For example, their flowers often are very attractive to our native bees as well as honeybees, and many plants bring other beneficial and just plain fun insects into the garden. So, to continue with herbs I know and grow, here’s some information on fennel, French tarragon, and lemongrass.
There are two types of fennel that people might be growing, the common fennel, Foeniculum vulgare and Florence fennel, Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum. The common fennel is grown for seed and looks like a dill plant with the ferny leaves, but it doesn’t produce a bulbous base. The Florence fennel is what most people would grow for its anise-flavored stalks and for the bulbous base used in cooking. I have grown this one for years, and if you pick the right spot in the garden they can grow for years, either producing seeds so you have new plants sprouting up or with the main plant overwintering.
Fennel is a cool-season herb so it’s best to keep it out of the all-day sun and give it very even soil moisture, especially if you are looking for good bulb development. Once the bulbous base starts growing you can mound soil around it to keep it white and keep the flavor from being overpowering.
Chefs really like Florence fennel pollen for its intense anise flavor, which you can gather by shaking the flower blooms into a plastic bag. Fennel is also great because it brings in many beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings and damsel bugs, which will feed on the more destructive insects in our gardens. Also, most years I will find a caterpillar or two chomping away at the leaves, but don’t harm these if you see them since they are swallowtail butterfly larvae. If you find them on your fennel you can know how lucky you are to be helping to keep these beautiful butterflies in our area.
French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is an herb I planted years ago, and due to its good spreading growth was able to move portions of the plant to other places in the garden. I have even taken small divisions to give out in a number of past plant propagation classes. There are two types of tarragon – French and Russian – and since French has better flavor, that is the one I would suggest.
Tarragon likes full sun and can grow two to three feet tall and spread out an easy one to two feet. Tarragon does not need an abundance of nutrients, so be careful with any fertilizer applications. Tarragon is used in fish dishes and in vinegars as well as flavoring vegetables and meats.
I started growing lemongrass years ago and really like the plant and the ease of growth. I have grown both the East-Indian variety, Cymbopogon flexuosus, and the West-Indian variety, Cymbopogon citratus, and there is no doubt that the West-Indian variety is the one to grow for culinary use. The West-Indian variety is usually found as plants, and while you could plant this in the yard, it is not going to survive our winters. So I always grow mine in pots.
Lemongrass likes plenty of sun and you want reasonably good, even soil moisture. Since lemongrass can grow fairly large, you want a nice good-sized pot and need to keep a watch on the watering as the plants grow. Since the plants really start growing in the summer heat you want to give it a good source of nitrogen to optimize its growth.
All parts of the plant can be used in cooking – the leaves can be used to flavor soups or teas, the stalks can be simmered to get the lemony flavor, and you can mince the white base and add it to meats and vegetables. In the fall, I cut back the leaves of my plants about halfway and pull the plants out of the pot, trim the roots and wash off any remaining soil and replant in new soil for keeping inside during the winter. I don’t suggest just moving pots inside from outdoors since you could bring other insects like fungus gnats inside and have to deal with them all winter.
Thought for the day: “If you want to feel rich, just count the things that money can’t buy.” — author unknown.
For more information about these topics call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.