Thursday, June 4, 2015

Herbal élan with homegrown panache

Herb gardens are an essential ingredient in my recipe for the perfect summer. For the past, gosh, almost 20 years I’d say—even though saying that out loud makes me feel old—I’ve planted an herb garden in pots. And every year I try to make it as quirky and delightful as can be. A few ideas are below, and guess what, at the end of this little missive on achieving herbal awesomeness, there’s going to be a new stamp set inspired by my passion for the scented potager. What a great day to be alive. :)

Mix up the pots and containers for maximum interest. I prefer good-old terra cotta for both the look and the great drainage it supplies for sun-loving, dry-soil-craving herbs. I have a few mossy pots, some brightened up with acrylic paint, I’ll mix ruffle-edged and basketweave or other bas relief patterns, some are glazed in wonderful colors, and then some are as plain as can be! Big, small, tall, skinny, short, squat, multi-level, just shake it up. Recently I’ve added a few pots that only appear to be terra cotta—psyche—they’re plastic! They are very light and easy to move. But not quite as cute and rustic. Then also I have clay pots in shades of cream and grey, and even a few vintage enamel colanders turned into well-draining containers. We’ll come back to that near the end...

Herb tags from potagers past — still holding up!

Make cute plant tags. For me, this is a major part of the herb garden experience. I handletter the tags on wooden stakes from a favorite local garden store (big ups to OK Hatchery Farm & Garden in Kirkwood, MO!) I may even enjoy it more than the planting part. OK, I do like it more than the planting part. Get this, I use the same pens for the plant tags as when drawing the artwork for my digis and stamps — Pigma Micron pens by Sakura. They’re deluxe! The ink is waterproof and fadeproof, and can survive a summer of watering and sunshine. Yes! How about that. Of course you can just keep the plastic gee-gaws that come with the herbs and have all the essential growing info, but that’s not as cute! Memorize that stuff then hide them in the shed and make your own. Also try metal tags (write on them with paint pens), or chalkboard tags, recently Lulu made a set of 8 out of glazed ceramic (total heirloom alert), or gosh, maybe someday we’ll come up with a stamp set that has all the names of the herbs and you can STAMP them on the tags! Hmm....

Handlettered tag in action from last year’s crop, where I had a scented geranium theme and every morning was a sniff-fest of exotic aromas and curious leaf shapes.

Early morning watering session with Lulu a few summers ago.

Shop around for a variety of herbs, the more cultivars the better! The weirder the better! I’m kinda tired of plain green garden sage but what about ‘Berggarten’ Sage, with beautifully formed oversize grey-green leaves, which make for a showier plant with that delicious sage-y scent and flavor. Or better yet, throw in Golden Sage, Tri-Color, or Purple! I’ll plant anything lemon-scented like thyme or basil (look for  citriodorus or citriodorum in the species name); lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon scented geranium... or better yet, some are both lemon-scented AND variegated, where the foliage is a mix of green and white or yellow or chartreuse. Maybe this is the year to ditch that typical mint and try the dainty peppermint leaves of Pennyroyal? Go crazy folks, go crazy!

Plant tag designed by Lulu three years ago, when I handed the kids my usual supplies and they did all the work! Some of the most creative lettering for plant markers I’ve ever seen was the result!! Lulu’s Parsley tag features the Pi symbol and butterflies, and her newly developing cursive. And somehow I didn't snap a photo of this one... but Finn’s Basil tag, as described by Finn at the time (age 6): “Mommy, Look! The S is actually a snake! I made the L into a light saber. And the B is made into butt cheeks!” Ahhhhh little boys!

Find a mix of foliage shapes and colors. The delicately scalloped leaves of Burnet, strappy swords of lemongrass, ripply wonders of curly parsley or what about Rue, where the whole plant is covered in what look like tiny versions of Henri Matisse cut-outs. The enchantment does not end, folks. Lavender varieties are available with fringed leaves, which add such a quirky touch in a mixed planting. Try to think about plants with matte tones to their leaves, combining with others that are more glossy.

Because most herbs aren’t grown for their flowers, you’ll want to be sure the foliage is as interesting as possible (you know, if you care about things like that...). Trying various shades of blue-green plants all in the same pot—‘Berggarten’ Sage, ‘Kent Beauty’ Oregano, Rue, and Allium senescens would be a great combo. Using deep colors like purple (the Basils available these days can easily satisfy this need) and bright yellow-greens (ie Golden Oregano, Golden Thyme) help the cause! The contrast is so important, and the worst thing that happens if you don’t like how they look together is that you may want to (carefully) yank a plant out later and re-pot. So do experiment, friends! It will pay off in very memorable herb gardens that are as much a joy to USE as they are to admire.

Ceramic plant tag designed and made by Lulu in art class

Bring in a few herbs that reliably flower, such as Nasturtium, Borage, Catnip, Mint, and of course, Chives — but know that once the herb has flowered, its flavor will not be quite as intense, and the plant may decline a bit afterwards. Perhaps plant a few extras only to let them flower, and watch the sweet show unfurl.

Figure out what herbs you use the most, and plant a few extra of those next time. Around here, that means Lemon Thyme, Marjoram, Tarragon, Rosemary, and good ole Genovese Basil. I usually nab 2-3 good-lookin’ starter pots of each of these, and give them lots of space to grow, because in a typical summer I’ll cook with at least a few of them almost every day. Above all, experiment, experiment, experiment!! Oh yes, and HAVE FUN! :)

Wow.... all this info about planting herb gardens and making tags, and we ALSO have a stamp set to share! If you couldn’t tell from the above, I absolutely HAD to design an herb-inspired set, and it absolutely HAD to have handlettering involved somehow! PLUS, I obviously love to pontificate about the topic of herbs. May I present .... Sage Advice!

Featuring a mix of traditional favorites all potted up in a kitchen colander, a coordinating border and herbal accents, PLUS a number of fun little sayings, garden snips, and a bitsy pot of rosemary just ’cause, Sage Advice will give you a sweetly-crafted, country garden look and a feel-good spirit at the same time.

Come and see what the Bloom Brigade has made for us today with this set:

All of the sets from the Cultivate Love Collection will be available on June 8th for purchase in the Power Poppy Shop! (Did you see the Poppies preview yesterday? Be sure to go take a look at the awesome cards everyone made.) But we’re not even close to being finished yet. Tomorrow there’s more floral fun to show you, because we all know I can’t ever have enough flowers (and face it, can anyone?? :)

Thanks so much for coming by!! OH! Please leave us a note in the comments if there are any herb garden tips YOU would like to share, or must-try plant combinations, or great sources for plants or seeds. Have a brilliant day, y’all!


  1. Marcy, I LOVE this post. And this stamp set. And all of your herb photos. I know I could lose myself in that gorgeous garden you have created. Thank you so much for all of your herb information....I am about to plant a large cast iron pot full of herbs and you have definitely inspired me! I know I will be referring back to this post often. Hoping you are having an awesome day! :)

  2. Oh, Marcy, I LOVED reading your post today and am so intrigued with all the varieties of herbs and their wonderful names. Just love your pots and the tags you've created for them...ah, such love put into each one! And how precious to see Lulu and Finn's efforts in helping (got such a giggle out of Finn's comments about the letters...hehe!). Oh, my, I finished the blog hop and wow!! I so can hardly wait to make something with this adorable, country-warmth set! Amazing, once again, sweet friend! You are so creative...what a delight that you share it with us!! Looking forward to reading and seeing more tomorrow! Hugs!

  3. You had me at Lemon Verbena (my most favorite).
    Linda L in Tennessee

  4. Oh, Marcy! What fun to walk through your herb garden today! I spent the whole day in my Herb & Tea Garden. It's my very, very favorite part of my Midwest cottage garden. It's surrounded by a white picket fence, and the very moment that I step through the garden gate I'm in heaven! My plant markers, made by a friend, are hand lettered on river rocks. After reading your post today, there are some new herbs that I must add to my little garden! 'Sage Advice' is one of my favorite stamp sets of all time, Marcy! Ever since I bought the 'Lavender' set, I have been dreaming of a set of herb stamps, designed by you! Heartfelt thanks for making this gardener's dream-come-true! ♡

  5. What beautiful and soothing scenes - I can imagine the different aromas! The only tip I can think of is to paint a clear coat of Mod Podge or plain glue over the popsicle sticks or other 'name' sticks you use to i.d. your plant. That way when you water your plants or seeds, the inks (even permanent) don't fade or fall apart or run -- they last so much longer :) You can even stamp little bees or lady bugs on them first, then cover them with a clear coat and let dry. Make a set for friends as a uniquely-you gift :) with aloha, Rosy

  6. I love the new "Sage Advice" stamp set and what a beautiful blog post! My dad has a total green thumb and picks herbs from his garden for cooking with all the time. I brought home a cute little herb garden in a pot once from the Farmer's Market and all the leaves disappeared after a few days! (I guess a few little creatures hopped along for the ride on my way home!) I just discovered you through a blog post on Split Coast Stampers this week and definitely have lots of new things now on my wish list! Can't wait for your next monthly challenge, loved the last one I got to check out.

  7. I love the new "Sage Advice" stamp set and what a beautiful blog post! My dad has a total green thumb and picks herbs from his garden for cooking with all the time. I brought home a cute little herb garden in a pot once from the Farmer's Market and all the leaves disappeared after a few days! (I guess a few little creatures hopped along for the ride on my way home!) I just discovered you through a blog post on Split Coast Stampers this week and definitely have lots of new things now on my wish list! Can't wait for your next monthly challenge, loved the last one I got to check out.

  8. oh sigh.... what a beautiful post and beautiful stamp set! herbs are my heart's delight when it comes to the garden.... not only do I use them for cooking, but also in teas.

    would love to see some of these released in digi form. just gorgeous! :)

  9. Love this post. Fresh herbs adds flavor to the food.The fresh aroma of a sprinkle of chopped coriander over soup, the robust earthy flavor of curry leaves in curry, and the refreshing taste of just-picked mint in your tea are just a few of the reasons it’s easy to fall in love with cooking with herbs picked from your own garden. I really love the idea of putting tag to the plants. Really cool.


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