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Some Like It Cold: Herbs that Thrived Through the Frost

Master Gardener Al Hendry long ago told me something very wise I have never forgotten. "If you plant some fruits (or ornamentals, herbs, vegetables) that like it cold and some that like it warm, you will always have something."

More herbs die from summer heat and rain than from frost, but some of them thrive on the cold. Among those are some of my favorites.

The bay or bay laurel survived without any cover or set back. This grows very slowly at best but mine is finally about 3 feet tall after several years of growth. I would have hated to lose it. I just learned that bay leaves between the pages of books or among them on the book shelves will control the silver fish that sometimes eat the pages.

For years I thought the black pepper vine would not do well here, but someone gave me a plant a few years ago and it also survived without cover (I had taken a cutting just in case.) in the shade by my gate post and is blooming as it never has before. So is the one at the herb garden at the Pinellas Extension Office in full sun. Allen Cordell was rubbing the blooms to help pollination.

Borage likes the cold. It didn't even mind Iowa winters. Mine self seeded to the tune of one plant this year, and I am very glad to have it. Borage was starting to bloom at the Pinellas herb garden on Valentine's day.

The comfrey came through and is looking better than ever. I use this both for human health and for plant health, usually in the form of a tea. It is also called knitbone and is especially beneficial when bones are healing. A small patch of herbs is worth a medicine chest full of pills.

The fennel had a growth spurt to celebrate the cold. This ferny friend is attractive even in leaf, but I've had it flower with lovely yellow flowers in a flat clusters like the elderberry and fennel seeds follow. Fennel is used in salads, soups, teas, dye, cosmetics, and in steam facials. Besides that the black swallowtail butteflies use it as a larvae plant.

Garlic chives came through fine and were even blooming at the Pinellas garden, but none of the plants mentioned here are based on that garden alone, since it had much less cold. I had some garlic chives in a pot (more likely to be damaged because even the roots can get cold) and they are doing well. I find garlic chive much longer-lived and more reliable than the regular chives.

My favorite gingers, the pinecone, the edible, and the butterfly, are safely dormant with food supplies stored in bulbs, so I didn't have to worry about them. Some may take until early April to push up new leaves, but they never fail.

All three of my oreganos, the Greek, the Mexican, and the Puerto Rican came through without a pause in growth. So did the sweet marjoram at the herb garden.

Parsley, both the curly leaved and the flat-leaved Italian love cold weather. They used to live under a basket through winters in both Iowa and Ohio and produce flowers and seeds the second year. It is summer that usually does them in here. The same is true for thyme. Mine is still small, but spring will make it spread and I'll harvest and dry much of it before summer.

The yarrow was beautiful at the herb garden where a lush bed of ferny foliage was producing lovely white flowers. Besides these nice cut flowers, yarrow makes a fine groundcover in sun to partial shade. Some gardeners feel yarrow increases the essential oils, and therefore the fragrance, or other herbs growing near it. It attracts beneficial insects such as predatory wasps and the sign in the Pinellas garden said it repels mosquitoes. This one you can start from seed.

Aloe, cardamon, citrus, junipers, roses, rosemary, and many other herbs survive both winter and summer with little work or worry. Only some basils and one lavender perished and the lavender might have come back had I not mistakenly hoed it out with the cosmos. The other lavender, in more shade survived. And I had my patchouli in a pot and brought it in.


These catkins are the pepper flowers. Wrinkled red fruit is supposed to follow. Mine has only ever had the flowers so far, but "hope springs eternal."

Yarrow: A lush bed of ferny foliage was blooming in Largo in mid February with lovely white flowers that are good in bouquets fresh or dried. Yarrow also makes a fine groundcover in sun to partial shade.

 

Comfrey is very beneficial for both for human health and for plant health, usually in the form of a tea. It is also called knitbone and is especially beneficial when bones are healing.


Thyme or sage are among the most used of the culinary herbs and they thrive through our winters, sulk in our summers.

 

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