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The enormous and very beautiful herb garden at the
U.S. National Arboretum is a fantastic example of all the things a really broadly interpreted herb garden can be.
But a small garden is all it takes to get the message across. The charming herb garden at the historic
John Wornall House in Kansas City is my favorite herb garden. John Wornall, a prosperous farmer, built the house in 1858, and the herb garden on his property served medicinal as well as culinary purposes. Today the pretty garden, surrounded by a white picket fence, is intended to capture something of the horticultural spirit of the frontier, but it is not just a museum display: it is full of inspiration for modern gardeners, too.
The garden is maintained by an enthusiastic group of volunteers who grow annual and perennial herbs of all kinds. The central bed is filled with lady’s bedstraw and thyme; two other large raised beds are divided into quadrants and planted with annual and perennial herbs. Sage, lavender, rosemary, parsley, chives, and basil all thrive here. Lovage and horseradish grow tall in beds around the perimeter of the garden.
“We grow a lot of herbs they wouldn’t have had here in the 19th century, but we want to show visitors that yes, you can grow herbs in your own space,” says Cathy Campbell, who has volunteered at the garden for 30 years. In the gardening season, volunteers and master gardeners meet weekly to work in the garden. They get the annual herbs planted, snip and shape the perennial herbs, and take care of the old-fashioned rugosa roses and other flowers that surround the garden.
Cathy taught me to harvest fistfuls of herbs from my own herb garden and keep them in a vase in the kitchen where they are convenient to cook with and look very pretty. In the summertime, I always have a jelly jar of sprigs of mint and basil on the countertop, with a few bright cosmos or zinnias. But I always need more herbs, and I love nipping out to my own herb garden in the evening to pinch a stem of French tarragon or to snip some parsley. The herb garden is close to the door, but not too close: by the time I get back inside, I have always allowed myself to take a little taste in the moonlight.