Melissa -- the herb's herb

Plant a melissa herb near your cucumbers or among your choicest plants. It will improve the growth and flavor of the nearby plants and enhance the vigor and aroma of other herbs in the garden.

A melissa, cultivated from the earliest times by the Arabs and Greeks, was a familiar herb in Colonial gardens.

It grows quickly and becomes a companct, leafy plant within two weeks; thus, a single plant can become a half dozen healthy plants fast.

A week after you cut the longest, biggest branches from the plant, it is again as dense and leafy as before the prunning. Further, the melissa is beautiful.

The leafy branches grow outward, so it is generally more than a foot wide but not so high.

Melissa is a perennial. It will survive much lower temperatures than, say, rosemary, which must be buried deep or potted for indoors in states where the winter temperature drops below 15 degrees F.

Melissa is the Greek word for bee. Beekeepers grew the plant near their hives, and its fragrance helped lure them home.

When grown among your vegetables and fruit trees, melissa will attract bees from miles around to pollinate your garden, Dorothy Hall, an herb expert, says. Is this why melissa benefits all nearby plants?

It is one of the first perennials to emerge in early spring. Suddenly there is a compact plant with new-green leaves that widen as the days lengthen. In fall it stays green and healthy after two or three light frosts. Also, it is a particularly attractive indoor foliage plant.

On a warm afternoon in mid-fall you can pot it (using a clay pot) in a mixture of two-thirds sandy loam and one-third compost. A pebble will hold the moisture.

Although the melissa thrives in shade and semi-shade during the hot months of the year, it should spend the winter on your sunniest windowsill.

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