The National Garden Bureau named 2012 as the year of the herb, but sort of left us hanging as far as which herb we should be getting excited about.
After all, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of herbs. Many weeds are herbs, not to mention that many flowers are herbs. So which one do we add to our gardens this season in honor of the year of the herb?
Just when we were beginning to wonder if anyone could make a decision, the International Herb Association came to our rescue and proclaimed the herb of the year is rose. This helps, somewhat.
I have a few roses in my yard. My favorite is, of course, an heirloom climbing rose that my mother gave me from her yard. My mother passed away shortly after she gave me the plant. She had two and only wanted one, so she kept the red climber and gave me the pink rose. Shortly after my mother died, my husband built a large arbor to support the climber. It grew large and fast. After only three years, it draped over the 12-foot high arbor, and every June it blooms clusters of single, dark pink roses that last at least a month on the canes. I don't know the variety, but love it when the plant is in bloom.
I also have a damask rose that we moved from one part of the yard to another, and it didn't seem to care. It blooms every spring, pale pink double flowers that are so fragrant they perfume the entire yard and the neighbor's yard as well.
Damask roses are the old garden roses and are considered the most fragrant. The oils of the damask rose are used to make attar of rose or rose oil. It is used in making rose water and for scenting perfumes. The plant is a shrub with nasty thorns and branches that grow every which way like wild hair. But because it is an heirloom, it is quite hardy. We can prune it back to the ground, and it will come back. It didn't mind moving when we decided it belonged by the fence instead of standing alone in the center of the yard. Every year, it still blooms. Damask is related to gallica roses, short, stocky plants that are native to Europe.
Another rose in my garden is a polyantha called Rosa The Fairy. The Fairy is a popular shrub rose among gardeners. Although it grows about two to three feet tall, it can get quite wide and trail three to five feet across. In June the plant will bloom, covering the entire shrub with small pink flowers and creating quite a showy display. It blooms all season, although not quite as impressive as that first burst in early summer. This growth habit is typical of polyantha roses as well as the fact that it is a low maintenance plant with good resistance against black spot and Japanese beetles.
I jumped on the band wagon a few years ago and bought a Knock-Out rose that I planted in the front garden. My Knock-Out is one of the original bright red species with single blooms. I like to think of Knock-Out as the high definition version of roses. The blooms seem to be sharper in color and stand out against the dark green foliage. Varieties have since been cultivated that are double bloomed. Colors range from pink to red and a yellow variety developed a few years ago has become quite popular.
Knock-Out is a trademarked variety developed by Wisconsin rose breeder William Radler. Radler was looking for a rose that was hardy to cold winters and heat tolerant, which would come in handy this season. It is resistant to disease. The popularity of the Knock-Out rose and its shrub-growth habit is appealing to municipalities, public buildings and landscapers looking for low-maintenance, but attractive plants. Like the Stella D'Oro lily of several years ago, the Knock-Out rose has evolved into a popular public landscape plant.
You might wonder what roses have to do with herbs. In fact, roses were herbs long before they were ornamental plants. The seed pods of heirloom roses, called rose hips, are a high source of Vitamin C. It is often used to make tea and can be made into jams, jellies and syrup.
I already mentioned rose oil in perfumes, but in addition to the oils, fresh rose petals were once made into an infusion and used as an astringent to alleviate bleeding. Rose blossoms steaming in a kettle also were used as a facial cleanser. It goes without saying that roses are the symbol of romantic love.