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Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ ‘Herb Army’ has new focus

Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens volunteers Katie Stoddard, Phyllis Clay and Nancy Natter label herbs for the Friends’ Spring Plant Sale. (Photos by Graham Yelton / courtesy of Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens)

For many years, the herbs volunteer growing group, or “Herb Army,” was known for having one of the largest quantities of plant offerings at the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ annual Spring Plant Sales. “We always had upward of 10,000 to 12,000 pots of herbs for the spring sale,” says group leader Donna Taylor.

During the past two years, as the Herb Army adapted to COVID’s ups and downs, the launch of the Friends’ online plant sales and return of in-person plant sales to the gardens, they saw an opportunity to refine their growing list. “We decided it was time to focus on hard-to-find plants,” Taylor says. “Our plan is to offer fewer herbs – closer to 4,000 this year – but they will be very choice herbs.”

The Herb Army will offer new varieties they’ve been excited to discover, alongside tried-and-true bestsellers at Spring Plant Sale 2022. “In essence, we are paying greater attention to what we are growing,” she says. “We’ve met, we’ve talked, we’ve planned, and we believe we have chosen the best, the most special herbs – our favorites over the years.”

Mimi Boston waters rosemary. (Photos by Graham Yelton / courtesy of Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens)

Led by master gardeners and united by their passion for their plant group’s culinary, aromatic and therapeutic delights, the Herb Army – now about two dozen members strong – finds success in dividing and conquering the tasks at hand.

“The group’s nickname goes way back,” Taylor says. “The original members saw themselves as little ants, all busily working toward a common goal. There’s a lot of spirit – we are attracting new members eager to learn, and it continues to be a very fun group.”

Over time, many of the group’s members have gravitated toward particular types of herbs, becoming experts in growing them. Tapped as “chairs” of their herb specialties, they identify varieties that thrive in the region, teach new group members about their specialty and share growing tips based on long experience at the sale each April.