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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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May 18


Posted on May 18, 2018 at 10:38 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

lemon balm
 Lemon balm
Herbs are hidden treasures in the garden. Their beauty and versatility as garden plants are often forgotten. In fact, mention herbs and I would venture to say most of us consider only their culinary benefits: The use of parsley to enhance a spaghetti sauce or embellish the presentation of a dinner dish. The cilantro we associate with salsas and Hispanic savory dishes. The perennial lemon balm leaves floating in a pitcher of ice tea. And then there is basil. How can anyone not have basil growing in the garden for that impromptu pesto to add to pasta or spread on bread instead of mayo? Or a rosemary branch to use as a barbeque brush for applying marinades?

There is nothing like using fresh herbs in cooking—the results cannot be mirrored with dried herbs. But that’s not all that herbs offer. As I walk around the garden, I note that the herbs planted therein are typically not damaged by browsing deer, rabbits or squirrels. They produce small but beautiful flowers. They come in all sizes and varieties. Would you be surprised to learn that most herbs are also low-water-using plants? How could these plants with so many benefits be overlooked?

Sage (Salvia) is one of my favorite herbs. The plants in this genus have been developed into many ornamental uses, while still containing that same aromatic scent that thwarts the most aggressive garden invaders from dining on the brilliantly colored flowers. Sage attracts beneficial insects into the garden as well.

creeping thyme
 Creeping thyme
Thyme scores right up at the top of my list of groundcovers to plant. This low-grower creeps between stepping stones. Different varieties have different leaf colors that also can add interest to the garden. For example, lemon thyme leaves have a variegated yellow leaf. Wooly thyme is just that—the leaves cast the image of gray fuzzy wool. Additionally, these plants are covered in beautiful blossoms during the late spring/early summer, adorning the ground with a rich carpet of brilliant pink. When in bloom, this groundcover serves to attract bees. (As a result, I would not recommend planting it around a swimming pool.)

Many herbs are used for medicinal purposes. Mint is great for relieving a tummy ache; simply steam a few leaves in hot water to make a tea. A word of caution regarding mint: It is invasive. Plant it in a container and place the container on concrete where the root system cannot work its way into the soil. Savory is another plant known to aid in digestion. 

Herbs can also add interest in a formal garden. Traditional English gardens commonly featured “knot gardens” where plants formed intricate mini hedge patterns to mimic a fancy knot. I can only imagine that the maintenance for this type of garden would be intense, but it creates a beautiful effect for those so inclined. 

The number of herbs is too numerous to mention. They are worth investigating. Grow them in containers by the kitchen door, grow them in the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects, grow them in the kitchen window. Most important? Grow them!


Scott Stokes
May 18, 2018 at 12:33 PM
Charlene, when are you going to publish these wonderful little vignettes about gardening??? One or two for every week of the year.
Anonymous User
May 18, 2018 at 11:43 PM
Thanks, Charlene. How nice to imagine these wonderful fragrant, medicinal, tasty herbs!! I want to see a picture of the Knot Garden!
Anonymous User
May 18, 2018 at 11:44 PM see above comment!
Anonymous User
May 21, 2018 at 9:26 AM
Scott, The blog is written once a week! Sometime in between I need to be in the garden instead of sitting at my desk writing or I will end up minus a garden! Thanks for your desire to read more of what I can share!
Anonymous User
May 21, 2018 at 9:35 AM
Pictures of the Knot Garden, eh? It would not be of my garden for the formality does not exist here by choice. Given that, it would be suggested to Google images of a knot garden. There are some splendid examples to be seen!

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