Monday, February 9, 2009

Cuttings


No herbs are so easy to propagate by means of cuttings as spearmint, peppermint, and their relatives which have underground stems. Every joint of these stems will produce a new plant if placed in somewhat moist soil. Often, however, this ability is a disadvantage, because the plants are prone to spread and become a nuisance unless watched. Hence such plants should be placed where they will not have their roots cut by tools used close to them. When they seem to be extending, their borders should be trimmed with a sharp spade pushed vertically full depth into the soil and all the earth beyond the clump thus restricted should be shaken out with a garden fork and the cut pieces of mint removed. Further, the forked-over ground should be hoed every week during the remainder of the season, to destroy lurking plantlets.

The other perennial and biennial herbs may be readily propagated by means of stem cuttings or "slips," which are generally as easy to manage as verbenas, geraniums and other "house plants." The cuttings may be made of either fully ripened wood of the preceding or the current season, or they may be of firm, not succulent green stems. After trimming off all but a few of the upper leaves, which should be clipped to reduce transpiration, the cuttings—never more than 4 or 5 inches long—should be plunged nearly full depth in well-shaded, rather light, porous, well-drained loam where they should remain undisturbed until they show evidences of growth. Then they may be transplanted. While in the cutting bed they must never be allowed to become dry. This is especially true of greenwood cuttings made during the summer. These should always have the coolest, shadiest corner in the garden. The cuttings taken in the spring should be set in the garden as soon as rooted; but the summer cuttings, especially if taken late, should generally be left in their beds until the following spring. They may, however, be removed for winter use to window boxes or the greenhouse benches.

Often the plants grown in window boxes may supply the early cuttings, which may be rooted in the house. Where a greenhouse is available, a few plants may be transplanted in autumn either from the garden or from the bed of summer cuttings just mentioned, kept in a rather cool temperature during the winter and drawn upon for cuttings as the stems become sufficiently mature. The rooting may take place in a regular cutting bench, or it may occur in the soil out of doors, the plantlets being transplanted to pots as soon as they have rooted well.

If a large number of plants is desired, a hotbed may be called into requisition in early spring and the plants hardened off in cold frames as the season advances. Hardening off is essential with all plants grown under glass for outdoor planting, because unless the plants be inured to outside temperatures before being placed in the open ground, they will probably suffer a check, if they do not succumb wholly to the unaccustomed conditions. If well managed they should be injured not at all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fennel

Fennel, a biennial or perennial herb, generally considered a native of southern Europe, though common on all Mediterranean shores. The old Latin name Fœniculum is derived from fœnum or hay. It has spread with civilization, especially where Italians have colonized, and may be found growing wild in many parts of the world, upon dry soils near the sea coast and upon river banks.

It seems to be partial to limestone soils, such as the chalky lands of England and the shelly formation of Bermuda. In this latter community I have seen it thriving upon cliffs where there seemed to be only a pinch of soil, and where the rock was so dry and porous that it would crumble to coarse dust when crushed in the hand. The plant was cultivated by the ancient Romans for its aromatic fruits and succulent, edible shoots. Whether cultivated in northern Europe at that time is not certain, but it is frequently mentioned in Anglo-Saxon cookery prior to the Norman conquest. Charlemagne ordered its culture upon the imperial farms. At present it is most popular in Italy, and France. In America it is in most demand among French and Italians. Like many other plants, fennel has had a highly interesting career from a medical point of view. But it no longer plays even a "small part" in the drama.

Common garden or long, sweet fennel is distinguished from its wild or better relative (F. vulgare) by having much stouter, taller (5 to 6 feet) tubular and larger stems, less divided, more glaucous leaves. But a still more striking difference is seen in the leaf stalks which form a curved sheath around the stem even as far up as the base of the leaf above. Then, too, the green flowers are borne on more sturdy pedicels in the broader umbels, lastly the seeds are double the size of the wild fennel seeds, ¼ or ½ inch long. They are convex on one side, flat on the other, and are marked by five yellowish ribs. Though a French writer says the seed degenerates "promptly," and recommends the use of fresh seed annually, it will not be wise to throw away any where it is not wanted to germinate, unless it is over four years old, as seed as old even as that is said to be satisfactory for planting.

Fennel is considered indispensable in French and Italian cookery. The young plants and the tender leaves are often used for garnishes and to add flavor to salads. They are also minced and added to sauces usually served with puddings. The tender stems and the leaves are employed in soups and fish sauces, though more frequently they are eaten raw as a salad with or without dressing. The famous "Carosella" of Naples consists of the stems cut when the plant is about to bloom. These stems are considered a great delicacy served raw with the leaf stalks still around them. Oil, vinegar and pepper are eaten with them. By sowing at intervals of a week or 10 days Italian gardeners manage to have a supply almost all the year.

The seeds are used in cookery, confectionery and for flavoring liquors. Oil of fennel, a pale yellow liquid, with a sweetish aromatic odor and flavor, is distilled with water. It is used in perfumery and for scenting soaps. A pound of oil is the usual yield of 500 pounds of the plant.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Herb Garden: Rosemary

As its generic name implies, rosemary is a native of sea-coasts, "rose" coming from Ros, dew, and "Mary" from marinus, ocean. It is one of the many Labiatæ found wild in limy situations along the Mediterranean coast. In ancient times many and varied virtues were ascribed to the plant, hence its "officinalis" or medical name, perhaps also the belief that "where rosemary flourishes, the lady rules!" Pliny, Dioscorides and Galin all write about it. It was cultivated by the Spaniards in the 13th century, and from the 15th to the 18th century was popular as a condiment with salt meats, but has since declined in popularity, until now it is used for seasoning almost exclusively in Italian, French, Spanish and German cookery.

The plant is a half-hardy evergreen, 2 feet or more tall. The erect, branching, woody stems bear a profusion of little obtuse, linear leaves, green above and hoary white beneath. On their upper parts they bear pale blue, axillary flowers in leafy clusters. The light-brown seeds, white where they were attached to the plant, will germinate even when four years old. All parts of the plant are fragrant—"the humble rosemary whose sweets so thanklessly are shed to scent the desert" (Thomas Moore). One of the pleasing superstitions connected with this plant is that it strengthens the memory. Thus it has become the emblem of remembrance and fidelity. Hence the origin of the old custom of wearing it at weddings in many parts of Europe.

Rosemary is easily propagated by means of cuttings, root division and layers in early spring, but is most frequently multiplied by seed. It does best in rather poor, light soil, especially if limy. The seed is either sown in drills 18 to 24 inches apart or in checks 2 feet asunder each way, half a dozen seeds being dropped in each "hill." Sometimes the seedbed method is employed, the seed being sown either under glass or in the open ground and the seedlings transplanted. Cultivation consists in keeping the soil loose and open and free from weeds. No special directions are necessary as to curing. In frostless sections, and even where protected by buildings, fences, etc., in moderate climates, the plants will continue to thrive for years.

The tender leaves and stems and the flowers are used for flavoring stews, fish and meat sauces, but are not widely popular in America. Our foreign-born population, however, uses it somewhat. In France large quantities, both cultivated and wild, are used for distilling the oil of rosemary, a colorless or yellowish liquid suggesting camphor, but even more pleasant. This oil is extensively used in perfuming soaps, but more especially in the manufacture of eau de cologne, Hungary water and other perfumes.