Saturday, June 01, 2002

For the love of rosemary and thyme

Growing fragrant plants for decoration and cooking is Sandy Manteuffel's year-round passion

By Beth Burwinkel
Enquirer contributor

        When Sandy Manteuffel thought of herbs 16 years ago, parsley was all that came to mind.

        Then a friend suggested they attend an event sponsored by the Herb Society of Greater Cincinnati. Mrs. Manteuffel was so impressed by the variety of plants and the enthusiasm of the group, that she joined.

[photo] Sandy Manteuffel, a member of the Herb Society of Greater Cincinnati, tends to the herb garden in her Pierce Township yard.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Today she tends a large terraced herb garden on a hillside in her Pierce Township yard. In the fall, she brings many of her favorite plants into a sunny atrium so she can enjoy them all year. She also makes pottery inspired by her herbs.

        “It's a very major part of my life,” said Mrs. Manteuffel, a retired nurse and mother of two adult daughters. “I just love things herbal.”

        In Mrs. Manteuffel's garden, herbs grow alongside perennials such as hostas, irises and peonies. Magnolia and crab apple trees lend added interest.

        A patch of herbs used for cooking grows on the tier closest to the house. Some of the plants — lavender, lamb's ears and yarrow — are grown for their ornamental qualities.

        Many of her herbs are perennials, which return year after year. In late spring, Mrs. Manteuffel adds less-hardy plants, such as basil, an annual that needs warm air and warm soil to thrive.

        Mrs. Manteuffel uses ornamental herbs to make wreaths and other crafts and culinary herbs, such as the basil, to make pesto, which she freezes to enjoy throughout the year.

        Sam, the family cat, also benefits from Mrs. Manteuffel's hobby — she grows catnip and catmint for him.

    Sandy Manteuffel buys most of her plants from garden centers or catalogs. The exception is basil, which she often starts from seed indoors in March. Most herbs do best in loamy, well-drained soil and full sun.
    Recommended books:
    • Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs (Rodale Press; $19.95).
    • The Herbal Pantry (Clarkson Potter; $20).
    • Gifts From the Herb Garden (Clarkson Poter; $22).
    • Taylor's Guide to Herbs (Houghton Mifflin; $21).
    • Scented Geraniums: Knowing, Growing and Enjoying Scented Pelargoniums (Interweave Press; $16.95).
   Know a gardener daffy over daffodils? Partial to petunias? Perhaps she loves shade plants, or he likes lots of yard art.
    For a biweekly feature, we're looking for Tristate gardeners who display their love for a special plant or a special way of decorating their gardens.
    Nominations to: Wild About, Tempo, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; fax: 768-8330; e-mail
        Among the gardener's favorites is scented geraniums, herbs that are native to South Africa and not hardy here. She grows them outdoors in the summer and brings them inside when temperatures drop.

        “I just think they're the neatest plants in the world,” she says. “The many different shapes and sizes and textures (of the leaves) are amazing. I just love to grow them.”

        Rub the leaves of scented geraniums and you can smell the fragrance of roses, lemons, mint and spices.

        When Mrs. Manteuffel retired from nursing about five years ago, she began making pottery inspired by herbs. She presses leaves or sprigs into the clay before glazing her pieces. Scented geranium leaves decorate mugs while parsley, rosemary, thyme and other herbs adorn platters, bowls and other pieces.

        It is another way Mrs. Manteuffel enjoys the beauty from her herb garden all year.

Getting started
        Sandy Manteuffel recommends starting with a few popular culinary herbs:

        • Basil. This tender annual shouldn't be planted outdoors until the ground and air are warm. Clip the flower buds off culinary basils to encourage production all summer and for the best flavor. Mrs. Manteuffel likes sweet and genovese basil for salads and pesto. She enjoys the Siam Queen basil for its green leaves and pink blossoms. This variety is good for Thai cooking. Cinnamon basil has green leaves with purple veins. Opal basil has purple leaves.

        • Parsley. This is a biennial, which means it dies after two seasons. Enjoy the flavor of parsley in the plant's first year. In the second year, the plant blooms and goes to seed. Flatleaf Italian parsley has the best flavor. Curled parsley is used for garnishes and makes a nice edging plant in the garden.

        • Chives: When this perennial blooms in the spring, blossoms can be sprinkled in salads or used to add flavor to vinegar.

        • Rosemary. This plant is not hardy in Greater Cincinnati. Mrs. Manteuffel recommends growing rosemary in pots in the garden and bringing them indoors in the winter. To prevent mildew, bring the plant outside in the winter when the temperature is above freezing.

        • Thyme: There are many varieties of this low, creeping herb. Mrs. Manteuffel recommends French thyme for cooking.

        For more information, contact the Herb Society of Greater Cincinnati at 752-8233.

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