Herb Gardeners, Old Books and New Catalogs

In the life of a New England herb gardener, winter is the time for books and catalogs. When winter is doing it’s worst outside the window, herb gardeners pull favorite books from the shelves, gather up new garden catalogs and curl up in a cozy spot to plan and dream about the coming spring. It’s a good time of year.

Adelma Simmons, author and herbalist, opened her classic book on growing herbs in New England by noting that herb gardeners were happy in all seasons of the year. I have always agreed with her. There is happiness in greeting old friends as they green-up in the spring and choosing new varieties of herbs to add to the garden mix.
Summer weeding is a treat in an herb garden. The air is full of fragrance as the leafy stems brush your body. The bees and butterflies really do “make a lovely little breeze” and all seems right with the world.

Late summer and autumn bring harvest time and the quiet satisfaction of stashing little tubs of herb butter in the freezer for winter use and storing bottles of homemade herb jellies, mustards and vinegars on pantry shelves. Winter brings planning, learning, dreaming hours spent with books and catalogs. Mrs. Simmons spent enough years in her garden to know that herb gardeners really do live within the seasons of the year, collecting contented moments like bees gathering drops of nectar.

I’m not entirely sure why, but books and herb gardeners seem to be natural companions. Perhaps it’s because, once you grow a few herbs, you remember some curious things you once heard about them. Did the ancients really believe parsley prevented drunkenness? Why? Didn’t my grandmother say a small bag of hops under my pillow would help me sleep? Weren’t herbs used for magic spells? Are herbs medicine? Which ones? What am I growing out there anyway?

Books hold the fascinating answers.

If the following are not on your book shelf, call your local library to borrow them. Read them during these dark and blustery months. Come spring you will look at your herbs with a new eye. What great stories and mysteries those simple green leaves hold! What multiple uses they have!

HERB GARDENING IN FIVE SEASONS Adelma Grenier Simmons, 1964
An excellent herb growing and using guide for New Englanders.

HERBS AND THE EARTH Henry Beston 1932
Henry Beston wrote THE OUTER MOST HOUSE, then he wrote this, the story of his Maine herb garden and the magic it held for him. Beautifully written, it is an unforgettable read.

If you garden and also love Shakespeare, this classic is for you. My edition is 1896, but it may be available in a paperback reprint.

GREEN MAGIC Lesley Gordon 1977
A good overview of the mysterious and magical side of herbs. Fun!

HERBS-Gardens, Decorations and Recipes Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead 1985
Beautiful photography with excellent information on herbs, growing and using them.

COOKING WITH HERBS Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead 1989
More luscious photos and delicious recipes

THE PLEASURE OF HERBS Phyllis Shaudys 1986
HERBAL TREASURES Phyllis Shaudys 1990
All you would ever want to know about using herbs and more.

* It’s seed catalog season. If you haven’t already seen these catalogs, take a look.
HIGH MOWING ORGANIC SEEDS Wolcott, Vt. Vegetables, herbs and flowers. All New England grown and certified organic.
D. LANDRETH SEED COMPANY New Freedom, Pa. A 224 year old seed company specializing in heirloom and vintage bulbs and vegetable, flower and herb seed. A fascinating catalog to browse with beautiful illustrations, almost worthy of framing.
BRENT AND BECKY’S BULBS Gloucester, Va. Top quality bulbs and, oh my, what a collection! Spring, summer, fall I want them all–well almost.

* If you can get to your garden, don’t forget to toss around some lime on sunny beds and borders. Your perennials will say thank you in the spring.

* Remember your indoor herbs–rosemarys, bays and any potted collections you have–need cool temperatures, good air circulation and air with some moisture in it to survive. On days when the temperature is above 35 degrees, reward them with a few hours outdoors. They will love it.