Flat of Seedlings Ready to Be Transplanted
Most herbs may be readily propagated by means of seeds. Some, however,
such as tarragon, which does not produce seed, and several other
perennial kinds, are propagated by division, layers, or cuttings. In
general, propagation by means of seed is considered most satisfactory.
Since the seeds in many instances are small or are slow to germinate,
they are usually sown in shallow boxes or seed pans. When the seedlings
are large enough to be handled they are transplanted to small pots or
somewhat deeper flats or boxes, a couple of inches being allowed between
the plants. When conditions are favorable in the garden; that is, when
the soil is moist and warm and the season has become settled, the
plantlets may be removed to permanent quarters.
If the seed be sown out of doors, it is a good practice to sow a few
radish seeds in the same row with the herb seeds, particularly if these
latter take a long time to germinate or are very small, as marjoram,
savory and thyme. The variety of radish chosen should be a turnip-rooted
sort of exceedingly rapid growth, and with few and small leaves. The
radishes serve to mark the rows and thus enable cultivation to commence
much earlier than if the herbs were sown alone. They should be pulled
early—the earlier the better after the herb plantlets appear. Never
should the radishes be allowed to crowd the herbs.
By the narration of a little incident, I may illustrate the necessity of
sowing these radish seeds thinly. Having explained to some juvenile
gardeners that the radish seeds should be dropped so far apart among the
other seeds that they would look lonesome in the bottoms of the
rows—not more than six seeds to the foot—and having illustrated my
meaning by sowing a row myself, I let each one take his turn at sowing.
While I watched them all went well. But, alas, for precept and example!
To judge by the general result after the plants were up, the seedsman
might justifiably have guaranteed the seed to germinate about 500 per
cent, because each boy declared that he sowed his rows thinly.
Nevertheless, there was a stand of radishes that would have gladdened
the heart of a lawn maker! The rows looked like regiments drawn up in
close order and not, as was desired, merely lines of scattered
skirmishers. In many places there were more than 100 to the foot!
Fortunately the variety was a quick-maturing kind and the crop, for such
it became, was harvested before any damage was done the slow-appearing
seedlings, whose positions the radishes were intended to indicate.
Glass-Covered Propagating Box
No herbs are so easy to propagate by means of cuttings as spearmint,
peppermint, and their relatives which have underground stems. Every
joint of these stems will produce a new plant if placed in somewhat
moist soil. Often, however, this ability is a disadvantage, because the
plants are prone to spread and become a nuisance unless watched. Hence
such plants should be placed where they will not have their roots cut by
tools used close to them. When they seem to be extending, their borders
should be trimmed with a sharp spade pushed vertically full depth into
the soil and all the earth beyond the clump thus restricted should be
shaken out with a garden fork and the cut pieces of mint removed.
Further, the forked-over ground should be hoed every week during the
remainder of the season, to destroy lurking plantlets.
The other perennial and biennial herbs may be readily propagated by
means of stem cuttings or "slips," which are generally as easy to manage
as verbenas, geraniums and other "house plants." The cuttings may be
made of either fully ripened wood of the preceding or the current
season, or they may be of firm, not succulent green stems. After
trimming off all but a few of the upper leaves, which should be clipped
to reduce transpiration, the cuttings—never more than 4 or 5 inches
long—should be plunged nearly full depth in well-shaded, rather light,
porous, well-drained loam where they should remain undisturbed until
they show evidences of growth. Then they may be transplanted. While in
the cutting bed they must never be allowed to become dry. This is
especially true of greenwood cuttings made during the summer. These
should always have the coolest, shadiest corner in the garden. The
cuttings taken in the spring should be set in the garden as soon as
rooted; but the summer cuttings, especially if taken late, should
generally be left in their beds until the following spring. They may,
however, be removed for winter use to window boxes or the greenhouse
Flower Pot Propagating Bed
Often the plants grown in window boxes may supply the early cuttings,
which may be rooted in the house. Where a greenhouse is available, a
few plants may be transplanted in autumn either from the garden or from
the bed of summer cuttings just mentioned, kept in a rather cool
temperature during the winter and drawn upon for cuttings as the stems
become sufficiently mature. The rooting may take place in a regular
cutting bench, or it may occur in the soil out of doors, the plantlets
being transplanted to pots as soon as they have rooted well.
If a large number of plants is desired, a hotbed may be called into
requisition in early spring and the plants hardened off in cold frames
as the season advances. Hardening off is essential with all plants grown
under glass for outdoor planting, because unless the plants be inured to
outside temperatures before being placed in the open ground, they will
probably suffer a check, if they do not succumb wholly to the
unaccustomed conditions. If well managed they should be injured not at
Several of the perennial herbs, such as sage, savory, and thyme, may be
easily propagated by means of layers, the stems being pegged down and
covered lightly with earth. If the moisture and the temperature be
favorable, roots should be formed in three or four weeks and the stem
separated from the parent and planted. Often there may be several
branches upon the stem, and each of these may be used as a new plantlet
provided it has some roots or a rooted part of the main stem attached to
it. By this method I have obtained nearly 100 rooted plants from a
single specimen of Holt's Mammoth sage grown in a greenhouse. And from
the same plant at the same time I have taken more than 100 cuttings.
This is not an exceptional feat with this variety, the plants of which
are very branchy and often exceed a yard in diameter.
Layering is probably the simplest and most satisfactory method of
artificial propagation under ordinary conditions, since the stems are
almost sure to take root if undisturbed long enough; and since rooted
plants can hardly fail to grow if properly transplanted. Then, too, less
apparent time is taken than with plants grown from cuttings and far less
than with those grown from seed. In other words, they generally produce
a crop sooner than the plants obtained by the other methods set in
operation at the same time.
Division of the clumps of such herbs as mint is often practiced, a sharp
spade or a lawn edger being used to cut the clump into pieces about 6
inches square. The squares are then placed in new quarters and packed
firmly in place with soil. This method is, however, the least
satisfactory of all mentioned, because it too frequently deprives the
plants of a large amount of roots, thus impairs the growth, and during
the first season or two may result in unsymmetrical clumps. If done in
early spring before growth starts, least damage is done to the plants.
Holt's Mammoth and Common Sage About Half Natural Size
Artificial methods of propagation, especially those of cuttage and
layerage, have the further advantage over propagation by means of seeds,
in the perpetuation of desired characters of individual plants, one or
more of which may appear in any plantation. These, particularly if more
productive than the others, should always be utilized as stock, not
merely because their progeny artificially obtained are likely to retain
the character and thus probably increase the yield of the plantation,
but principally because they may form the nucleus of a choice strain.
Marker for Hotbeds and Cold Frames
Except in the respects mentioned, these methods of propagation are not
notably superior to propagation by means of good seed, which, by the
way, is not overabundant. By the consumption of a little extra time, any
desired number of plants may be obtained from seed. At any rate, seed is
what one must start with in nearly every case.
No more care is required in transplanting herbs than in resetting other
plants, but unless a few essentials are realized in practice the results
are sure to be unsatisfactory. Of course, the ideal way is to grow the
plants in small flower pots and when they have formed a ball of roots,
to set them in the garden. The next best is to grow them in seed pans or
flats (shallow boxes) in which they should be set several inches apart
as soon as large enough to handle, and in which they should be allowed
to grow for a few weeks, to form a mass of roots. When these plants are
to be set in the garden they should be broken apart by hand with as
little loss of roots as possible.
Leading Forms of Trowels
But where neither of these plans can be practiced, as in the growing of
the plants in little nursery beds, either in hotbeds, cold frames or in
the garden border, the plants should be "pricked out," that is,
transplanted while very small to a second nursery bed, in order to make
them "stocky" or sturdy and better able to take care of themselves when
removed to final quarters. If this be done there should be no need of
clipping back the tops to balance an excessive loss of roots, a
necessity in case the plants are not so treated, or in case they become
large or lanky in the second bed.
In all cases it is best to transplant when the ground is moist, as it
is immediately after being dug or plowed. But this cannot always be
arranged, neither can one always count upon a shower to moisten the soil
just after the plants have been set. If advantage can be taken of an
approaching rainfall, it should be done, because this is the ideal time
for transplanting. It is much better than immediately after, which is
perhaps next best. Transplanting in cloudy weather and toward evening is
better than in sunny weather and in the morning.
Since the weather is prone to be coy, if not fickle, the manual part of
transplanting should always be properly done. The plants should always
be taken up with as little loss of roots as possible, be kept exposed to
the air as short a time as possible, and when set in the ground have the
soil packed firmly about their roots, so firmly that the operator may
think it is almost too firm. After setting, the surface soil should be
made loose, so as to act as a mulch and prevent the loss of moisture
from the packed lower layer. If the ground be dry a hole may be made
beside the plant and filled with water—LOTS OF WATER—and when it has
soaked away and the soil seems to be drying, the surface should be made
smooth and loose as already mentioned. If possible such times should be
avoided, because of the extra work entailed and the probable increased
loss due to the unfavorable conditions.
When herbs are grown upon a commercial scale the implements needed will
be the same as for general trucking—plows, harrows, weeder, etc.—to
fit the soil for the hand tools. Much labor can be saved by using
hand-wheel drills, cultivators, weeders and the other tools that have
become so wonderfully popular within the past decade or two. Some
typical kinds are shown in these pages. These implements are
indispensable in keeping the surface soil loose and free from weeds,
especially between the rows and even fairly close to the plants. In
doing this they save an immense amount of labor and time, since they can
be used with both hands and the muscles of the body with less exertion
than the hoe and the rake require.
Nothing, however, can take the place of the hand tools for getting among
and around the plants. The work that weeding entails is tiresome, but
must be done if success is to crown ones efforts. While the plants are
little some of the weeders may be used. Those with a blade or a series
of blades are adapted for cutting weeds off close to the surface; those
with prongs are useful only for making the soil loose closer to the
plants than the rake dare be run by the average man. Hoes of various
types are useful when the plants become somewhat larger or when one does
not have the wheel cultivators. In all well-regulated gardens there
should be a little liberal selection of the various wheel and hand
Only one of the hand tools demands any special comment. Many gardeners
like to use a dibble for transplanting. With this tool it is so easy to
make a hole, and to press the soil against the plant dropped in that
hole! But I believe that many of the failures in transplanting result
from the improper use of this tool. Unless the dibble be properly
operated the plant may be left suspended in a hole, the sides of which
are more or less hard and impervious to the tiny, tender rootlets that
strive to penetrate them. From my own observation of the use of this
tool, I believe that the proper place for the dibble in the novices
garden is in the attic, side by side with the "unloaded" shotgun, where
it may be viewed with apprehension.
In spite of this warning, if anyone is hardy enough to use a dibble, let
him choose the flat style, not the round one. The proper way is to
thrust the tool straight down, at right angles to the direction of the
row, and press the soil back and forth with the flat side of the blade
until a hole, say 2 or 3 inches across and 5 or 6 inches deep, has been
formed. In the hole the plantlet should then be suspended so all the
roots and a little of the stem beneath the surface will be covered when
the soil is replaced. Replacing the soil is the important part of the
operation. The dibble must now be thrust in the soil again, parallel and
close to the hole, and the soil pushed over so the hole will be
completely closed from bottom to top. Firming the soil completes the
There is much less danger of leaving a hole with the flat than with the
round dibble, which is almost sure to leave a hole beneath the plant. I
remember having trouble with some lily plants which were not thriving.
Supposing that insects were at the roots, I carefully drew the earth
away from one side, and found that the earth had not been brought up
carefully beneath the bulbs and that the roots were hanging 4 or 5
inches beneath the bulbs in the hole left by the dibble and not properly
closed by the careless gardener.
I therefore warn every dibble user to be sure to crowd over the soil
well, especially at the lower end of the hole. For my own part, I rely
upon my hands. Digits existed long before dibbles and they are much more
reliable. What matter if some soil sticks to them; it is not
unresponsive to the wooing of water!
LOCATION OF HERB GARDEN
In general, the most favorable exposure for an herb garden is toward the
south, but lacking such an exposure should not deter one from planting
herbs on a northern slope if this be the only site available. Indeed,
such sites often prove remarkably good if other conditions are
propitious and proper attention is given the plants. Similarly, a
smooth, gently sloping surface is especially desirable, but even in
gardens in which the ground is almost billowy the gardener may often
take advantage of the irregularities by planting the moisture-loving
plants in the hollows and those that like dry situations upon the
ridges. Nothing like turning disadvantages to account!
No matter what the nature of the surface and the exposure, it is always
advisable to give the herbs the most sunny spots in the garden, places
where shade from trees, barns, other buildings and from fences cannot
reach them. This is suggested because the development of the oils, upon
which the flavoring of most of the herbs mainly depends, is best in full
sunshine and the plants have more substance than when grown in the
Combination Hand Plow, Harrow, Cultivator and Seed Drill
THE SOIL AND ITS PREPARATION
As to the kind of soil, Hobson's choice ranks first! It is not necessary
to move into the next county just to have an herb garden. This is one of
the cases in which the gardener may well make the best of however bad a
bargain he has.
Combination Hand Plow, Harrow, Cultivator and Seed Drill
But supposing that a selection be possible, a light sandy loam,
underlaid by a porous subsoil so as to be well drained, should be given
the preference, since it is warmed quickly, easily worked, and may be
stirred early in the season and after a rain. Clay loams are less
desirable upon every one of the points mentioned, and very sandy soils
also. But if Hobson has one of these, there will be an excellent
opportunity to cultivate philosophy as well as herbs. And the gardener
may be agreeably surprised at the results obtained. No harm in trying!
Whatever the quality of the soil, it should not be very rich, because in
such soils the growth is apt to be rank and the quantity of oil small in
proportion to the leafage.
The preparation of the soil should commence as soon as the grass in the
neighborhood is seen to be sprouting. Well-decayed manure should be
spread at the rate of not less than a bushel nor more than double that
quantity to the square yard, and as soon as the soil is dry enough to
crumble readily it should be dug or plowed as deeply as possible without
bringing up the subsoil. This operation of turning over the soil should
be thoroughly performed, the earth being pulverized as much as possible.
To accomplish this no hand tool surpasses the spading fork.
Surface Paring Cultivator
One other method is, however, superior especially when practiced upon
the heavier soils—fall plowing or digging. In practicing this method
care should be taken to plow late when the soil, moistened by autumn
rains, will naturally come up in big lumps. These lumps must be left
undisturbed during the winter for frost to act upon. All that will be
necessary in the spring will be to rake or harrow the ground. The clods
I once had occasion to try this method upon about 25 acres of land which
had been made by pumping mud from a river bottom upon a marsh thus
converted into dry ground by the sedimentation. Three sturdy horses were
needed to do the plowing. The earth turned up in chunks as large as a
man's body. Contrary to my plowman's doubts and predictions, Jack Frost
did a grand milling business that winter! Clods that could hardly be
broken in the autumn with a sledge hammer crumbled down in the spring at
the touch of a garden rake!
Having thoroughly fined the surface of the garden by harrowing and
raking, the seeds may be sown or the plants transplanted as already
noted. From this time forward the surface must be kept loose and open by
surface cultivation every week or 10 days and after every shower that
forms a crust, until the plants cover the whole ground. This frequent
cultivation is not merely for the purpose of keeping the weeds in check;
it is a necessary operation to keep the immediate surface layer powdery,
in which condition it will act as a mulch to prevent the loss of water
from the lower soil layers. When kept in perfect condition by frequent
stirring the immediate surface should be powdery. Yes, powdery! Within
1 inch of the surface, however, the color will be darker from the
presence of moisture. When supplied with such conditions, failures must
be attributed to other causes than lack of water.
When desired, herbs may be used as secondary crops to follow such early
vegetables as early cabbage and peas; or, if likely to be needed still
earlier, after radishes, transplanted lettuce and onions grown from
sets. These primary crops, having reached marketable size, are removed,
the ground stirred and the herb plants transplanted from nursery beds or
Often the principal herbs—sage, savory, marjoram and thyme—are set
close together, both the rows and the plants in them being nearer than
recommended further on. The object of such practice is to get several
crops in the following way: When the plants in the rows commence to
crowd one another each alternate plant is removed and sold or cured.
This may perhaps be done a second time. Then when the rows begin to
crowd, each alternate row is removed and the remainder allowed to
develop more fully. The chief advantages of this practice are not only
that several crops may be gathered, but each plant, being supplied with
plenty of room and light, will have fewer yellow or dead leaves than
when crowded. In the diagram the numbers show which plants are removed
first, second, third and last.
Those readers who delight to delve among pedigrees, genealogies and
family connections, may perhaps be a little disappointed to learn that,
in spite of the odorous nature of the herbs, there are none whose
history reveals a skeleton in the closet. They are all harmless. Now and
then, to be sure, there occur records of a seemingly compromising
nature, such as the effects attributed to the eating or even the
handling of celery; but such accounts, harrowing as they may appear, are
insufficient to warrant a bar sinister. Indeed, not only is the mass of
evidence in favor of the defendant, but it casts a reflection upon the
credibility of the plaintiff, who may usually be shown to have indulged
immoderately, to have been frightened by hallucinations or even to have
arraigned the innocent for his own guilt. Certain it is that there is
not one of the sweet herbs mentioned in this volumes that has not long
enjoyed a more or less honored place in the cuisine of all the
continents, and this in spite of the occasional tootings of some
Like those classes of society that cannot move with "the four hundred,"
the herbs are very exclusive, more exclusive indeed, than their
superiors, the other vegetables. Very few members have they admitted
that do not belong to two approved families, and such unrelated ones as
do reach the charmed circles must first prove their worthiness and then
hold their places by intrinsic merit.
These two coteries are known as the Labiatæ and the Umbelliferæ, the
former including the sages, mints and their connections; the latter the
parsleys and their relatives. With the exception of tarragon, which
belongs to the Compositæ, parsley and a few of its relatives which have
deserted their own ranks, all the important leaf herbs belong to the
Labiatæ; and without a notable exception all the herbs whose seeds are
used for flavoring belong to the Umbelliferæ. Fennel-flower, which
belongs to the natural order Ranunculaceæ, or crowfoot family, is a
candidate for admission to the seed sodality; costmary and southernwood
of the Compositæ seek membership with the leaf faction; rue of the
Rutaceæ and tansy of the Compositæ, in spite of suspension for their
boldness and ill-breeding, occasionally force their way back into the
domain of the leaf herbs. Marigold, a composite, forms a clique by
itself, the most exclusive club of all. It has admitted no members! And
there seem to be no candidates.
The important members of the Labiatæ are:
Sage (Salvia officinalis, Linn.).
Savory (Satureia hortensis, Linn.).
Savory, winter (Satureia montana, Linn.).
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Linn.).
Marjoram (Origanum Marjoram; O. Onites, Linn.; and M. vulgare, Linn.).
Balm (Melissa officinalis, Linn.).
Basil (Ocimum Basilicum, Linn., and O. minimum, Linn.).
Spearmint (Mentha spicata, Linn., or M. viridis, Linn.).
Peppermint (Mentha Piperita, Linn.).
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Linn.).
Clary (Salvia Sclarea, Linn.).
Pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium, Linn.).
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare, Linn.).
Hyssop (Hyssopus vulgaris, Linn.).
Catnip (Nepeta Cataria, Linn.).
Lavender (Lavandula vera, D. C.; L. spica, D. C.).
These plants, which are mostly natives of mild climates of the old
world, are characterized by having square stems; opposite, simple leaves
and branches; and more or less two-lipped flowers which appear in the
axils of the leaves, occasionally alone, but usually several together,
forming little whorls, which often compose loose or compact spikes or
racemes. Each fertile blossom is followed by four little seedlike fruits
in the bottom of the calyx, which remains attached to the plant. The
foliage is generally plentifully dotted with minute glands that contain
a volatile oil, upon which depends the aroma and piquancy peculiar to
the individual species.
The leading species of the Umbelliferæ are:
Parsley (Carum Petroselinum, Benth. and Hook.).
Dill (Anethum graveolens, Linn.).
Fennel (Fœniculum officinale, Linn.).
Angelica (Archangelica officinalis, Hoofm.).
Anise (Pimpinella anisum, Linn.).
Caraway (Carum Carui, Linn.).
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum, Linn.).
Chervil (Scandix Cerefolium, Linn.).
Cumin or Cummin (Cuminum Cyminum, Linn.).
Lovage (Levisticum officinale, Koch.).
Samphire (Crithmum maritimum, Linn.).
Like the members of the preceding group, the species of the Umbelliferæ
are principally natives of mild climates of the old world, but many of
them extend farther north into the cold parts of the continent, even
beyond the Arctic Circle in some cases. They have cylindrical, usually
hollow stems; alternate, generally compound leaves the basis of whose
stalks ensheath the branches or stems; and small flowers almost always
arranged in compound terminal umbels. The fruits are composed of two
seedlike dry carpels, each containing a single seed, and usually
separating when ripe. Each carpel bears five longitudinal prominent ribs
and several, often four, lesser intermediate ones, in the intervals
between which numerous oil ducts have their openings from the interior
of the fruit. The oil is generally found in more or less abundance also
in other parts of the plant, but is usually most plentiful in the
The members of the Compositæ used as sweet herbs are, with the exception
of tarragon, comparatively unimportant, and except for having their
flowers in close heads "on a common receptacle, surrounded by an
involucre," have few conspicuous characters in common. No further space
except that required for their enumeration need here be devoted to them.
And this remark will apply also to the other two herbs mentioned further
Marigold, Pot (Calendula officinalis, Linn.). Tansy (Tanacetum
vulgaris, Linn.). Tarragon (Artemisia Dracunculus, Linn.).
Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanum, Linn.).
Rue (Ruta graveolens, Linn.).
Borage (Borago officinalis, Linn.).
Fennel-flower (Nigella sativa, Linn.).
Before dismissing this section of the subject, it may be interesting to
glance over the list of names once more. Seven of these plants were
formerly so prominent in medicine that they were designated "official"
and nearly all the others were extensively used by physicians. At the
present day there are very few that have not passed entirely out of
official medicine and even out of domestic practice, at least so far as
their intrinsic qualities are concerned. Some, to be sure, are still
employed because of their pleasant flavors, which disguise the
disagreeable taste of other drugs. But this is a very different matter.
One of the most notable of these is fennel. What wonders could that
plant not perform 300 years ago! In Parkinson's "Theatricum Botanicum"
(1640) its "vertues" are recorded. Apart from its use as food, for
which, then, as now, it was highly esteemed, without the attachment of
any medicinal qualities as an esculent, it was considered efficacious in
cases of gout, jaundice, cramps, shortness of breath, wheezing of the
lungs; for cleansing of the blood and improving the complexion; to use
as an eye-water or to increase the flow of milk; as a remedy for serpent
bites or an antidote for poisonous herbs and mushrooms; and for people
who "are growen fat to abate their unwieldinesse and make them more
gaunt and lanke."
But let us peep into the 19th edition of the United States Dispensatory.
Can this be the same fennel which "is one of our most grateful
aromatics," and which, because of "the absence of any highly excitant
property," is recommended for mixing with unpleasant medicines? Ask any
druggist, and he will say it is used for little else nowadays than for
making a tea to give babies for wind on their stomachs. Strange, but
true it is! Similar statements if not more remarkable ones could be made
about many of the other herbs herein discussed. Many of these are spoken
of as "formerly considered specific" for such and such troubles but "now
known to be inert."
The cause is not far to seek. An imaginative and superstitious people
attached fanciful powers to these and hundreds of other plants which the
intervening centuries have been unable wholly to eradicate, for among
the more ignorant classes, especially of Europe, many of these relics of
a dark age still persist.
But let us not gloat over our superior knowledge. After a similar lapse
of time, may not our vaunted wisdom concerning the properties of plants
look as ridiculous to the delver among our musty volumes? Indeed, it
may, if we may judge by the discoveries and investigations of only the
past fifty years. During this time a surprisingly large number of plants
have been proved to be not merely innocuous instead of poisonous, as
they were reputed, but fit for human food and even of superior