herbsBy David McMullin
It’s unfortunate, but I like food and in great quantities. It is a problem. Though, I am determined not to deprive myself of good food and go on yet another bad diet. This time I have a secret weapon… herbs. Not a powdered, exotic sounding herb in capsule form meant to give one a slimmer waist before swimsuit weather. I’m talking about the old standbys – rosemary, thyme, basil and fennel et al.
My garden provides an abundant supply of herbs for my cooking pleasure. Basil and rosemary grow near the kitchen door for grab-a-handful convenience. Herbs used less often such as fennel are scattered throughout the garden where their ornamental value is appreciated, their abundant beauty, texture and flowers.
Herbs can grow in your vegetable patch, in a collection of pots on the patio or in a small, traditional English knot garden. But, like all plants, each herb may have different needs. Herbs with stiff, woody branches and silver, gray, felty foliage have problems in the wet, humid South. Since they need rocky, well-drained soil and lower humidity, I recommend growing favorites like lavender, santolina and thyme in large pots so growing conditions may be manipulated.
Other herbs grow well here with no manipulation. Basil, my favorite, is a native of climates similar to ours. Depending on the variety, this annual may reach heights of three feet in a single season. It appreciates full sun, average garden soil and regular watering.  Rosemary, another beloved herb is a workhorse in the garden. Growing to five feet with an even wider spread, rosemary is tough and dependable for hot, sunny locations, poor soil and full sun. Its versatility allows it to be left to its own pleasure, pruned into submission, contained in a fabulous pot or as a topiary subject. I use it as a foundation shrub in difficult areas.
An easy to grow herb is garlic chives. This tough bulblet reseeds itself all over my garden. Its soft grassy leaves weave in and out of other plants.  They’re even better on baked potatoes than the store-bought ones.
To me, more ornamental than edible is fennel. I grow both the green and the delightful bronze varieties in my garden. The feathery foliage form airy clumps in the spring and eventually bolt upright in summer to produce sulphur-yellow flowers. To boot, fennel is a host plant to the tiger swallowtail butterfly. Caterpillars munch it to the ground every year and then come August, I enjoy the flittering about.  In the kitchen, make a gourmet meal out of fresh fish, marinated in butter and smothered with chopped onions, peppers and fennel. Yum!
All of this talk of food is making me hungry. I’m heading out to the garden to harvest my diet’s secret weapon and drown my dinner in something saucy.
David McMullin, an acclaimed garden designer, has owned New Moon Gardens design firm for 20 years. His gardens have been featured on tours, in magazines and on television. David recently ventured into retail, opening Garden*Hood, the newest garden center destination located in Grant Park. For more information on David’s design services, contact him at newmoongardens@gmail.com or 404-593-0996.