A GROWING CONCERN: Greek heritage spices up Mediterranean herbs

WELL, HERE WE are, into July already.

This is the month of the Peninsula’s largest festival, a botanical one at that (Lavender Weekend is July 21-23 in the Sequim area).

But why is a Mediterranean plant such a sensation?

Lavender is so wonderful here because of our soil conditions. In fact, there are a host of Mediterranean herbs that would be spectacular in your yard.

The reason is quite simple.

First, the vast majority of Mediterranean herbs are semi-hardy and die in areas that have cold winters. Our relatively mild winters are perfect for them.

Next, the geographical herb group thrives in area of low humidity, another characteristic of the North Olympic Peninsula.

Also, Mediterranean herbs like sunny regions with moderate rainfall, which the Peninsula’s rain shadow provides.

Lastly, these herbs flourish in poor soils with high rocky content — exactly like your backyard.

The thing to remember is that those plants must have well-drained (not moist) sandy soils.

Long experience and numerous field trials have shown that compost is perhaps the best form of fertilization for these plants.

In addition, most herbs have a high resistance to many bugs and diseases, and they can actually repel certain bugs.

Here is a list of some heat-tolerant, drought-resistant Mediterranean varieties to spice up your ornamental garden, enhance your foods and add aromatic pleasure to your home.

1. Artemisia: Artemisia was the wife and sister of the great Persian king Mausolus. After his death, she had the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus built, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.

She was also a botanist and medical researcher, and this family of more than 200 plants was named in her honor.

Artemisias have great visual effect with lovely, finely cut silver leaves.

Great varieties are wormwood, tree Artemisia, silver king and the delightful 4-inch creeping evergreen.

2. Mint: As Greek mythology goes, there was a nymph named Minthe who was loved by the god Pluto.

In a jealous rage, Pluto’s wife, Persephone, transformed Minthe into this plant, which bears her name.

Pluto could not undo Persephone’s actions but was able to soften the blow by giving Minthe an appealing scent so that when she was walked on, the sweeter the scent.

A family of more than 600 varieties, mint does divinely here on the Peninsula.

There are variegated forms, such as apple mint or ginger mint, and bronze forms, such as red raripila spearmint and “citrata,” or eau de cologne mint.

The hundreds of varieties of mint are used for cooking, teas, flavorings, baking or in bath water.

3 and 4. Oregano and marjoram: The Greeks gave the name oro ganos (oregano), which means “joy of the mountain,” to this herb because of the pleasurable scent and beautiful floral displays it produced as it covered the hillsides of ancient Greece.

Marjoram was used by bridal couples to embellish a crown of garlands, and departing spirits were given cuttings of the plant placed on tombs.

Oregano and marjoram should be placed all over a yard. They are beautiful flowering plants that smell great and superbly flavor sauces, meats, teas and salads.

In the beds I have planted here on the Peninsula, marjoram is one of the people’s favorites.

5. Sage: The word sage comes from the Latin “salvere” — to be in good health.

Your garden will be in perfect vigor with the addition of sage. They are a choice plant in making sachets; they dry very well and are unbeatable in flavoring meats, stews and soups.

In the garden, they add nice texture and range to plantings.

The tri-colored purpurea variegata, along with icternia (gold variegated) and the very nice red sage, purpurea, add exceptional beauty.

6. Rosemary: Meaning “dew of the sea,” rosemary is revered as the bush associated with the Virgin Mary.

It was also burned in the sick chambers to purify the air, or carried in bags and sniffed.

Today, you should buy this herb for its magnificent blue flowers and aroma.

The creeping forms, which cascade down rock or wall facings, bloom from winter to late spring.

There are also pink blooming varieties (majorca) as well as white (Miss Jessup’s upright and alba), along with many fine blue and Athens blue spires.

7. Thyme: Thymus derives from the Greek word for courage. Later, Roman soldiers bathed in thyme water to give themselves vigor.

I fill my gardens with thyme for the delicate way they intertwine and grow.

Thyme is perfect for the rock garden or herb pot. They bloom in very bright colors and are most prolific.

The woolly thyme is notable for its hairy leaves.

Great short varieties that creep along and a ground cover include mauve and pink thyme.

In the upright versions, the lemon thyme and silver lemon thyme stand out.

And that is all the thyme I have today.

________

Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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