing garden.
    Jim Long
  • Jim Westerfield and his friend Chuck Voigt peruse the minted landscape.
    Jim Long

Freeburg, Illinois — Jim Westerfield’s garden is a celebration of the remarkable variety found in the mint family. On one side of his extensive garden, you’ll see a bed of mints ranging from tiny to compact; in the other direction, you’ll find plants the size of a home-landscape shrub. “I didn’t realize mints bloomed so lavishly,” one guest commented recently as she looked over the garden where Jim has been hard at work testing and breeding minty-fresh hybrids.

Diversity is the name of the game here where some of Jim’s plants bloom with light purple flowers, others with pink or lavender blooms. Some of the mints feature large, deep-green leaves, while others’ tiny leaves reflect the lighter side of green. Some plants are near-miniatures and others — the show mints — are assertive and robust. These show mints have been brought into production, or are about to be, through Jim’s extensive crossbreeding program.

Magnificent Mint Experiments

Jim and his wife, Marilyn, ran a bed and breakfast near Freeburg for many years. Marilyn’s lunches and dinners, often at holiday time and for special events for groups, were notable and highly innovative. Luncheons and dinners included Jim’s program about antique furniture for the guests, with a tour of the herb gardens outside the dining room. Over time, Jim began hybridizing mints and pollinating his mint collection with other mints. Eventually, some new and exciting hybrids began to emerge.

Anyone who propagates plants knows that mints freely hybridize themselves. That freely hybridizing spirit can be annoying if you aren’t intending on producing a variety of new offspring. But in his garden, Jim has turned mints’ aggravating habit into an advantage.

Mints are promiscuous plants. Eagerly invading each other’s beds, they trade flavors and pollens and their offspring may be a combination of the previous parents, or, like rebellious teenagers of any generation, become something not recognizable to either parent.

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