Annie Calovich

Parsley, sage, elderberry and thyme

Every spring seems to bring new ideas for ways to use herbs. And, of course, new varieties to try.

This year, I like the idea of using rosemary as a low evergreen edge to a garden bed.

Writes Norman Winter, executive director of the Columbus (Ga.) Botanical Garden, about rosemary: “Not only is it a fixture in the herb garden but is used as a backdrop for seasonal color, like pansies, in much the same way you might use a dwarf conifer.”

Rosemary is just one herb that will be celebrated from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Herb Day at the Extension Center, 21st and Ridge Road. When I think of Herb Day, blue skies and 70-degree weather come to mind, but this year’s forecast is a far cry from that.

“This will probably be the coldest Herb Day we’ve ever had,” extension agent Bob Neier said. But, he added, “much of our stuff is inside.” If conditions warrant, outdoor activities can be moved inside, extension agent Rebecca McMahon said.

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You may recall that rosemary was blooming at Botanica this past February. That same week, I received an e-mail from a co-worker: “My new favorite plant is rosemary. It grew tall and stayed green and healthy all during the hot summer and it still looks green and still smells good.”

Then there’s the fact that rosemary, like other herbs that hail from the Mediterranean, likes it dry. We know dry.

Rosemary comes from the Latin ros marinus, meaning “dew of the sea.” Makes its drought-tolerance all the more wonderful.

When shopping for rosemary, check among the varieties for how tall they get and their habit of growth. Arp, Hardy Hill and Salem “are known to exhibit a little extra cold-hardiness. If you want a picturesque variety for tumbling down a rock wall or ornate tub, look for Irene,” Winter writes.

Another herb that I’ve been growing in appreciation for is parsley. I’ve been reading Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace” (Scribner, 2012), wherein she says such fundamental, liberating things as that part of why our diets are so hard to get in balance is that we no longer see bread as the staff of life, and we don’t have it to lean against anymore. And “There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn’t true. Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire.”

Another thing she says: “Everything needs parsley.”

“Fresh herbs have always been relied on to perk up whatever needs perking. Parsley, in particular, has long been called into duty when things were fading: In ancient Greece, anyone or anything on its way out was said to be ‘in need of parsley.’.”

She recently told food writer Emily Horton writing in the Washington Post: “Think about when parsley is great. It’s great when it’s used copiously, and it’s great when it’s used in conjunction with garlic. Parsley kind of needs a little buddy to reach its full potential.”

Don’t we all. Herbs are definitely some of my best garden buddies. And every year we get to celebrate them in the inspired Herb Day, sponsored by the master gardeners and the Herb Society of South Central Kansas on the first Saturday of May. Admission is free.

Elderberry has been declared the herb of the year nationally. I think of it as a fruit, not an herb, until I see it on the health-food-store shelves in little capsules. But we have local elderberry experts at Wyldewood Cellars, and the master gardeners and the herb society are taking advantage of that to have John Brewer of Wyldewood speak about enjoying elderberries, from growing them through processing them, at 9 a.m. at Herb Day.

That’s only one of many seminars dedicated to herbs that will be offered during Herb Day, including one on thyme, which has been declared the regional herb of the year.

Herb Day will also include plant sales by three garden clubs:

There will also be a sale of plants from the gardens of master gardeners, and of garden magazines and books; a box lunch sale by the herb society; vendors selling herbs and other plants and garden items; an activity for children; and door prizes. The Kansas Grown Farmers Market will be taking place in the parking lot from 7 a.m. to noon.

Advance tickets to the master gardeners’ garden tour, which will be from May 17 to 19, will be for sale for $8, $2 cheaper than they will be afterward.

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