What kind of garden yields potpourri and perfumes, spices and teas, incense and insecticides, soaps and dyes, curatives and candy, and, as a bonus, is drought- tolerant?
The answer, if you haven’t guessed by now, is an herb garden.
Jean Cozart’s Canoga Park house is surrounded by herbs. She has personally experimented with each of them, and has encyclopedic knowledge of their practical uses.
Her favorite herb – lemon verbena – helps fulfill her passions for herb gardening and cooking.
“It has the best lemon scent, is terrific with iced tea, and makes a wonderful lemon-flavored cake icing,” she said. “For everyday cooking, my favorite seasonings are Mexican tarragon and basil.”
Cozart is familiar with the culinary arts of Korea, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Costa Rica, Russia, China, India and Holland.
“My dad worked with the Illinois Central Railroad. We moved around a lot and lived in every conceivable ethnic neighborhood,” Cozart said. “Since I liked to cook, I made it a practice to learn the cuisine of each group of people among whom we lived. Every culture has its own favorite seasonings and spices.”
Another of Cozart’s specialities is potpourri, and she takes pride in creating unique combinations of scents. To this end, she uses 12 types of lavender, all of which grow in her garden.
“The gray-leaved lavenders are particularly drought-tolerant, since their light color reflects the sun’s rays,” she explained. “Lavender flowers, which carry the plant’s fragrance, are produced all year long.”
Rosa damascena, the damask or apothecary rose, has the flowers from which attar of roses is made. In addition to perfume, Cozart uses its flowers to make rose vinegar, rose wine and rose candy. Another rose in her garden, the Eglantine or sweetbrier, has apple-scented leaves.
Most herbs used for seasoning are grown for their leaves. Such is the case with thyme, oregano, rosemary and basil. In Cozart’s garden there are several varieties of each, including pungent Greek oregano, a pink-flowered rosemary and an allspice-scented basil.
Bay leaves – used for savoring roasts, fish and sauces – come from Laurus nobilis or laurel, the evergreen plant whose garlands crowned the heads of victorious athletes in ancient Greece.
Cozart’s specimen of this plant has grown into a 60-foot tree, but it can also be used for the perfect drought-tolerant, formal hedge, when kept low by occasional pruning. Laurel plants deserve wider use, especially since they are available, throughout the year, in the herb section of any garden center.
Medicinal herbs abound in Cozart’s garden. They include feverfew for migraine, myrtle for diaper rash, yarrow for nosebleed, celandine for warts, and lamb’s ears, whose furry leaves can be used as bandages.
She also has a number of “strewing” herbs, such as sweet woodruff, which were strewn on the floors of houses during the middle ages as an antidote to plague. For centuries, the leaves of cistus, the rock rose, have been used for making incense.
All the herbs we have mentioned are perennials. Properly cared for, they last in the garden for years.
The most common mistake in caring for herbs, if not in caring for plants generally, is to give them too much water. Most herbs are native to dry, Mediterranean-type climates. They cannot tolerate overwatering, when soil is not allowed to dry out and lethal soil fungi proliferate.
To avoid overwatering, emulate Cozart, who has a system of soaker hoses attached to hose bibs.