Garage Herbs

By Scott Aker

Herbs in containersThroughout much of the country, now is the time to face the coming cold. Any plants you want to keep must be moved to warmer quarters. For many gardeners, that might be a sunny windowsill indoors. But is this the best place to overwinter your herbs?

Unless you have a room that you can keep below 60°F in your home, they may suffer. Many herbs hail from Mediterranean and subtropical climates and are programmed to thrive with distinct seasons of heat and chill. Bring them indoors, and they experience temperatures much higher than they ever would in winter in their native lands. The result is stress and conditions that favor pests, such as mites, powdery mildew, and scale insects, that can quickly overwhelm your plants.

I live in USDA Hardiness Zone 7B, and winters generally have long periods of mild weather with temperatures hovering around freezing punctuated with short periods of cold that may reach the single digits. I grow all my herbs in pots on the deck, because they are just steps away from the kitchen. Some stay there through the winter. Marjoram, parsley, oregano, chives, and mint have no issue with the cold, even in pots. Bay, sage, gardenia, and citrus go in the garage for winter. My garage is not heated, but it seldom freezes since the walls and door shared with the house are not terribly well insulated. Night temperatures dip into just above freezing and may rise to about 55°F during the day, on average.

containers on deck

Herbs growing in containers on the author’s deck. The sage, bay, and gardenia are overwintered in the garage.

While herbs would like more light than can be supplied even by a sunny windowsill indoors, they don’t really need light when held at temperatures in the 40°F to 50°F range. At these low temperatures, they are nearly dormant. They do need to be watered from time to time, but at low temperatures, they don’t need or appreciate frequent watering.

My garage herbs fall into two tiers. The hardy ones, such as the bay, gardenia, and sage go outside on the front steps whenever temperatures are forecast to remain above 25°F for a week or more. The citrus stay in the garage unless weather is above 30°F. Since watering is a chore that I dislike, I tend to move the plants outdoors anytime precipitation is forecast. My bay and gardenia have taken a heavy snow load with no damage, and they do appreciate sunny warm winter days.

If you are going to use your garage to overwinter herbs, pay close attention to weight. I grow all my large garage herbs in large plastic pots to keep the weight to a minimum and make them easier to move the short distance to the front steps. Terracotta and ceramic pots are more attractive, but I suggest using them in smaller sizes for smaller plants. Some pruning to keep things in bounds is helpful, too, since winter wind can easily topple top heavy plants.

Mandarin orange container in garage

Mandarin orange, Citrus reticulata, in its winter quarters in the author’s garage.

On pleasant winter days, the sight of my mandarin orange, with its full complement of ripening fruit, is a cheerful one, and one that has attracted much attention from passersby. When cooking, it is only slightly less convenient to step in the garage to get what I need. When spring arrives, I find that the plants grow more vigorously because of the chill winter they experienced, and mites and other pests have been unable to prosper on my plants. Give some thought to your garage when it’s time to bring your herbs in for the winter.

Photo credits: 1) Herbs in containers (Creative Commons, freeformkatia); 2) Herb containers on deck (S. Aker); 3) Mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) in garage (S. Aker).

 


Scott Aker is Head of Horticulture and Education at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. He authored Digging In in The Washington Post and Garden Solutions in The American Gardener.

Sensory Herb Gardens for Special Needs Children

By Candace Riddle

IMG_0317Ever since Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit, children and gardens have had a special friendship. That friendship is even stronger between children with special needs and special gardens called “sensory gardens.” 

The difference between a sensory garden and a “regular” garden is the human factor— regular display gardens are designed primarily for visual beauty, while a sensory garden is designed to stimulate all the senses: sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste. A display garden is meant to be viewed or seen from either a short or long distance, whereas a sensory garden is meant to be experienced close and personal using all five of the human senses.  

Educators describe a sensory herb garden as peaceful and calming with the ability to draw kids into the moment; even non-verbal kids can show their feelings about their garden experience.

When we use the term “children with special needs” in this writing, we are painting with a broad brush including physical, mental, emotional, and educational disabilities. When planning a sensory herb garden, consideration must be given to not only the garden plan—both hard and soft scaping—but also how children with any of these special needs can interact with the garden.  

_DSC0301As with any garden plan, sensory herb gardens start with the lay-out and hardscape: the beds should be narrow enough for children to reach into (from any side, the depth should be no more than 24 to 30 inches; that is one of the advantages of the tiered square design–it allows access on four different sides at three different levels, see photos), and the paths must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, which would preclude the use of gravel or a soft ground cover and mandate concrete, bricks, or flagstones. Mulch can also be used as part of the sensory experience. Pine needles, for example, have a sweet scent; wood chips have a tactile feel; and oyster shells have a scent of the sea and a smooth or sharp feel. A water feature can bring several things to the sensory garden: trickling sounds, the sensation of feeling water or wetness, even taste (usually happens when you are not looking!). Windchimes can be a pleasant addition for both the sound they provide and the visual appearance of wind moving through the garden.  

Once the hardscape has been planned, it is time to move on to the plant material, which is, of course, the fun part. Plants should be chosen for the special values they possess to enhance the sensory experience of the children. Below are some examples of plants that may be used in a sensory garden: 

Sight: lavender, nasturtiums, English thyme, anise hyssop, sage, and other Salvias 

Sound: pollinator plants, including Mondarda spp. (bee balm), that will encourage bees to make their happy buzzing sounds (of course, special instruction and close supervision must be in place to protect children and bees!). Balloon flowers and false indigo could be included for sound, as their seed pods make popping and rattling noises as they mature.  

Smell: Any strongly scented herb would be a good addition. Some of the most popular are rosemary, hop, fennel, thyme, sage, basil, chives, and, of course, scented geraniums.

Touch: lamb’s ear, yarrow, coneflowers, rosemary, and lemongrass 

Taste: basil, dill, and anise hyssop 

As you can see from the examples above, there is a lot of crossover as far as the plants go; they can provide multiple sensory experiences. Children should be supervised closely when in the garden to ensure their safety. While you want the fullest experience, the safety of the children is the most important factor. 

While the best way to provide a sensory garden experience is outdoors, children can have a satisfactory adventure using enclosed areas such as an enclosed courtyard or even a container garden. These are both good options for populations of students with a tendency to bolt or elope from the area.

IMG_0824The photograph depicts a newly created sensory garden in Maryland’s northern Baltimore County farmland. This garden was designed to be a part of the agricultural tourism initiative that is taking hold in rural areas. “The Farmyard” is a new agriculture venture started by a local farming family to introduce children to all aspects of a working farm, not the least of which is allowing children to sponsor farm animals and help in their care throughout the year. “Farm School” runs all year long offering classes in animal care and upkeep, crop growing, food preservation, and self-sufficiency. As part of the farm school, a class on herbs and their uses is taught. The sensory herb garden is a part of the education of students in the knowledge of herbs in daily life. All students are encouraged to touch all the herb plants, smell them, and taste them. An herbal educator is available during public events to guide children through the garden and explain the uses of the different plants. The focus in this garden is useful herbs in everyday life. (Though all of the senses are considered in this garden, touch, taste, and smell probably are better represented than sight and sound.)

The design of this garden was limited to the structures already in place, which worked out well as the terraced beds allow children of all heights to view at different levels, and the beds are also shallow enough to allow visitors to reach into the entire garden—all tiers are accessible. To increase the visual appeal of the gardens, snapdragons and zinnias, with their colorful flowers, were added to each garden section. Some of the other plants that were included in the gardens are: 

Rosemary—scent, touch, taste 

Sage—scent, touch, taste (The turkey in the pen next to the garden was a bit uncomfortable with the Thanksgiving herb right next door!) 

Fennel—scent, sound (for the wind moving the fronds and the pollinators that they welcome); visitors were invited to dig up the bulbs and taste them in the fall

English thyme—scent, sight (pointing out that the little flowers are used for baby fairies’ sleep!)

Dill—scent, sight (the full seed pods are beautiful!), and of course, the taste (just like dill pickles)

Lamb’s ear—touch, sound (the bees love this herb) 

Marigolds—sight, smell 

Basil (sweet and Thai)—scent, taste, sight 

This sensory garden is a work in progress, and it is expected to welcome children of all ages and circumstances for years to come. It is the long-range goal to have schools target this farm and garden as a field trip destination once schools resume a normal schedule.  

IMG_0427While the herb sensory garden at The Farmyard is on private property and maintained by dedicated volunteers, this is not the case in most public gardens. While public gardens often attract groups to plan and build sensory gardens, ongoing maintenance during the planning stages, as well as after the garden is established, is often performed by staff of the public facility. 

Gardens are an important element in many people’s lives, and sensory gardens, in particular, can add an immeasurable richness to the lives of children and especially children with special needs. We encourage you to explore supporting a sensory garden in your area.

Photo credits: 1) Sensory garden at The Farmyard (Candace Riddle); 2) Children in the National Herb Garden (Chrissy Moore); 3) Herb collage (Chrissy Moore); 4) Tiered sensory garden, The Farmyard (Candace Riddle); 5) Herb collage (Chrissy Moore); 6) Children and chaperones visiting the sensory garden (Candace Riddle).


Candace Riddle is a retired educator and an herbal enthusiast for forty years. She has been a member of The Herb Society of America for over twenty years and is a founding member of the Mason-Dixon Unit. She lives in Maryland.

Growing Herbs in Small Places (Pots and Various Containers)

By William “Bill” Varney

A great advantage of herbs is that regardless of your limited space, almost all herbs can be successfully grown in containers and small spaces. In fact, potted herbs will make a garden where nothing else will.

Virgil the Roman poet said it best: “Admire a large estate, but work a small oncontainer, herbse.”

Tips:

  •  No place is too small for a garden of potted herbs, and there is always a place in any type of garden for decorative containers of herbs.
  • Any container from one gallon to forty is usable. However, it is advisable to plant only hardy perennials in your largest containers. If five-gallon containers are used for tender perennials or annuals, keep them near your front or back door, then when a freeze is predicted, moving them indoors is easier.
  • Be creative in choosing your containers: Horse troughs, iron kettles, old watering cans, cinder blocks, pallets, unusual old tins, the list is endless. Of course, the traditional clay pots, redwood, and cedar containers are the old mainstay. Other alternatives are hanging baskets and containers.
  • Requirements for any container include good drainage and a depth of at least six inches is essential, regardless if the container is plastic, clay, or unusual material. There must be room for a root system to draw sufficient moisture and food to keep the plant growing and healthy.
  • Grow plants together in a large container. A whiskey or wine barrel, for example. Strawberry pots are perfect for many smaller growing herbs, such as thyme, parley, marjoram, and chives.
  • A slightly richer soil is suggested for potted herbs, especially mint, parsley, chives, and chervil, than those in the garden.
  • Additionally, potted herbs should have four to five hours of sun. If placed in full sun, recognize that they will dry out very quickly during the summer.

If you live in a warmer part of the country, fall is a great timcontainerse to bring your herbs a little closer to your kitchen by planting them in pots. If you live in a colder climate, start making notes about planting some of your herbs in pots next spring.