In the January 2015 post for the Herb Blurb, I mentioned that is was important even in our temperate climate to be knowledgeable about the zone designations for different herbs. The same holds true for size information. Due to over-exuberance in adding new and different choices to my herb garden mix, I have been taught a space lesson from some of my favorite perennial herbs.
Part of the problem is that the expression of size for an herb might not happen until the second year growth. The small 10” start of Bronze Fennel (F. var. rubrum) did well in my garden the first year, growing to a healthy height of about 36”. But the second year of growth after a winter dieback was easily 5 to 6 feet crowding out herbs and vegetables in my raised garden bed. I kept clipping it back but it pained me to cut down the stocks and flower umbels beloved by the bees. Frustrated, I let it do its thing until late fall when I removed it from the bed and put it in the compost pile.
The following spring I decided to experiment with the herb Lovage (Levisticum) in the same raised bed. My reference source said it would grow 3 to 4’ tall. When the main stock reached 6’ by mid-summer, it was déjà vu. In a different reference book the height for Lovage was listed at 6’ to 7’, once again reminding me to check several sources when dealing with a new herb. This time I was kinder to the rampant grower. After a winter dieback and a healthy sprouting in the spring, I transplanted the Lovage to an area of the garden next to my fence where it had all the room for a full expression of its size. (Photo 1, Lovage next to a 6’ fence.)
Here are a few other herbs that might challenge your garden space. Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ when thriving as it has in my street-side garden, can reach 6 to 7’. (Photo 2) If you have a small garden plot or raised beds, there are shorter and slimmer variety choices available. For example Rosemary ‘Arp’ remains at a manageable size of about 3’ in height and width. Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) can also be a space hog. Select a space in your garden that will give it plenty of room to display its bright red blooms that attract hummingbirds and other garden beneficials.
- Avoid planting any variety of Fennel next to Dill because cross-pollination causes a reduction in seed production and the seed flavor of each becomes less distinct.
- The size of Lovage can be controlled somewhat by pruning during the growing season. Lovage leaves have a strong celery flavor and are used often in European cuisine. Best harvested when young and tender, a few tablespoons of leaves are a nice addition to the spinach you use for your favorite Spanakopita recipe.
- A tender perennial, Pineapple Sage will benefit with pruning and mulching in late fall or early winter. This might provide the protection it will need to survive some potentially harsh winter weather.