How to Pick the Best

This is the time of year most of us are visiting nurseries to stock up on herbs for a new garden or to fill in an old one, so it seemed like a good time to talk about what you should be looking for as you select plants.   Your garden will only be as good as the plants you put in it, so be sure to select plants carefully.

If, like me, you’re always curious about unfamiliar offerings, ask someone at the nursery to give you growing information including whether or not the plant does well in your climate, the amount of water and sun needed, and any special soil requirements.  You might elect to grow a tender perennial like Greek oregano as an annual in spite of the fact that it won’t

winter over.  If you’re a cook, the pleasure

of enjoying the fresh leaves during the

summer and the superb flavor of a freshly

dried crop in the winter would certainly

compensate for the loss.

Tom De Baggio, a respected journalist

turned nurseryman extraordinaire, once

gave me a list of the things to look for when buying a plant.  Here it is to help you go home with the best plants in the nursery.

  1. 1.  Look for branched plants with strong stems and signs of  vigorous new growth.

  2. 2.  If the plant’s color doesn’t look good to you, ask about it.  Color is often an important sign that something is wrong.

  3. 3.  If fragrance is one of the characteristics you’re seeking, gently brush the leaves with your fingers to release the herbal scent. then pick up the plant by the pot (never grab the plant itself) and sniff it.  Never disfigure a plant by pulling off a leaf and tasting it.

  4. 4.  Examine the plant carefully to make sure it’s free of insects and disease.

  5. 5.  The plant should be clearly labeled so you’ll know what it is when you get it home.  If the label is difficult to read, pick up the pot to read it rather than chancing injuring the tender roots by taking the label out and replacing it.

I recommend buying locally if possible so you can take advantage of the nursery’s knowledge of your growing conditions.  If you are searching for an unusual herb, you may need to shop online.  There are a number of good herb nurseries, but among my favorites are Companion Plants (, Sandy Mush Nursery (, and Richter’s (

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© photos Chris Mead; drawings Don Wise, text Emelie Tolley



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