The summer heat stimulates the senses – the smell of summer rain, the sound of summer storms and the smell of summer herbs.
The great news is that the vast majority of herbs are both very easy to grow and very easy to fit into an ornamental garden. The silver-grey foliage of sage looks wonderful as a garden edge or to surround the base of pots. The waving yellow heads of fennel add height, movement and fragrance to any garden in which they are grown. Pineapple sage grows to a well behaved small shrub with striking red flowers for all of the warm months of the year.
If culinary herbs are more your fancy, then summer is the time for basil, coriander, mint, thyme and parsley. In warmer parts of Australia, coriander and basil do prefer some protection from really hot winds and hot sun. Morning sun or filtered afternoon light will see them at their best in summer. While the flowers of basil are both attractive and edible they really should be removed to prolong the life of the plant. As the flower buds form, nip them off and discard or use them as a garnish in a summer salad.
Chilies are worth growing as ornamental plants alone. The spires of red fruit contrast beautifully with the deep green glossy foliage. Chilies range in heat from very mild to extremely hot, so care with variety selection is important. If all else fails, read the label. Chilies also make very good companions for a number of vegetables including tomatoes, carrots and onions. Other good companions for the vegetable garden are chives to repel aphids and mint to keep a wide range of insects away.
If you are looking for something a little different and perhaps a little bit trendy, stevia rebaudiana plants are becoming quite readily available. Stevia rebaudiana leaves can be used as a healthy sweetening alternative to sugar. The plant, stevia rebaudiana, has been used for at least 1500 years by people in Brazil and Paraguay in South America where it is still used to sweeten tea and other foods. Simply add leaves directly to infusing tea or dry and use as a ground powder. Stevia rebaudiana is free from calories. It is from the daisy family and quite easy to grow. Any good garden soil and a regular pruning, which is normally done to harvest leaves, will keep the small bush compact and growing well.
The classical look of a herb planter is a great way to grow summer herbs. In warmer climates, it is wise to use a large pot with a large volume of potting mix. This will help to avoid extreme temperature variations in and around the roots which will keep the plant going for much longer and reduce how often they need water.
Whether grown to tempt the taste buds, paint a picture in the garden, or scent the air, the summer heat needs summer herbs.
Words and Images by Brian Sams.