If you have ever wanted to venture into edible gardening, herbs are an excellent place to start. Whether a formal herb garden or just a pot on the windowsill, herbs are among the easiest garden plants to grow. Mostly heat loving and drought tolerant, our hot summers just intensify their flavors. Fresh herbs can elevate scrambled eggs into a new level of goodness, garnish a salad or add a wild fresh flavor to teas and cocktails.
Every basic herb garden should contain at least rosemary, chives, oregano, basil and thyme. Parsley, cilantro and mint are good additions and if you have room, a bay tree is both useful and beautiful. Everyone of course wants lavender in their garden but it can be tricky to grow here. It needs alkaline soil and excellent drainage. Add some lime to the soil when you plant it and give it some room for good air circulation.
Be flexible when thinking about where to plant your herbs. They do not need to be relegated to a single place in the garden. Rosemary makes a great hedge or screen to mask your electrical box. It is traditionally planted near entryways to keep out evil spirits. Parsley makes a beautiful evergreen border to a flower bed or walkway. Oregano and thyme go nicely in pots or window boxes in combination with other herbs or flowers. When choosing thyme, be aware that some are for seasoning and some are just for show. Lemon thyme is especially tasty with its hint of citrus. Wooly thyme is a great little groundcover but doesn’t taste like much of anything.
Mint is a different matter. Whether you are growing Kentucky Colonel for your mint juleps or chocolate mint just for the Peppermint Patty experience, do not turn it loose in your garden. It is a thug. It will swallow a flower bed like kudzu. Mint does well confined to a pot and unlike many herbs can tolerate some shade. If you have an unused bit of yard where it is difficult to grow other things, consider mint as a care free groundcover. It is not evergreen but the roots do an amazing job of holding the soil.
You don’t have to stick with just the old Simon and Garfunkel song – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme. Try something new, or old. Lovage used to be a garden staple in earlier centuries but has fallen out of use. It is perennial, easy to grow and attractive with bold foliage and pretty flowers. All parts of the plant may be used – leaves, stems, roots and seeds. Check out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s article in The Guardian for an amusing in depth look at lovage and some delicious recipes as well.
Stevia is all the rage now as a sugar substitute and it couldn’t be easier to grow. Put a fresh leaf or two in your tea or soak ¼ cup crushed leaves in 1 cup of water to make a liquid sweetener. Dry leaves in the fall and crush into powder for use over the winter.
There are any number of fresh herbs available. Given how expensive cut fresh herbs are in the grocery store, it only makes sense to grow them at home, so give it a try.