Garden Forever
Herbs: Fragrance, flavour and fun for container gardens

by Mary Fran McQuade

Container gardens are the way to go -- and the way to grow -- in this harried new millennium.

Growing things in pots is cheap, fast and easy on weary bodies and hectic schedules. You get all the fun of a garden without the headaches. No waiting around for that skinny little stick to grow into a respectable plant. And no digging enormous holes and wrestling with giant burlapped root balls, either.

For a new adventure with your balcony or windowsill Eden, try planting an old-fashioned herb garden. Herbs are beautiful to look at, delightful to touch and smell, and handy for the kitchen. (Imagine casually stepping aside from your dinner party to snip fresh chives for the soup.) They take to pots like -- well, like roots to dirt.

Indulge your senses

For pure visual "pow," think of variegated or golden herbs: variegated German myrtle (Myrtus communis), with tiny, cream-and-green leaves; glowing golden oregano; or dainty golden lemon thyme.

To scent your home and patio, pick your favourites from the huge family of scented geraniums. These don't have the bright, cheerful flowers of their garden- variety cousins. But they do have fascinating leaf shapes and textures and an array of intoxicating aromas.

Choose from apple, rose, lemon, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg -- the list is endless. One bit of advice -- noses vary, so sniff for yourself before you decide which to welcome in your garden.

Other scented treasures include lemon verbena, a bit finicky to grow but worth it for the mouth-watering, lemon drop fragrance of its slender leaves, and shrubby lavender, famous for fragrant, stress-easing flowers and leaves.

Tasteful additions

Of course, every cook knows herbs are a must in the kitchen. Happily, most of the best ones grow just as well in containers as they do in the ground. Top of the list is spicy basil, essential in pasta sauce, soups and salads. Tried-and-true parsley is another stalwart for the kitchen container garden. Clip your own fresh from the plant and you'll never be satisfied with those store-bought bunches again (don't even think of the dried stuff). More than a pretty frill, parsley is packed with vitamin A and other good things.

Woodsy rosemary is another favourite, wonderful with pork and lamb. (Its warm astringency helps to mellow rich flavours.) Or add a sprig to the cooking pot to liven up everyday veggies like potatoes and beans. When that midday slump hits, nibble a few rosemary leaves instead of reaching for a chocolate bar -- it's supposed to stimulate the brain.

Herbs have been grown for centuries, so there are literally hundreds more to tempt you. Start with a few or dive in with a wagonload for a container garden that's different, fun -- and good for you, too!

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