With warmer days upon us and the return of the ruby-throated hummingbird, it’s time to start thinking about creating an outdoor space that is not only pleasing to our feathered friends, but to us, as well. Fortunately, it’s also time for the Webster Groves Herb Society’s 40th annual herb sale, which takes place Saturday, April 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Webster Groves. With more than 10,000 plants and 320 different varieties of both culinary and ornamental herbs, as well as heirloom vegetables, there is sure to be something for everyone, including our friend, the hummingbird.

Beth Mattingly, who is recording secretary and chairperson for the plant sale, notes that this event is the largest of its kind in the St. Louis area. “No other sale has the varieties of basils, lavenders, rosemaries, thymes, sages and mints,” Mattingly says. “As far as basils alone, I believe we have 24 different varieties, including a new one this year called Red Freddy (Ocimum basilicum), which is a Genovese that happens to have a beautiful red color and is wonderful for pestos, as well as flavored vinegars. We also have 23 different varieties of lavender and 16 types of rosemary.”

Established in 1971, the Webster Groves Herb Society started the annual event two years later, and according to Mattingly, the sale has certainly grown and evolved in the last 40 years. “When the sale first started, it was held in Southfield Park, which is located next to the Hawken House in Webster Groves,” she describes. “The herbs were delivered the day before, of course, so the volunteers could set up. But because it was held out in an open field, someone had to spend the night to guard the herbs, so there were always a couple of women who would camp out in their cars—and then sometimes it would rain…”

The sale has grown to be such a popular event that shoppers every year line up around the parking lot at the break of dawn to be among the first inside. “The long line of people around the church is what first made me notice the event back when I first moved to Webster Groves,” Mattingly recalls. “Last year, I arrived at the sale at 7:30 a.m., and they were already lined up, with some even sitting in lawn chairs. So last year, we started giving out numbers, so people didn’t have to feel committed to standing in line and they could wander around and visit with others. I think they appreciated that.”

Mattingly points out that, of the more than 10,000 plants available, all are produced by Missouri growers who meet the certification required by the state and grow organically or use all-natural materials. Other varieties new to the sale include Floral Spires Lavender basil (Ocimum basilicum), Cuban basil (Ocimum basilicum), Magic Mountain basil (Ocimum basilicum), Ruby Star purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Buena Vista lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Banana mint (Mentha arvensis) and Mozart rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), just to name a few. Heirloom eggplants, peppers and tomatoes in an array of colors also are available. Other additions to the event this year are themed garden displays and a personal shopping service. This service, as well as entrance to the sale and parking, is free. This event is the WGHS’s only fundraiser, with proceeds benefiting student scholarships in herb-related studies, community projects, and the herb gardens at Hawken House in Webster Groves, Mudd’s Grove in Kirkwood and the History Village Herb Garden at Faust Park in Chesterfield, all of which the Society maintains.

“Herbs are so easy to grow here in St. Louis. Some experts say that lavenders do not do well in Missouri because of our humidity—but I have been growing lavender here for many years; and as long as you don't try to take care of it, it does wonderfully,” she laughs. “We do have 42 years of expertise, and if anyone who attends the sale has any questions about herbs, we will have an information table and volunteers floating around to help. And if one person doesn't know the answer, there will be five other people there who will.”

And to attract the hummingbirds? Mattingly suggests another new variety to the sale: lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus). “It has a brilliant orange bud, and the hummingbirds—and butterflies—love it!”

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Courtesy of Webster Groves Herb Society Cookbook

1 c softened butter

1 c oil

1 c sugar

1 c confectioner's sugar

2 eggs

1 t vanilla

1 t baking soda

1 t cream of tartar

4 c flour

2 T chopped fresh rosemary, or 2 t dried

Combine all the ingredients, except the rosemary, in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. You may need to add a little flour if the dough appears sticky, adding a tablespoon at a time. Add the chopped rosemary and gently mix into the batter. Form into small balls and place on a ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 375 degrees. Check after six minutes, turning the pan and baking another two to four minutes until the cookies are pale golden brown and firm to the touch. Baking time depends on how large you make your cookies. Makes six to eight dozen cookies.

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