On this month’s episode, Beverly Welch is joined by Ann Wheeler from Log House Herbs. They discussed what herbs work best in the cool season and how to care for them.

– [Beverly] Good foggy morning. Welcome. I’m Beverly Welch here at the Arbor Gate in Tomball, Texas.

Joined by my dear friend Ann Wheeler of Log House Herbs, our consultant on all things herbs. How are you this morning? – [Ann] I’m fine. I’m enjoying the day.

– Well, I tell you, it is the cool season. You know, we have hot, not so hot, and a little bit cooler. So, this is a little cooler.

– This is the little cooler. It is. It’s not cold by any means.

– No.

– It’s interesting to have the fog.

– It is. And we’ve talked about many times, you know, this season, these temperatures here, are kind of our forgotten spring on the Gulf Coast. This is when we can garden…- Garden day in and day out.

– … Day in and day out. And especially in the herb garden.

– Yes. So many of our plants that we love, the herbs that we love come from places where there’s a considerably cooler climate overall than we have on this coast. So, many of them really do flesh out and become very strong and brilliant in the winter.

– Oh, I see you picked out some of your favorites.

– These are some of my favorite cool season herbs. And even though we call this winter here, we can still plant.

– Oh, absolutely.

– It’s 12 months of the year gardening for herbs.

– It is.

– A few of my favorites for the cool season herb garden are this lemon thyme of many, many different varieties. This one’s Silver and, of course, dill.

– I love dill.

– Dill is only at its best in the cool season.

– It is beautiful. And it adds such a nice texture. I always use the dill and the fennel kind of as a grassy substitute in my garden in the wintertime.

– And they’re so beautiful when there are other things that are a little bit faded, they come in to their best. And this is one that’s lovely in the winter. It’s called Winter Savory. The name doesn’t have anything to do with it’s best time, though. It has to do with the types of food it’s so good in.

Those very robust stews, and sauces, and soups, this is perfect.

– That’s perfect. I did not know that.

– So, then, I’d like to just show you this little guy. This is a little Greek Oregano plant that has taken on its winter coloration. And sometimes a little drop in temperature will cause these leaves to color up. You can’t always expect it to happen, but when it does, it’s just a beautiful bronze. And those… That part of the plant is sheltering these new little leaves that are coming up green.

So, this is a good time of the year for these oreganos.

– And you know, when things aren’t often in bloom, all these foliage colors add the color…- So much.

– To our garden.

– To the garden.

– …to our landscape.

– They do. And the tiny little leaves are just lovely. Let’s see what else we have here. Some very, very much cold season favorites are this one, which is lovage and it’s a classic French culinary herb, but it’s only at its best in the cool season.

– And you know, we have to point this out to people shopping for herbs because they’re are so unfamiliar with lovage. I know one time when you taught a class you said, “Nobody can leave the gate without a lovage in their basket.”

– It was my year of pushing lovage. But it is worth considering it. It is a member of the same family as parsley. It looks like parsley…

– It does.

– …in the garden. In the winter, it will fill a pot or a spot in your garden with these beautiful leaves and their wonderful flavor.

– And in the kitchen, it’s your celery substitute. And everyone’s always so amazed when you break out a stem and let them smell and taste it. We never use a whole stalk of celery. We always end up throwing half or more away. And it’s so nice to just pick a few leaves as you need it.

– Yeah. Yup. Our favorite.

– Now, this one also goes dormant in the summer.

– It actually… It’s very unusual to have it live through the summer. But I have had them last as long as three years, if the conditions are just exactly right. Of course, chamomile is not one, it’s very, very strong in our hot summers, but it’s beautiful in the winter. And this one is the Roman chamomile.

It won’t bloom, but it’s a beautiful…- Oh, it’s a gorgeous foliage.

– … Gorgeous plant.

– Yes, absolutely. And everyone’s favorite is lavender.

– Absolutely. This is a good one for our climate, this Sweet Lavender. It’s a very, very long-lasting one, although I must say, even though we have a good climate for lavender, you can’t really expect it to live more than about three years even in the best of circumstance. This one is a good bloomer as well.

– It is.

– So, remember to prune it in the winter before it puts on new growth in stems. That blooms on new…- New growth?

– Yeah. New growth. And this is an artemisia, a year-round perennial fill-in.

– And great for the cutting gardener.

– Great for the cutting gardener. And I think some people dry it.

– They do.

– Dry those blooms. It’s a very nice texture. And it’s so pretty.

– And they’re beautiful.

– Beautiful. However you put it together.

– Absolutely. Well, given all of our rain and given our early freeze, let’s take a look at the garden and see how it’s doing.

– Good idea.

– Okay. Well, Ann, as you see, this is what a typical herb flower garden looks like in the middle of winter. We’ve had weeks of rain here on the Gulf Coast this season and a record-breaking early freeze. So, as you know, we don’t do anything extraordinary to protect the plants because we want everyone to see what should be happening in their garden.

We obviously have fed it with some Arbor Gate Blend, but other than that, it’s been on its own.

– Pretty much.

– Yeah.

– And I can see there’s some poppies getting ready to burst into bloom. Those are going to be beautiful. But throughout the winter, we will have seen color in this garden from the calendulas which are a very old-fashioned herb, but bloom yellow, I think twice at fall and then they kind of settle down and then bloom again in the spring.

– And if you get these plants in in the fall and the cooler season, they take you so much longer into the heat of summer. So, it’s worthwhile to plant. People are always so hesitant. “Why can’t I plant now?” Plant, plant, plant.

– Yeah. What can I plant now? And even as we said a bit earlier, there’s still things that can be planted now even though we’re having these gray, and damp days, and lower temperatures, and so forth. The herbs, the classic herbs struggle through our summer, they do not struggle through our winter.

– No. They love it.

– They love it.

– They love it.

– So, in this bed, I think if it were my job to groom as we mentioned, I think I would take the bull by the horns and I would take this piece off. Now, this is one of our favorite plants. Mexican mint marigold. It’s a member of the marigold family. It’s a hardy, hardy, perennial.

– Well, and it’s our tarragon substitute.

– And it’s our tarragon substitute. So, we all like to have it in the garden. It’s finished blooming for this year.

– It has.

– And it’s looking pretty scruffy, but right down here at the bottom, you can see still, young leaves coming. Now, as the winter progresses, it will get to move into true dormancy. So, I don’t mind cutting this branch off and we’ll send that home to its fathers. And right here, where we have then a kind of a blank space, it would be very, very nice to put in some of this Roman chamomile.

I think I would use three to five plants and just fill this space with this lovely fluffy foliage.

– Lacey texture. Right.

– Yeah.

– Now, I did notice that the salad burnet has regenerated completely since the weather has cooled.

– Yeah. It has a hard time in the summer, but once again, this is a very hardy perennial and a lovely cucumber flavor to the leaves for a fresh salad in the summertime or the wintertime.

– The bloom is the scarlet pimpernel. Is it not?

– Well, there are some people who associate that with this plant. They do. It may be a secret. But at any rate, this is the loveliest I’ve ever seen. It is with some little bits of frozen sleet on the leaves.

– Oh, it is beautiful.

– Almost blue-gray leaves like little bits of ice catching the sun.

– And a very pleasant surprise right now, given all the moisture and humidity is the [inaudible].

– Yes. It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of that sage, one of our favorites here. I don’t see a speck of fungus on it anywhere.

– Which is remarkable.

– And it’s a desert plant that, for some reason, puts up with us.

– And aren’t we glad he does in the spring?

– Yeah.

– Beautiful sky blue blooms.

– Blue flowers. And they happen so early too, Beverly. It’s one of the first things you see in the garden in the spring and it will become quite tall as well.

– It will.

– …as the heat comes.

– We’ve got our lovage going, our parsley.

– Here’s a lovage and it’s so pretty with these purple pansies around it. And regular curled parsley and back there, the Mexican oregano waiting to bloom and pull the hummingbirds and the bees into the garden. In this spot, right now, today, you can see the whole transition of a garden from season to season. And those of us who do it, and love it so much, spend so much time with it, can actually… I can picture this Mexican mint marigold in bloom next fall.

And you just have that to look forward to no matter what the particular day may be.

– Now, you just pruned on that one and there’s a couple of reasons why we prune herbs. One, as you just did, was grooming. The second one is for use.

– Using.

– So, let’s go take a look at printing some rosemary for use.

– That’s a good idea.

– As we were talking about earlier, there’s two reasons why we prune in the herb garden. One is for grooming, which you just did with the Mexican mint marigold. The other one is for using. And there seems to be a little almost confusion, if you will, a little hesitation of when and how do I prune my rosemary for use in the kitchen?

– Well, you can…. The nice thing about rosemary is it’s available to you… – [together] …year round.

– Absolutely. Reliably. Now, this is a prostrate rosemary in this garden and it has terrific qualities for decorative purposes…- Yes, it does.

– …since it’s a prostrate rosemary. It can be used for cooking as well, although many feel that the flavor is not as good as it would be in one of the upright variety. Just know that, but this won’t hurt you. You can use it to cook with.

– But our technique is the same…- It’s pretty much the same.

– … With any variety.

– Yes, it is. And I think that the best use of rosemary is had for the kitchen to prune the stems that still have a bit of this light color to them, they’re tenderer. And, you know, it’s possible the strip those leaves off and then you can chop if, if you will, or not.

And, of course, you can also use this rosemary just as it is with the stem and all the leaves if you’re just putting it in a pile of [inaudible].

– So, if I were to reach in for this branch, particularly, what am I looking for?

– What you’re looking for for use, is almost any of it. Okay. What you’re looking for for grooming is different. And the important thing to be able to distinguish is the tender part, the new, young tender part of the stem from the more woody tough part. This is kind of a transition area, but this really white part is new and young and it’s a good thing if you can cut that part off, take that to the kitchen…- This is for the kitchen.

– …But go ahead and protect this part because if you cut rosemary back really hard, for example, if you decided you wanted to take this plant down lower, and so forth, and cut way back down in here, it won’t respond well. The reality is, and it’s a strange thing, it’s a physical thing.

The new little… These new little tender leaves cannot push themselves through the woodiest part of the stem. And that’s why when you cut it back hard, it can’t…- Doesn’t respond.

– It doesn’t respond well.

– And this is really a better… The cooler season is a little easier on these plants for grooming purposes if you need to cut a little more than just our tips for the kitchen.

– Exactly right, Beverly. And I think also that a good rule of thumb is groom often rather than waiting too late and then thinking, “If I cut it back this way, I can get this plant back in shape.”

– And if we’re using it for the kitchen, we are constantly pruning.

– We’re constantly using. Yeah. This is a nice piece. I think I’ll take that one home.

– Okay.

– This one plant is beside a walkway. So, we want to keep that back. So, the thought would be to trim it weekly, biweekly. Just keep it…- Keep it in bounds.

– Keep it in bounds.

– Okay, perfect. Well, thank you, Ann.

– Well, you’re welcome. My pleasure.

– Let’s go garden some more.

– Let’s do.