There are so many reasons to grow your own herbs. The most important reason is the taste; you can’t beat the fresh taste of the local herbs. Of course, growing a culinary herb garden is also an easy way to save money on your grocery bill. Store-bought herbs are expensive, often of dubious freshness, and many are difficult to find. But experienced gardeners know that most herbs can be easily grown in a garden or on a sunny terrace.
Growing a garden with culinary herbs: the basics
Before embarking on a culinary herb garden, start with some planning. Which herbs do you use the most? Do you want to grow enough to dry or freeze for the winter? If you are just starting gardening, start small and plan to grow a handful of your favorite kitchen herbs in window boxes or cloth containers. Once you have success with container garden, you may want to plant a garden dedicated to culinary herbs, or add herbs to existing vegetable or flower beds.
You will find that most herbs are very easy to grow if you have a sunny place with well-drained soil. This is especially important for Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano, which thrive with heat and little water. Leafy herbs such as persil, chives and coriander can be planted in ordinary garden soil and in less light, but they always grow better if you get at least 6 rays of the sun per day. If the existing soil is less than ideal, you can still grow herbs in raised beds.
When preparing a new garden, remove turf and weeds from the site and dig to loosen the soil. Before planting, process with compost or aged manure. Once the seeds are sown or the seedlings are planted, water them regularly until the plants grow well. Perennial herbs such as thyme, chives and sage are very drought tolerant once established. To promote healthy plant growth, fertilize occasionally with an organic herb garden fertilizer.
Growing a Culinary Herb Garden: 8 Essential Herbs
Most herbs can be grown from seeds or transplants purchased at a local garden center. Some perennial herbs, such as chives, are also easy to share and if you are lucky, a garden friend can share a tuft with you.
Basil-basil is perhaps the most popular culinary herb for its warm and aromatic taste, which is essential to so many dishes. There are many varieties of basil, but for culinary use you can not beat such varieties as Genovese, Spicy Globe and Dolce Fresca. Basil thrives in hot weather and should not be planted in the garden until the threat of spring frosts passes. Do not rush the basil into the garden; when spring temperatures drop after planting, cover the basil with a row lid or mini tire tunnel to protect the tender plants. I use a lot of basil and find it economical to grow it from seeds that were started about eight weeks before the last expected frost in the house under growing lamps. However, in after spring, you can also find basil seedlings in most nurseries.
Greek Oregano – if you’re looking for an oregano with an exceptional flavor, it’s hard to beat the Greek oregano. In my garden zone 5, Greek oregano is an annual plant and does not hibernate unless protected in a cold environment. Plant this heat lover in raised beds, containers or create a gravelly berm where you and other Mediterranean herbs such as thyme and rosemary thrive. When buying seeds or plants, avoid everything that is simply called “oregano”. It is probably oregano vulgare, a plant often referred to as wild oregano, which is a vigorous self-seeder and does not have the depth of flavor you find in Greek oregano. We harvest fresh Greek oregano in the summer for dressings, marinades and pizza, but much of our harvest is dried for winter dishes. If you are already a fan of Greek oregano, you may want to try growing Syrian oregano, a tasty herb known as za’atar in many parts of the world and featured in my book Veggie Garden Remix.
Coriander-Coriander is a love-he-or-hate-he kind of grass. Its piquant taste gives intense flavor to Mexican, Asian and Indian dishes, and for me it is a “love it” plant. Coriander grows well in full sun in partial shade, but it is better in cool spring and autumn weather. In summer, the coriander is quickly screwed and loses its taste. There are some bolt-resistant varieties like ‘Calypso’, ‘Slo-bolt’ and ‘Cruiser’ that coriander lovers might want to try. Succession Plant fresh seeds in the garden every few weeks for the longest coriander crop grown on site. For coriander flavor in summer, you should grow a heat-loving coriander substitute such as Vietnamese coriander or papalo.
Rosemary-I consider rosemary a year in my garden, although I saw that it hibernates in a nearby yard, where the soil was gravelly, and the site was protected from winter winds. However, most varieties of rosemary only reliably hibernate in the open air in zones 8 and above. In colder areas, rosemary is an annual herb that is usually dug up and brought into the house before the first autumn frosts. For those who want to winter rosemary in zones 6 or 7, ‘ Arp ‘ may be the best choice, as it is considered one of the most cold-tolerant varieties. I do not care about growing rosemary from seeds, as it grows extremely slowly. Instead, look for healthy transplants at your local kindergarten in after spring. Fresh rosemary is a must when growing a culinary herb garden. Its fresh, sharp scent and taste go well with fried vegetables, focaccia and fried chicken.
Chives-chives can grow the simplest grass in a garden. Just choose a place with full sun in partial shade and ordinary garden soil and you will be happy for years. I love dressing plants with a centimeter of compost or aged manure every spring to promote healthy growth. In spring, summer and autumn, we use chives almost daily to give a light onion flavor to soups, eggs, marinades, salads, hamburgers and many potato dishes. You can grow them from seeds, but chives take months to get from seed to harvest. Instead, start with a few chive plants-from a nursery or a garden friend. At the beginning of summer, the grassy tufts are crowned with bright pink flowers. Bee-friendly flowers are edible and can be left on the plant to attract useful bees and insects or sprinkled on salads and quiches. If you do not want chives to appear everywhere in your garden, cut the flowers as soon as they wither, but before they turn into seeds.
Dill-I always include dill in my culinary herb garden, not only for its distinctive taste, but also for its popularity among the many beneficial insects that visit my garden. Dill provides a variety of edible parts; the leaves are chopped into eggs and soups, and also used together with salmon and in dressings, and seeds and flowers are used in pickling. Dill is usually sown directly in the garden from the beginning to the middle of spring, with leaf harvesting starting about six to seven weeks after sowing. Harvesting the seeds takes longer and is ready for harvesting about three months after sowing in the spring. For a continuous supply of dill grown on site, sow fresh seeds every 3 weeks from spring to mid-summer. ‘Bouquet’ is a popular strain that grows productively and quickly, but I also like’ Fernleaf’, an all-American Selections award winner that is compact and ideal for containers.
Thyme-Thyme is a low-growing herb perfect for the front of a garden bed, rock garden, or tucked away in a container. It prefers well drained soils and full sun and is drought tolerant. The tiny thyme flowers are attractive to beneficial insects and pollinators, which makes them excellent companion plants of many vegetables. There are hundreds of different thyme, but for culinary use I stick to the ordinary thyme and lemon thyme. Lemon thyme is ridiculously fragrant and has a strong citrus-thyme flavor, perfect for marinades, fried vegetables and chicken dishes.