May 2021: Letter from the President

Dear Herb Friends,

I hope that you are enjoying working in the garden and watching the greening and blooming as the weather warms.  I imagine that almost everyone has made some changes, for we know that the garden is always evolving, whether by design (discovery of a new plant, perhaps) or accident (like our severe freeze in February). 

Some lesser known “gardens” are good illustrations of the idea of what I call the Evolving Garden.  In the past few years, Kim Bearden has spearheaded a cradle gardening group at Elmwood Cemetery, so that many of the Victorian era concrete ovals around graves are now miniature gardens, giving the cemetery a colorful and dramatic new look. You will not be surprised that my particular cradle is an easily managed planting of rosemary, yarrow, fennel and lamb’s ear.  A new “Zoo Crew” at the Memphis Zoo are turning the Farm Area into a colorful horticultural spot with barrels and railing planters and beds for vegetables and grains (and eventually herbs).  Replacing the bushes in the train station area are beautiful varieties of begonia, coleus and hosta arranged in a dramatic geometric design.

We return again and again to our treasured Memphis gardens to see what is new, because they are always changing.  The ethnobotanical Herb Garden at the Memphis Botanic Garden is a good example of the Evolving Garden this spring.  During its twenty years in the current location, the formal herb garden became a veritable meadow or jungle of hundreds of herbs thickly grouped, so that plant identification became a challenge for visitors and maintenance was equally challenging. 

This year a new design strategy is being implemented. From the former fulsome collection of masses of plants, the garden has moved to what I can only describe as a leaner and cleaner look.  For example, a cluster of chocolate daisy in the fragrance bed hugs the edge even as it extends toward the middle of the bed, so that visitors can easily see the single plant and inhale the wonderful aroma without leaving the pathway.  There is space between different species to allow for clearer identification. Plants are confined to their appointed places rather than allowed to roam freely by re-seeding.  Volunteers helping to maintain the garden dig up and take home those “volunteer” plants.

Visitors to the Memphis Botanic Garden are enjoying the much needed and attractive new signage throughout the garden.  Soon there will be additional plant markers and aids in the Herb Garden, so that the casual visitor, or even the herbalists among us, will be able to take a self-guided tour of our herb garden’s offerings.  You will not be disappointed by a visit to check on the progress of this Evolving Garden.

I invite you also to join us, virtually, on Thursday, May 27, at 7 p.m., for “Part II of the Culinary Herb Garden,” when Chef Andrew Ticer of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen demonstrates how he uses herbs to prepare his delicious entrees.  See you then.

Herbally yours,

Kathy James

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