Instead of tomatos, focus your FOMO on unique herbs

By 
Erin Schanen

The longer I garden the more I’m convinced that most gardeners are driven by FOMO, the fear of missing out, on a great plant. Take tomatoes for example. If someone says they are growing tomatoes the first question a fellow gardener will ask is “What kind?” That question is followed by a barrage of other questions: Why are you growing that tomato? How does it taste? How many tomatoes does it produce? How big does it get?

It’s all in a quest to grow the perfect tomato, a goal that is, as far as I can tell, unachievable because there are always new tomatoes to try.

Fellow gardeners, I’m here to simplify your life. Any tomato you grow in your garden will be much better than anything you can buy at the store, so stick with one you like and focus your FOMO efforts on all the unusual herb varieties that you’ve been missing out on.

Basil is the best example of this. Gardeners accept basil is basil, but there is a whole world of Ocimum out there to be discovered. Most people will recognize sweet basil as “regular” basil, but if you only grow that you’ll miss out on varieties like lettuce leaf (Ocimum basilicum crispum), which has mild, flavorful, sandwich-size leaves, or Thai basil, which is slightly spicy and perfect for Thai dishes or a little extra kick.

‘Pesto Perpetuo’ is a variety with small cream-edged leaves that is as beautiful as it is flavorful, and ‘Rutgers Devotion’ is an improved sweet Genovese variety that is resistant to downy mildew, a disease that most gardeners have seen wipe out basil in a week.

Most people only know oregano as an herb that’s great in Italian food, but if you want a little more kick that will work well in salsa, chili and other highly flavored dishes, ‘Hot and Spicy’ will make you think of the herb in a whole new way. And ornamental oregano, which is technically edible but is grown for its flowers rather than its flavor, will turn heads every time. ‘Kent Beauty’ and ‘Kirigami’ are two standout varieties that I guarantee will have inquiring friends asking, “That’s oregano?”

I’ve never found a lot of difference in the flavor of different rosemary varieties, but their growing habits vary drastically. While Rosmarinus officinalis is the bushy little plant most of us are familiar with, ‘Foxtail’ has a great weeping habit that will spill over the edge of a container, adding a new layer of interest to a favorite flavor.

The flavor of thyme does vary quite a bit between varieties, however. I prefer the slightly sweeter flavor of French thyme, but most people probably think of English thyme as the standard. And lime and lemon thyme live up to their names with their flavors and are perfect for the right dishs.

Ambitious gardeners might hunt out these out-of-the-ordinary varieties through a number of sources, or take an easier route and pick them up at the Ozaukee Master Gardeners’ Heirloom Plant and Herb Sale May 28 at Concordia University.

Wherever you find them, it’s worth the effort, because the fear of missing out on herbs that go beyond basic is real.

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