The St. Tammany Master Gardeners Association has a treat in store for gardeners and home cooks on Monday afternoon, April 20: A guided stroll through the herb garden at the Slidell Public Library, accompanied by herb tasting and other events.
Now is the time to plant herbs for spring, according to Master Gardner Linda Franzo, and the best way to do that is to become knowledgeable about the breadth and variety of herb offerings. Herbs will be on sale at the festival, as will garden gloves, second-hand garden books and products by local vendors.
Franzo has a long history with the herb garden at the library.
“A few years after I moved down here from New York, some of us got together and formed a group for studying and growing herbs,” she said. “That was 15 years ago, and eventually we installed the sunburst-patterned herb garden at the library. After Katrina, I managed it until the Master Gardeners took it on as a project. Now, there are about 15 of us who are involved.”
The garden is laid out in a semi-circle with gravel paths weaving around and between raised beds holding herbs of varying flavors, origins and characteristics.
Individual beds include one for flowering butterfly plants; one focused on the flavor of lemon featuring lemongrass and lemon thyme; a third that features medicinal herbs; one for Mediterranean herbs (which require less water than the others); and another planted with garlic chives, lilies and a bay tree, all of which have edible parts.
At the points of the sun’s “rays” grow antique roses, underplanted with mint.
“The antique roses produce hips that can be used to make rose hip tea, a brew high in vitamin C,” Franzo said.
Having the garden on the grounds of the library boosts its value as an educational tool, and the library helps the group out with soil and water.
According to James Dougherty, the herb festival also includes educational talks on the basics of starting a spring herb garden, the how-tos of composting, and the herb savory, which has been crowned the “Herb of the Year” by the International Herb Association.
Varieties of savory include both an annual and a perennial, but both originated in the Mediterranean. The herb is known for its strong peppery flavor and is used to enhance many dishes, especially stuffing, and is widely used in recipes for “herbes de Provence” (an herb mix).
The perennial version, known as winter savory, grows about 12 inches tall and has shiny green leaves and white flowers. The less spicy summer savory grows up to 18 inches tall and has dark green leaves with pale lavender flowers. Both are attractive in herb beds.
The keepers of the herb garden will be on hand to explain how to get the most of the herb harvest, including herb mixes or teas, sugars and simple syrups that preserve flavors long after the herb has been harvested.