Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece

Philadelphia Flower Show 2021

By Janice Cox

1625145541867blobHello and happy summer to all of you! This year, I was super lucky and got to attend The Philadelphia Flower Show, one of the premier horticultural events in the country. It is the nation’s largest and the world’s longest running horticultural event, and features stunning displays by some very talented and amazing floral and landscape designers. It is also the major fundraiser for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which was founded in 1827. Their efforts include building community gardens, creating public gardens, and offering educational opportunities. This year, the show made history by going outdoors for the first time. Rendering of The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021This made it possible for more displays and also offered major improvements to FDR park in South Philadelphia where the show was located. Being outdoors had some challenges as the weather was less than cooperative. It was also a new time of year for the show, being in June rather than the traditional February, which is a slower time for gardeners, landscapers, and growers. There was a heat wave and major thunderstorm activity that blew the roof off a few displays and wiped out a few gardens. Yet despite the challenges of a new location, it was one of the best years ever, and coming out of the challenges of 2020, attendees were thrilled to be outdoors enjoying nature, plants, and each other.  I heard several times how happy everyone was to just be there, and one designer even commented, “It was plants that got us through last year and the COVID pandemic and the reason we are here today.”

The 2021 show theme was “Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece,” and the displays were amazing, creating habitats for people, plants, and wildlife. The ideas were creative and inspiring, and many of them could be incorporated into your own home gardens. Creating areas for pollinators, dining and living outdoors, and building up community experiences with herbs and plants in your neighborhoods were showcased.   

I hope you will join me on Tuesday, July 20 at 1pm Eastern when I will share some projects you can create yourself with herbs at home inspired by the show. I will also share some of the award-winning gardens and designers. This year’s “Best of Show” went to Wambui Ippolito whose design won because of the wonderful way she combined color, horticulture, and unique design elements. It was influenced by her upbringing in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, as well as her lifelong travels. Ippolito’s garden was named “Etherea” and was very contemporary in style. It evoked a feeling of peace in nature. 

Here are a few more themes and ideas from The Philadelphia Flower Show:  

Recycling symbolRecycle:  Reusing, recycling and upcycling is not a new idea, but it is one that is here to stay. Many of the displays used materials that often end up in landfills.  One team even built a bench and filled it with discarded plastic, pots, hoses, tools, and old garden ornaments. Another display had a flock of birds all fashioned out of used aluminum soda cans. 

Community:  Using your plants and love of plants to share with others was also a theme. Creating a free seed library, where people could share seeds or “check them out” and return more in the fall, was one idea I loved. There was also a competition between landscapers to transform “Hell Strips” into “Heaven Strips–hell strips being the area in most major cities between the curb and the sidewalk that is often bare or not maintained.  

Sunflower with beesPollinators:  Planting for pollinators is something we herb lovers just know how to do. There were so many displays focused not just on bees, but on other pollinators as well, such as birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and even cicadas. I got to attend the butterfly experience, which was magical, and also learned that you really have to do some research to attract butterflies to your yard. Each species has different things they need from their potential host plants.   

Grow Bags:  Everyone loves growing herbs and flowers in containers, but grow bags seem to be gaining popularity. They are affordable, easy to store, and promote healthier root systems than standard plastic nursery pots. I attended a “Potting Party,” where we planted grow bags with “thrillers, fillers, and spillers:”  zinnias, basil, and thyme, respectively 

Thymus x citriodorus 'Aureus' CU 5-26-07 bHerbs:  The use of herbs was everywhere and in almost every display. The focus was on local plants and also ones that were useful. I noticed a lot of yarrow, lavender, rosemary, and thyme. I think this is due to the fact that they are so popular and easily recognized, loved by pollinators, and also can withstand drought conditions and bad weather (which this outdoor show certainly had!).  

Our webinars are free to The Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Happy Growing!

Photo Credits: 1) The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021 rendering (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society); 2) Recycling symbol (public domain); 3) Bees on sunflower (Chrissy Moore); 4) Rosemary and Thymus ‘Aureus’ (Chrissy Moore).


Janice CoxJanice Cox is an expert on the topic of natural beauty and making your own cosmetic products with simple kitchen and garden ingredients. She is the author of three best-selling books on the topic: Natural Beauty at Home, Natural Beauty for All Seasons, and Natural Beauty from the Garden. She is currently the beauty editor for Herb Quarterly Magazine, is a member of the editorial advisory board for Mother Earth Living Magazine, and is a member of The Herb Society of America, International Herb Association, United States Lavender Growers Association, Oregon Lavender Association, and Garden Communicators International. 

HSA Special Program: Foodscaping with Herbs

by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

image-assetFoodscaping–it’s so simplistic. In its most basic form, it is landscaping with an edible twist. It’s the intersection of the purely ornamental garden with the purely edible or vegetable garden. Herbs, vegetables, berry-producing bushes, and fruit trees intertwine with ornamentals to become design elements. 

Join us for Foodscaping with Herbs with bestselling author Brie Arthur on Friday, May 14th from 12pm to 1:30pm ET. Brie will share creative ideas about foodscaping with herbs in this lively, virtual session. Lemongrass suddenly becomes a replacement for other tall grasses, providing beauty and enjoyment. Blend Thai basil with lemon basil for a stunning border. Use chives and garlic for structure and as natural pest deterrents. Discover how to plant beautiful and bountiful designs for year-round use, and learn easy-to-apply strategies to deter browsing mammals, including voles!

Brie Arthur - 2Food in our landscapes is not new. Cottage gardens and the French potager’s garden have been around for centuries. In the early eighties, Rosalind Creasy’s book, Edible Landscaping, gave this design style elevated popularity. Foodcaping is the 21st century interpretation of the edible garden. It is theorized that it arose out of the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 when the next generation started questioning where our food came from, and more recently, the pandemic gave households firsthand experience in food scarcity along with the flexibility to start growing food. 

This special program is $10.00 for guests/ $8.00 for members. Become a member today to enjoy this discounted rate and as an added bonus, you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a free registration to our June 10-12th, 2021 Annual Meeting of Members and Educational Conference. To register visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/new—workshops-demonstrations.html

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Brie Arthur


Brie with BasilAbout Brie Arthur: Bestselling author and horticulturist, Brie Arthur has garnered acclaim for her enthusiastic presentations and practical, out-of-the-box gardening advice. Originally from southeastern Michigan, Brie studied Landscape Design and Horticulture at Purdue University. With more than a decade of experience as a grower and propagator, she now shares her expertise as an advocate for consumer horticulture and home gardening across America. 

Brie is an ambassador for Soil3 organic compost and has appeared as a correspondent on the PBS television show “Growing a Greener World.” She is president of the International Plant Propagators Society Southern Region and is on the board of the North Carolina Botanic Garden Foundation. Brie was honored as the first recipient of the The American Horticultural Society’s Emerging Horticultural Professional Award for her efforts in connecting a new generation to the art of growing. In her second book, Gardening with Grains, published by St. Lynn’s Press, Brie explores the opportunities in residential and commercial landscapes with creative and thoughtful uses for traditional agricultural crops.

Propagating Rosemary Plants with Stem Cuttings

By Peggy Riccio

cuttingPlant propagation is just a fancy word for making more plants from what you have. I love to propagate the plants in my garden. To me, it is magical that an entire shrub can be created from cutting six inches off the stem. Taking stem cuttings is an easy way to make more shrubs to fill in gaps in the garden or to share plants with gardening friends. 

One shrub that I often propagate via stem cuttings is rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). The best time to do this is in early summer when new spring growth starts to become semi-woody but is still supple enough to root easily. The rosemary plant’s stems must have new growth but be firm enough to snap. If you can grasp the end of the branch about 6 inches from the top, bend it at a 90-degree angle and it snaps and breaks off, it is ready. 

cuttinginbagI cut from the tip of the stem, about 5-6 inches down, ensuring that there are several nodes. The node is the point where additional stems/branches arise but also the point in which there is a higher chance of root stimulation. I first cut above the node on the shrub and then make a second cut on the stem, just under the last node. I remove the bottom leaves and insert the cutting into water, then a commercially prepared rooting hormone, and then in the pre-moistened potting mix, about one-inch deep, in a small plastic pot or container. The cut end of the stem is just dipped into the rooting hormone – only the end needs it. 

I, then, cover the plant with a gallon size zipper top plastic bag, blow air into the bag to inflate it as much as possible, and close it. I put my cuttings in a cardboard box or lid and then place this on my deck under the eave of my house for shade. The box prevents the bags from blowing over or away. The next day, I check the bags to make sure they have condensation inside. If you see condensation, then you know it has enough moisture. If you do not see condensation, open the bag, take the plastic pot/container out, water it, and put it back in the bag.

rootedAfter a few weeks, I check rooting progress by opening the bags and gently pulling the cuttings to see if there is resistance. If the cuttings have rooted, I start to open the bags a little bit, a few hours a day, still in the shade. If I open the bags and the plants wilt very quickly, I know they have not produced enough roots yet. Successful rooters will keep their color in the leaves; unsuccessful plants will fade or collapse. I always cut more than I need, because there will be some that will not “take.” It is a numbers game, much like growing from seed.

Once the cuttings have rooted and can survive without the bag, I transplant them to a larger pot. I often give these away to friends, but for my garden, I let mine grow on the deck and gradually expose the plants to full sun. I do not plant these cuttings in the garden bed until the fall. The larger the plant, the more roots, and the more likely it will be successfully transplanted in the garden bed. Plus, the cooler fall weather is better for transplanting than the summer’s heat.  

rosemaryinlargerpotWhen you propagate by stem cuttings, you must always use clean materials to prevent a fungal infection. It is best to use clean plastic containers with drainage holes. Sterilize them with a 10% bleach solution of one part bleach and nine parts water, rinse, and let dry. Sterilize cutting tools, pruning shears, or garden snips with rubbing alcohol before you make the cuts. 

Use a bagged potting mix specially formulated for starting seeds such as Pro Mix, Jiffy, or Burpee. The water for watering the potting mix and for dipping the cutting should be “clean,” i.e., tap water, not water collected from rain (gray water). The bags should be new and unused.

The best time to take stem cuttings is in the morning when the plant is “turgid” (turgid refers to cells or tissues that are swollen from water uptake). Make sure you have everything ready and available; you cannot afford to let the cuttings sit and wilt while you bleach the pots. Have fun with this, and always do more than you need so you get the amount you want. Give the extras to friends!

Photo Credits: 1) Cutting dipped in rooting hormone; 2) Cutting in a plastic bag; 3) Rooted cutting; 4) Potted up cutting. All photos courtesy of the author. 


A horticulturist in Virginia, Peggy Riccio’s website, pegplant.com, is an online resource for gardeners in the Washington, DC metro area. Currently, she is the chair of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America.

One Man’s Road to Herbal Success: An Interview

By Chrissy Moore

IMG_8012I have always been fascinated by people’s life stories, particularly those in the herb world. How did they end up where they did? What circumstances led them down their chosen path? Some people take decades—and numerous career maneuverings—before they settle into their career of choice; others know their life’s calling from an early age. For Bill Varney, owner of URBANherbal in Fredricksburg, TX, his life’s work encompassed all those things and more. I recently asked Bill to give me a glimpse into his world as an herbal enthusiast and business owner and what it takes to succeed. Here’s what he said:

When did you first encounter herbs?

IMG_8007BV: I first discovered plants and gardening when I was very young! When I was eight years old, my parents had a greenhouse built for me, and I would start all kinds of plants from seeds and cuttings. Later as my love for all things green grew, I developed a love of herbs. That was about 1985, when I opened a small herbal apothecary shop and small herbal nursery, Varney’s Chemist Laden.

What is your technical background (education or otherwise)?

BV: I grew up tending to people’s gardens, worked for a number of nurseries, then received a B.S. in Business with a Minor in Horticulture from Oklahoma Panhandle State University. I went there because I had volunteered to help my elderly grandparents who lived in the area. Later, I became a Texas Certified Nurseryman.

Have you always known you wanted to work with plants/herbs?

BV: Yes, I have always had a “green thumb.” I have always been intrigued by plants, their use, their contribution to the world, whether they are reproduced by seed, rooted cuttings, etc. After I finished college and had a one -year agriculture stint in Tasmania, Australia, I returned to Houston, Texas, where my family was living and went to work for a well known nursery as their landscape buyer. Later, I wanted to “get out of the big city” and moved to Fredericksburg, Texas, to manage a local nursery. It was soon after that that I started Varney’s Chemist Laden, which later grew into the Fredricksburg Herb Farm. I sold that operation in 2007 and simplified my life to URBANherbal.

Give me a synopsis of your road to URBANherbal. 

IMG_7988BV: When I owned the Fredricksburg Herb Farm, it was a very high end, labor intensive business with acres of manicured gardens, a day spa, bed and breakfast, two retail stores, a James Beard recognized restaurant, and wholesale operation that sold our products all over the world. Life was kind of crazy for me with “fires” to put out daily! I revamped and started URBANherbal. My son had finished his undergraduate degree and came home to help me for a year to open URBANherbal. A much simpler life: a laboratory, greenhouse, smaller gardens, and art galleries. For the most part, a one-man operation with a little help here and there. I make colognes, aromatherapy products, skin care for both men and women, candles, and gourmet foods. I also do landscape consulting and public speaking.

Can you describe your herb gardening style for those who are unable to visit your establishment in person? 

IMG_8017BV: I always try to build gardens that use as many natives as possible, that attract pollinators, and are drought tolerant. I have studied Frederick Olmstead and Adelma Simmons (and got to visit with her a few times) and, of course, Madalene Hill from here in Texas.

What inspired you to start the apothecary shop segment of your herb garden, and how did that lead to the skin care/fragrance lines and the culinary products?

BV: Well, originally, our first store was an herbal apothecary store, Varney’s Chemist Laden. We sold “old fashioned” scents and skincare from old, reputable companies and finally realized we could do better, and our products ended up selling faster than the ones we were retailing. I ended up hiring an elderly retired founding chemist of a manufacturing skincare company to come for a few months and help formulate. Many of our products got recognized by the media and some received awards. I really enjoy custom making things for clients.

From what do you draw the most inspiration, both in your gardening and in your product development?

BV: I always am inspired daily if I can just bring a bit of happiness to one or two people either through products, plants, or foods through all of our senses. My personal life is inspired through faith, hope and love with friends, family, and anyone I meet.

Urban Herbal Map

Is there a fragrance profile or collection of herbs that you gravitate toward more than others?

20210312_141932

BV: Personally, I love woody scents, citrus scents, masculine scents, lavender, lemon verbena, peppermint, eucalyptus, patchouli, musk, just to name a few. But I am always drawn to white flowers and night blooming flowers, not for myself on my body, but just to smell them and make PRODUCTS WITH THEM.

Which herbs/profiles do you find the most challenging to work with and why?

BV: Sweet woodruff and French tarragon because it is too hot here in Texas to grow them.

Who were your biggest herbal influences (alive or deceased), both in your younger years and as an adult? Do you have any herbal superheroes today that provide you with encouragement along your herbal journey?

BV: Well, as I said previously, I was really inspired by reading about Frederick Olmstead and his visions in landscapes. Walafrid Strabo, who around 840 A.D., wrote a beautiful poem called “Hortulus,” in which he lovingly describes clearing a garden of stinging nettles and preparing IMG_7986the soil to plant sage, southernwood, wormwood, fennel, poppy, clary, mint, pennyroyal, celery, betony, agrimony, tansy, catmint, and radish. Strabo introduces his herbs the way a mother might speak of her children, praising their qualities without neglecting their occasional blemish. In my life, Adelma Simmons, who founded Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, Connecticut, and Madalene Hill, who founded Hilltop Herb Farm and later built the gardens at Round Top, Texas. In Madalene’s book, Southern Herb Growing, I was really proud that she had a few pictures in the front of her book of my first herb gardens. After her book came out, she came to my place and did a class and book signing. I have always admired Emelie Tolley and all of her books, and she and I have been friends for many years. In my book, Herbs: Growing and Using the Plants of Romance, Emelie wrote the forward. She came many times over the years and did stories on my gardens and business, and I was thrilled to visit her in New York City at her country home in NY. I have also always been inspired by Jeanne Rose. She came years ago and did a class and book signing at my place, and I have visited her in San Francisco. Betsy Williams has always been an inspiration to me. I think that my biggest inspiration is everyday herb gardeners whom URBANherbal gardenwe meet and we can share with. As James Beard, the famous chef, said, “We learn from each other and end up teaching ourselves.” Also, I have always been inspired by Lady Bird Johnson. She came into my store many times over the years and would have me make things for her to give as gifts. Her love of nature and wildflowers has done so much for our island home, Earth.

For many business owners, they must sacrifice a lot in terms of personal time and preferences. But, there are also rewards in being the curator of your own products/services. What has been your driving philosophy as you’ve grown URBANherbal?

BV: Yes, having your own business is a huge sacrifice, personally in man hours and struggles. My biggest driving philosophy is: “Touching all of your senses, daily. Hearing, Touching, Seeing, Tasting, Smelling and our Sixth Sense, our Spirit.” I strongly feel that these things are where herbs can really affect our lives in spirit, balance, texture, space, and love.

What brings you the most joy in your herbal day?

BV: Making something that will help someone! Be it a small plant, a cologne, a room freshener, a cream to make someone feel better, or a simple herb vinegar or seasoning that will enhance someone’s food.

Herbs have many stories to tell, from historical uses to modern industries. Do you have a favorite herb story that you find yourself telling over and over again?

BV: I think that hearing people tell me that they can’t handle being around scents. I find that it is because they have been around “commercial scents” that are not good for you, and they are not natural! So many people tell me that they can wear my scents, and they don’t have a negative reaction. Herbs and flowers are nature’s courtesans. They elevate our moods, fragrance the air around us, and so many are edible and medicinal. For instance, rosemary and lavender can be used for fragrance, in foods, and in healing. You should have herbs and flowers around you daily!

Herbs aren’t the first thing people think of when they hear “Texas.” What do you think people are most surprised to learn about herbs or herb growing in your neck of the woods?

Theresa Wylie URBANherbal dinner tableBV: I think that when they find out how easy most herbs are to grow around here and then find out how much they can enhance our lives and they are really surprised! The fact that they attract butterflies, bees, birds, and release beautiful scents in your gardens and in pots, and trigger so many memories through your senses. The air you breathe affects not just your health but also your mood.

I’m not going to ask you your favorite herb, because that is often like picking a favorite child. Instead, what handful of herbs would you recommend every new herbie explore (for various reasons/uses)?

BV: Lavender for scent, Beauty, healing, and flavor.

Rosemary for scent, beauty, healing, and flavor.

Thyme for scent, beauty, healing, and flavor.

Roses for beauty, scent, healing, and flavor.

Rose geraniums for healing, scent, and cooking.

Allium tuberosum2 46966H

Chives for flavor and the beauty of their flowers.

Sage for beauty, scent, flavor, and healing.

Basil for flavor, fragrance, healing, and beauty.

Lemon verbena for fragrance, aromatherapy, scent, beauty, and magnificent flavor for foods and drinks.

These are just a few of my favorite herbs…….

How would you characterize your road to herbal admiration and its impact on your life?

20200507_115313BV: Working with herbs and plants, one gets to know their essence and understand they are not just a commodity. The gardener and herbalist becomes rooted to the ground with them as part of God’s creation. We are trying to be stewards of our environment. It is not an accident that the humus, or the soil, comes from the same word. It’s the base from which everything grows. Gardening and my spiritual life go together. I just can’t imagine a day in my life that I’m not using herbs in some way. I really relate to this simple quote from the designer and architect, Ettore Softass, “basil-flavored architecture,” as a way of expressing the idea of achieving much with little.

Lastly, if you were to give advice to someone embarking on their own herbal “quest,” such as starting a business or a garden, etc., what key elements have you found to be the most important for successful endeavors? 

Theresa Wylie Bill VarneyBV: Make sure you are passionate about what you want to do with herbs! Do everything you can to educate yourself about herbs. Get to know other herb lovers through organizations like The Herb Society of America or garden clubs, or online groups, because that is one of the best ways to learn. Be creative about what you are going to do. Remember, you are going to have to work hard! Have a strategy, write it down. Bounce your ideas off of friends and family. 🌺

Many thanks to Bill Varney for sharing his time and talents regarding his road to herbal success!

Photo credits: 1) Bill Varney in his greenhouse (B. Varney); 2) BV as young horticulturist (B. Varney); 3) Chef Bill (B. Varney); 4) BV with Madalene Hill (B. Varney); 5) Map of Bill’s garden (B. Varney); 6) Calamondin (Citrofortunella microcarpa) fruit and flowers (C. Moore); 7) BV with Adelma Simmons (B. Varney); 8) URBANherbal gardens (Theresa Wylie, Hey,Traveler blog); 9) Herbal salad (B. Varney); 10) Dinner at URBANherbal (Theresa Wylie, Hey, Traveler blog); 11) Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) (C. Moore); 12) Rose blossom (Rosa sp.) and bee (C. Moore); 13) BV in URBANherbal greenhouse (Theresa Wylie, Hey, Traveler blog).

 


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

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.

HSA Workshop: The Basics of Propagating Pelargoniums and Other Plants

By Jen Munson

Thanks to a renewed interest in self-sufficiency and pandemic gardening, seed starting has enjoyed a resurgence. Fedco Seeds and Baker Creek Seeds have already indicated that they are experiencing difficulties with keeping up with seed demands. Those fighting online shopping carts for seeds may be pleased to know that expanding your plant collection can done through cuttings.

blog 3Join HSA Member, Mary Maran on February 25th from 2pm – 2:30pm EST for, “The Basics of Propagating Pelargoniums and Other Plants.” Mary will share her propagation techniques so you can make more of the plants you already have or obtain a cutting from a friend’s plant and grow your own plant from it. Propagation by cuttings allows the grower to increase the number of plants in their collection while ensuring the characteristics of the “new” plant remain true to the parent plant. Some plants are just easier to replicate with cuttings, such as bay, scented geraniums, lavender, rosemary, and many others. 

This interactive workshop is $5.00 for HSA members and $7.00 for guests. Not a member? Join today and automatically be entered into a drawing for a registration to our virtual conference being held June 10-12th. To register visit http://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/workshops.html  Please note that this program will not be recorded.

blog 1Cuttings can be taken at any time of the year but ideally when the plant is in its growing season. In its most basic form, plant cutting is simply cutting a stem of a plant at an angle, dipping it into rooting hormone, and then inserting it in potted rooting media which is kept damp until roots grow, about a month. Sounds simple enough; however, this rudimentary method has a success rate of between 40-60%. During this interactive webinar Mary will share her tips and tricks to increase your success rate to well over 80%.

Photo Credits: 1) Pelargonium cuttings dipped in rooting hormone (Canva) 2) Cuttings potted up in rooting media (Canva) 3) Mary Maran (courtesy of Mary Maran)

(Source: Pandemic Gardeners Contribute To Growing Demand For Seeds : NPR) (Cronin, 2021)


mary maranAbout Mary Maran: Mary is a long-time member of The Herb Society of America. She started her membership as a member of the Long Island Unit and in later years moved to Pennsylvania where she is an active member of the Philadelphia Unit. Mary is an avid grower of pelargoniums. For years she has donated specimens from her diverse and superb collection to numerous plant sales including the Long Island Unit’s Annual Symposium and the Horticultural Alliance of the Hampton’s Annual Garden Fair.

Herbal Hacks, Part 3: Garden Care and Herb Drying Tips

The good ideas just keep coming! Read on for the third installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks: garden care and herb drying tips.

flowers-5792157_1920_Image by Prawny via Pixabay In summer, I dry herbs in paper bags in the rear window of my car. It only takes 2-4 days, depending on the amount of sun. – Gail Seeley

Fill a lidded, plastic trash can with water, then measure out and and add your favorite water soluble plant food. Store your watering can inside. This tip will make caring for plants in containers much easier. –Holly Cusumano

Folded and rolled towel cropped_Carol KaganExcerpt from Herbal Sampler, 2nd ed. You can dry herbs in your frost-free refrigerator. This method results in good quality and keeps the bright color of the herbs. Make sure the herbs are clean and dry. Remove the leaves from stems and place on a section of paper towel. Roll or fold the towel to cover the herbs on all sides. Secure with twist ties or rubber bands. Label. The paper towel absorbs the moisture evaporating from the herbs and the refrigerator will evaporate it from the towel. Place it in the crisper section or on a high shelf. Do not put it in a plastic bag or container. Should be dry in 2-3 weeks. –Carol Kagan

Always grow mint in a container so that you can take cuttings and give it as gifts, especially unplanned ones like a hostess gift or to give to a new neighbor. Include a recipe card with a recipe of how you use mint in the kitchen. –Peggy Riccio

Yellow_and_red_Tropaeolum_majus_(Garden_nasturtium) by Mary Hutchison via WikimediaMy husband started us on hydroponics last winter. We were thrilled with the grow lights in the basement for early starts. Basil and parsley did well. However, when we put them on the cart in the driveway to harden them off, here came the bugs. The hole-eaters even hitched a ride back into the basement at night to keep up their meal. So, my idea is to put the plants in a deep, translucent sweater box. Fill it with dirt, put the pots in the dirt and cover the top with an old window screen. The double source of soil helps the roots have more space and keeps them cooler in the heat. It is like a mini greenhouse. The sweater boxes can be found cheaply at the thrift stores. –Elizabeth Reece

Nasturtiums repel whiteflies, aphids, and squash bugs. I like planting them all around my veggies! –Shawna Anderson

herbs-drying from thegardeningcook dot comI have great luck using my car as a dehydrator. Sometimes I set up a clothesline using the coat rack hooks in the back seat to secure the clothesline and then hang herbs to dry, or I will lay them out in the trunk to dry. When we are experiencing the dry heat of the summer they dry in just a day or two! The added bonus is the scent of herbs fills the car. –Jen Munson

I was having problems with slugs on my basil, so I pulled lemon balm leaves, tore them up, and put them around the basil, which was only an inch high. It worked! I deliberately did not use mint because I was concerned it would root and then escape into the garden. –Peggy Riccio

Photo Credits: 1) Floral border (Prawny from Pixabay; 2) Paper towel technique for drying herbs in the fridge (Carol Kagan); 3) Yellow and red Tropaeolum majus (Mary Hutchison from Wikimedia); 4) Herbs drying (thegardeningcook.com)

Making More Little Herbalists

By Andrea Jackson

DSC_0161When we love something, it’s impossible not to share it with others, particularly those we care about most. Herbs and children are such a natural combination, it’s easy to draw a child in by offering them a smell or a taste or by telling them a fascinating story about the plant. Then, before you know it, you are making all manner of herbal goodies together.

My granddaughter, Marin, lives about three hours away, but each time she comes to visit, she wants to explore my herb room and I’m thrilled to oblige her. We smell and taste and put things together. Each time she comes, she wants to make a potpourri, and so, has ended up with quite an array in her bedroom. From there, we graduated to making lotions, which she loves to slather on and share with her mom. When she was seven, she wanted to have an herbal birthday party. She invited ten of her friends, and we made rose lavender potpourri and lavender lotion. It was quite hands on for the group, but flower-2510254_1920they all were excited to participate. They loved the way everything smelled, and each little girl went home with a little bottle of lotion and a small bag of potpourri. Now, she is almost a teenager and her interests have waned somewhat, but she still wants to make potpourri each time she comes.

My niece, Gabby, seems to have a natural affinity for plants. From a young age, she was pulling weeds in the parking lots of restaurants. And now, she loves herbs and frequently calls with questions. Her mom grows a wide variety of them, and she sent me a video of Gabby with a necklace of intertwined herbs answering the question, “How can you tell something is in the mint family?” She confidently shouted, “Square stems.” We make jams together whenever we can.

picking-flowers-391610_1920Then along came my granddaughter, Gemma, who not only lives locally but whom I babysit weekly. That provides lots and lots of time for herbal teaching. Since she was eighteen months old, she’s been out in the garden tasting and rubbing leaves and smelling the wonderful scents. On the way to the playground there is a field of weeds, and we always take time to tell their stories. One day my daughter called  to tell me that Gemma was “eating the landscape,” so we instituted the rule never to eat a plant unless I gave it to her.

We plant a tiny container garden each year, which she tends, and she is thrilled when the plants come up and she has something new to taste and share. In addition to caring for her garden, she has been making potpourri with me. She is four now and can distinguish between some mints, and she loves lavender.

When she was three, we took a walk and passed a field of plants. Gemma said, “Look at all the burdock.” I can certainly die happy. 

Photo credits: 1) School children visiting the National Herb Garden (Jeanette Proudfoot); 2) Potpourri (Monfocus, Pixabay); 3) Child gathering wildflowers (SMBlake, Pixabay).


Andrea JacksonAndrea Jackson is a member of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. When she lived in Baltimore, she was a founding member of Partners in Thyme. She also belongs to the American Herbalists Guild, and the American Botanical Council. Herbs aside, Andrea is a registered nurse and a Master Gardener and lectures extensively to groups ranging from professional organizations to garden clubs. Her particular interests lie in the medicinal uses of herbs, herbal lore, and weeds, which she considers to be the first herbs. When she is not spreading the herbal gospel, she is tucked away in her herb room formulating various concoctions.

Hyper-local Hydroponics in Restaurants

By Keith Howerton

Basil harvested from Farmshelf hydroponic growth chamberThe chef looked up at me, astonished, with a crumpled up Genovese basil leaf in his hand. “Oh my god, that smells fantastic,” he said, laughing and shaking his head. We had just gone over proper basil harvesting technique, and I had invited him to pinch off a leaf of the basil he had just grown for the first time inside the restaurant. It’s funny, even chefs at nicer restaurants get used to subpar quality when it’s all they have access to. It’s just so difficult for chefs to get really fresh, high quality herbs in the consistent, predictable quantities they need to run a kitchen. So, they settle. How did he grow basil inside the restaurant? We’ll  get to that in a minute. 

Back in college, I worked in a fairly upscale restaurant. A couple times a week, I remember seeing a delivery person from a big distributor back into the loading dock in a huge refrigerated truck, offload “fresh” produce, and bring it into the kitchen. Then, a few of the cooks would unpackage these boxes filled with Genovese basil, rosemary, and mint. I still remember the first time I gave the basil a smell. It didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell good either. And the mint used as a garnish for some of the fancy desserts smelled vaguely of mint, and that’s being  generous. 

Anyone who has grown basil at home knows and loves its rich, sweet scent. But when you shove that beautiful, fragrant basil in a plastic bag and cram it in a refrigerator for a week, it  doesn’t smell so good anymore. It develops off flavors and loses some of its vibrant green color. Sadly, this is what the vast majority of restaurants are forced to do when they want fresh herbs. 

And it’s not their fault! Nor is it the farmers’ fault. You cannot have exceptional quality fresh herbs when there is that lag time between harvest and food preparation. Most fresh herbs, especially basil, have very short shelf-lives. But these restaurant owners have businesses to run, so they choose consistently mediocre quality rather than fantastic quality in inconsistent quantities. 

Anyway, back to the present.  

Hydroponic BasilThis chef is now able to grow top-notch herbs inside his restaurant, just feet away from the kitchen, because he has a sophisticated hydroponic growing system called a Farmshelf.

For those who are not familiar, hydroponics just means growing plants without soil. Instead, the plant’s roots are bathed in water with nutrients dissolved in it. The only thing reminiscent of soil is the very small amount of growing medium used to germinate the seed and anchor the plant. 

Hydroponics is a very complex topic, and there are lots of pros and cons to growing in a hydroponic system rather than growing in the ground. (That’s a discussion for another day.) But for those of us in the restaurant industry, it’s a no-brainer because it allows Basil in Farmshelf Hydroponic Growing Chamberbusy restaurant staff with no in-ground space to grow high quality produce year-round. Additionally, since it is kept nice and clean, this method prevents just about any pest or plant pathogen you can think of. 

The quality difference between what comes out of this chef’s set-up and what comes from the distributor is phenomenal. (Disclaimer: I do work for a hydroponic systems company geared toward the restaurant industry, so I applaud anyone who is using these technologies to innovate and work toward more efficient food systems that provide higher quality produce. In college, I did some work with hydroponics and was excited to learn that there were companies using hydroponics to fill gaps and solve inefficiencies I had seen in the fresh herb supply chain.) As much as I would love to say the quality difference is because we’re just so super incredibly talented, I think this massive quality difference comes down to two main factors: a controlled growing environment and the freshness. 

You know how in hot weather basil goes to flower and develops that off, licorice-type smell? Well, when you’re inside a controlled environment, where the temperatures stay around 80 degrees or less, it may as well be springtime. I have never seen the basil try to flower in this particular set-up. So, you effectively get springtime-quality basil year round when you grow in a system like this. Farmshelf Hydroponic Chamber

As for the freshness, how much fresher can you get than inside your restaurant? And thanks to the massive energy savings afforded by recent advancements in LED technology, it’s now feasible to have some systems plug right into a wall outlet. 

I know I am biased, but man… it’s a beauty, isn’t it?

Photo Credits: 1) Freshly harvested basil; 2) Basil in hydroponic pots; 3) Roots of basil grown in hydroponic situation; 4) Farmshelf hydroponic growth chamber. All photos courtesy of the author.


After getting a horticulture degree from Texas A&M University, Keith was the 2017 National Herb Garden intern, and then spent a year and a half in the Gardens Unit at the U.S. National  Arboretum. He now works for an indoor farm company called Farmshelf and is obsessed with  all things growing food, foreign languages, and cooking (and eating).