Saturday, December 10, 2011

Curbside herbs

Single French marigold blossoms and perilla - with dandelions
 I was walking down Main Street in Santa Monica - actually I was heading for the corner store to grab an afternoon snack. It was a walk I'd taken many times before.

The streetscape here is pretty bleak - there's a row of low, 1920's era storefronts, some, like the corner store, are in pretty good shape and vital, but others are shabby, like a moribund shoe-repair shop and a vacant storefront stuffed with stored junk. There's a '70s era stucco office building and a parking lot - the parking lot is surrounded by a pointy, spear-like steel fence.

Just in front of the parking lot fence is a narrow strip of soil and I suddenly realized that although it was thickly overgrown with weeds, it was planted with an assortment of culinary and ornamental herbs.

Yes, someone had planted an herb garden here in this narrow, gritty strip of soil in front of a parking lot in the middle of the city.

Who could the gardener have been? The owner of the shoe repair shop? The employees of the City of Santa Monica's Housing Division, who occupied the office building?

Tricolor sage - Salvia officianalis
Perhaps it was the flash of deep red from a low-growing single French marigold that caught my eye. Or the  specimen of tricolor sage - the rosy, white, and green variety of Salvia officianalis - that was more vigorous than any I've been able to establish in my own garden.

Here on a December day, with the winter sun slanting in low, my photos aren't as clear as I'd hope. But here's what's growing on Main Street.

Oregano leaves and dried flowers
Lavender is only sparsely in bloom this December, but there is a good-sized shrub of lavender - I think it's the Provence variety.

More oregano flowers, some tarragon leaves, and black sage
At the back of the garden, California native Salvia mellifera, or black sage. There's also oregano, having flowered and gone to seed.

I think the purple flowers are chives - although I'm not sure.

The striking red-backed and toothy leaves of Perilla frutescens, an herb popular in Japanese and Korean cuisine. There are different varieties, and this one appears to be red perilla, The green version is known as Shiso in Japan, and is often used to add flavor to sushi.

This gardener like sage - here's pineapple sage, or Salvia elegans. It blooms with tiny red flowers, although in December, there aren't more than a few to see. Instead, the large fragrant leaves are tinged with purple.

Flowers of pineapple sage
The creator of this garden also included herbs for fragrance and ornament, like scented-leaved geraniums. The pretty mahogany-red flowers at the top of this post are French marigolds, still in bloom this December.

Scented leaved geranium
Any passing office worker or deliveryman can pluck a sweet-smelling leaf to rub between the fingers and freshen up their day.

The little herb garden is overgrown with crab grass and dandelions - of course, dandelions are considered edible herbs as well, so who knows whether the original gardener introduced them?

It's a testimony to the resilient nature of herbs that they have been able to thrive here, in this harsh urban setting, and hold their own with the weeds. If you've ever doubted you could grow herbs - this should surely inspire you to give it a try!

Isn't it magical to walk past a weedy stretch of urban landscape and realize it's actually a garden of scented and beautiful herbs?

What secret gardens in your daily routine are awaiting your notice?


Jen on the Edge said...

I love going on walks and discovering gardens, especially the wee ones that might be overlooked when larger, flashier ones are nearby. There's one house I walk by that has herbs along a stone wall and often accidentally brush them as I walk by and then get that wonderful scent of lavender or sage or something else. Bliss.

Mrs. G. said...

More and more I wish I lived in your sunny neck of the woods!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing discovery!
I'd never heard of pineapple sage. I'd love to smell it.

Barry DeCicco said...

That's nice!

shorifmiss said...

I took a lot of photos in this town, so I'm going to break them down into two posts.

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