The smooth and shiny, aromatic leaves of basil provide both ornamental beauty and culinary use.

Every gardener has several of those go-to plants, the ones that seem to always grow nicely in their particular gardening system, making them a repeated addition over the years.  I just love it when one of these go-to specimens can not only provide ornamental beauty, but an edible harvest as well. 

As the local food movement has grown in popularity, an interesting subset of “foodies” have emerged that forage in nature for their dinner.  Many native, wild plants are edible and these folks seek them out in our forests, prairies, and sometimes even our yards. 

In recent years, herbs have gained a larger presence in my home gardens.  Not only do these plants provide wonderful, fresh garnish for many of our favorites recipes, but they can also be a source of ornamental value as well as great pollinator plants when in bloom.  Many herbs are touted as tough perennial plants, and many are so, but rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) can be a challenge to keep going in the garden.

This week marks the half way point for the 2018 Illinois Ginseng Harvesting Season, which runs from the first Saturday in September through Nov 1.  Did you even know that ginseng grows in Illinois, let alone the fact that there is a regulated harvest of this valuable native plant? 

As agriculture worldwide continues to advance and innovate in an attempt to feed our ever-growing global population, unique and specialized productions systems are popping up all the time.  One such system, referred to as aquaponics, includes an interesting mixture of plants and aquatic organisms.  Some folks right here on the University of Illinois Campus are currently using this agricultural system to produce locally grown plants and animals for the menu at Bevier Café.

There are few gardening activities available this time of year for those of us with the gardening itch.  Indoor herb gardening is one hobby that not only provides an edible product, but also delivers the human to plant interaction that so many of us need.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to tour a unique indoor herb garden on the U of I campus in Urbana.  The Bevier Café, located in Bevier Hall, is a student-operated café offering a variety of great cuisine for lunch, Monday through Friday (11:30-1:00) during each semester. 

In recent years, I have become more interested in landscape plants that provide some type of culinary use while also providing aesthetic value to my yard.  Herbs are a hearty group of plants that can fit into most any landscaping, adding beauty from flowers or foliage, while providing an easy to access fresh supply for recipes.  One such herb that has recently piqued my interest is thyme.