The Buzz

Guest Blog by John Peterson, Memphis Herb Society member


A garden in late winter is a place full of promise, of possibility. A few plants—the deciduous magnolias, the camellias—are in flower, and the occasional daffodil is blooming, letting us know that spring has not forgotten us. But there is a different kind of magic now in unopened buds, in tender growth hidden under leaves, in roots of quiet dynamism.

In the shady section of the herb garden, the magenta flowers of lungwort (Pulmonaria longifolia) seem to glow. Close by, the heady but elusive fragrance of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) draws us to its fringe-like blooms. Both of these plants have been used medicinally, and witch hazel can still be purchased at drug stores in a tincture for skin ailments.  


The sunny part of the garden is waking in stages. As I write this (late February) there is a rosemary plant in bloom on the east side of the garden, well ahead of its relatives in the culinary bed. But there are still signs of winter. One of the stars of the garden right now is the Australian Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia,) its feathery foliage whitened by cold weather. It is the source of tea tree oil and is only marginally hardy here. We will pamper it and leave it for the time being, a ghostly witness to the passing of winter.  

I spent some time last week cutting the hops vines off of their arbor. To do this, I have to stand on the bench, reaching up and out in a move I think I should call “Hops Skip and a Jump.” (With a little marketing and maybe a spot on YouTube, we could start a new dance craze.) When the new shoots appear, we will train a few of them over the arbor and cook the others. (The hops plant is not just for brewing beer.) Twenty feet away the madder vines have become unmanageable. In cutting them to the ground we found new shoots growing on brilliant orange roots, the source of dyes in a wide range of reds, including the coats of the 18th-century British army.

In another month, plants will be growing vigorously, and by the time of the Herbal Celebration on May 14 the Herb Garden will be exuberant with leaves, flowers, pollinators, scents, and flavors from all over the world, a sharp contrast to February, when all of that splendor was a quiet promise.


By John Peterson, Memphis Herb Society member

Posted by Memphis Botanic Garden at 7:00 AM


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