Cilantro to sage, herbs are a Colorado gar­dener’s friend

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - Pho­tos by Kathryn Scott, The Den­ver Post By Colleen Smith

At Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens, the Herb Gar­den typ­i­cally is one of the most un­der­stated spa­ces. The sun-drenched exA­panse of hard­scape is soft­ened by about 200 herb species with be­guil­ing scents and 50 shades of green.

“You don’t have to have blooms on ev­ery­thing,” said Lod­die Dolin­ski, a botanic gar­dens se­nior hor­ti­cul­tur­ist who has tended the Herb Gar­den for about 20 years. “Some­times, the leaf is the most in­ter­est­ing.”

Cur­rently, the Herb Gar­den en­joys lime­light as a back­drop for one of the sculp­tures in “Calder: Mon­u­men­tal,” the gar­den’s lat­est art ex­trav­a­ganza.

“The struc­ture of the Herb Gar­den of­fers a vis­ually ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting for ‘A Two-Faced Guy,’ ” said Lisa El­dred, di­rec­tor of ex­hi­bi­tions, art and in­ter­pre­ta­tion. “The sculp­ture’s cir­cu­lar base fits nicely within the con­cen­tric cir­cles of the gar­den plan.”

Work­ing in the for­mally struc­tured Herb Gar­den on a re­cent sunny day, Dolin­ski wasn’t wear­ing gloves, but she did wear a broad-brimmed hat — the bricks in the Herb Gar­den re­flect the ful­lon sun many herbs re­quire to flour­ish.

“Most herbs need a min­i­mum of half a day of sun; but in Colorado, our half day equals a full day back east,” Dolin­ski said.

Dolin­ski also wore a jolly gar­dener’s grin, handed out Lindt Emoji choco­lates and brewed a pot of cof­fee for the Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens Guild vol­un­teers who were there to help main­tain the Herb Gar­den.

The guild’s cur­rent pres­i­dent, Pat Tre­fry, showed wares made with the gar­den’s or­ganic dried herbs. To raise funds for the gar­dens, the guild pro­duces small batch herbal soaps, sug­ars, vine­gars, culi­nary rubs and cat toys for the botanic gar­dens’ win­ter gift sale.

Herb gar­dens were the first gar­dens. Their an­cient roots date to 2000 B.C. writ­ten records in Egypt, ac­cord­ing to “Herbs: Leaves of Magic,” by Carol Riggs. Since time im­memo­rial, herbs have pro­vided hu­man­ity with food, medicine, and per­sonal care prod­ucts. Na­tive Amer­i­cans used lamb’s ear leaves as toi­let paper and as a dress­ing to stop bleed­ing. An or­na­men­tal herb with a pretty pur­ple flower, monks­hood yielded poi­son for hunt­ing, war and witch­craft. Shake­speare’s Romeo com­mit­ted sui­cide with the herb.

“In me­dieval clois­tered gar­den, plants weren’t grown for beau­ti­ful bou­quets. Their pur­pose was medic­i­nal,” Dolin­ski said. “They prob­a­bly ap­pre­ci­ated the nice blos­soms, but they wanted the rose hips. We go to Costco for vi­ta­min C, but 100 years ago, if you had some herbal knowl­edge or brought seeds, you sur­vived bet­ter. We look at dan­de­lions as weeds, but used it as a spring tonic.”

Tre­fry men­tioned that her fam­ily didn’t view them as weeds. “I grew up on dan­de­lion salad. In north Den­ver, the Ital­ians just added vine­gar and oil to the greens. We ate dan­de­lion flow­ers, too.”

Dolinksi noted that herbs can serve as salt sub­sti­tutes for peo­ple re­strict­ing sodium in their di­ets.

“You start out with the Si­mon and Gar­funkel song ‘Pars­ley, Sage, Rose­mary and Thyme.’ They’re the easy ones, al­most no fail, and the fla­vors ap­peal to most peo­ple’s taste,” she said.

“But when your taste broad­ens, you move on to lo­vage — a cel­ery sub­sti­tute, a huge plant, stately and ar­chi­tec­tural. If you like to cook, go af­ter culi­nary herbs. Fen­nel has a beau­ti­ful, airy leaf. You can use fronds on fish, but the seed heads also are a breath-fresh­ener. They’re anise, so you have to like licorice.”

Herbs’ mul­ti­pur­pose na­ture lines up with 2017 landscaping trends iden­ti­fied by the As­so­ci­ated Land­scape Con­trac­tors of Colorado. The ALCC’s num­ber one trend: putting the gar­den to work.

An­other ALCC in­cli­na­tion is plant­ing for cli­mate change. Most herbs can sur­vive the roller-coaster weather of Den­ver’s steppe cli­mate. Herbs also fit the bill for the ALCC’s call for low­main­te­nance, low-wa­ter, easyto-grow plants.

“Herbs can go dry. They are not dif­fi­cult plants. Herbs are not di­vas. They’re not prissy. As far as pests — min­i­mal. Herbs don’t re­quire fuss­ing. You don’t buy spe­cial fer­til­izer or a spe­cial con­tainer, and you don’t have to in­vest a lot of time,” Dolin­ski said.

“They’re not to­tally care­free, but they’re on the lower end of main­te­nance. Ev­ery­one wants low main­te­nance, but you have to do some­thing.”

What Dolinksi does: Adds a light ap­pli­ca­tion of com­post as a top dress­ing in spring and a spreads a thin layer of wood mulch in bald spots.

“Maybe the herbs in con­tain­ers get fed with some kelp,” she said.

Oth­er­wise, she and her vol­un­teers weed. And weed. And weed some more.

“The weed­ing is re­lent­less, but it’s your at­ti­tude,” Dolin­ski said. “You’re go­ing to have weeds, so get out there and get your vi­ta­min D.”

To help keep weeds down, she sprays brick pavers with vine­gar. And she doesn’t al­low most herbal flow­ers to go to seed lest they self-sow.

Basil and cilantro are good herbs to plant right now, she said. But wait un­til fall to plant peren­ni­als — it’s too tough to mon­i­tor their wa­ter in this heat.

“With herbs, you can mix them in. They blend so well,” Dolin­ski said. “You don’t need a strictly herb gar­den. Plant what you like. Stick in some cal­en­dula and nas­tur­tium. Keep a mini gar­den of fa­vorite sa­vory herbs close to your kitchen so you can snip them. They smell so good when you brush up against them,” Dolin­ski said.

“Not ev­ery­thing grows. I had no luck with ste­via. Maybe I’ll try it again.”

Se­nior hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Lod­die Dolin­ski per­forms her reg­u­lar weed­ing rit­ual among some of the laven­der plants in­side the Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens’ Herb Gar­den in Den­ver.

Var­ie­gated lemon balm


Clump onion

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