Round Robin: Early Green

Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners

| February/March 1996

ATLANTA, Georgia—Spring comes early to Atlanta: the weeping willow beyond the creek greens up in February. Some years, when sunny 65°F weather arrives soon after Valentine’s Day and summer is postponed by a cool, rainy May, spring stretches to four glorious months.

A number of woody herbs, such as thyme, germander, winter savory, lavender, and rosemary, are clothed in leaves and sometimes even flowers. What a sight to see my gnarled old rosemary shrub in a veil of pale blue flowers at the end of winter! Their blue seems to be reflected in a pool of blue pansies at the base of the rosemary, which blooms from October through May.

A handful of herbaceous perennial herbs are evergreen, and a welcome sight. The fountain of gray-green leaflets of salad burnet, each glistening with dewdrops sparkling in the sun; the brave bright green of parsley that withstands winter’s cold rains; and the scrabble of bedstraw and its more decorous relative, sweet woodruff: all blend foliage colors and fragrances in the February garden.

Valentine’s Day is the traditional date to plant sweet peas in the herb garden, along with seeds of Shirley poppy, larkspur, and nigella to brighten up the herbs. A pinch of poppy seeds artfully scattered behind the horseradish or among the artemisia provides a natural, carefree effect with minimal work, as no soil preparation is required.

The annual parade of spring bulbs and flowering shrubs ornaments the herb garden in February and March with bright colors and sweet scents. Daffodils, crocuses, anemones, grape hyacinths, and species tulips blanket the ground below blossoming pears and peaches, star magnolias, flowering almonds, and Burkwood viburnums.

My weeds are flourishing. Gill-over-the-ground (Glechoma hederacea), also known as ground ivy, alehoof, runaway robin, or field balm, and chickweed (Stellaria sp.), also called starwort or stitchwort, are both in exuberant growth. Gill-over-the-ground is so pretty that if it didn’t creep quite so vigorously, it would probably be a high-priced ornamental available only from specialty nurseries. (I once noticed a variegated form for sale.) As it is, I yank it out with abandon. Some nights, I shut my eyes to see again the vivid sea of green chickweed eddying around the base of the armillary sphere and threatening to drown emerging herbs and bulbs beneath its waves. This year, I tried making a soup of freshly picked spring greens—chickweed, sorrel, nettles, and spinach—in chicken stock with onions, sweet marjoram, salt, and pepper. I attempted to eat the chickweed into oblivion but couldn’t do it. I also composted a lot, but it seems to run one step ahead of my efforts. Fortunately, it will disappear when the hot weather arrives.

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