EnhancE Any GardEn with HErbs

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Enticing fragrances, captivating flavors, and so many appealing textures, colors and shapes: the world of herbs is a heady one, full of delight and surprises. Not the least of these delights for the gardener is how easy most herbs are to grow. Even beginners can easily enjoy a bountiful harvest of these versatile plants for the kitchen, therapeutic use, crafts, or simply enhanced enjoyment of any garden space.

The word “herb” is a botanical term that refers to any non-woody plant that dies back in the winter. However, in common parlance, an herb is a plant that has savory or aromatic qualities useful for flavoring, medicine, or fragrance.   

Herb gardening can be as simple as growing a pot of parsley or mint on your kitchen windowsill or as elaborate as a formal garden dedicated to these culinary plants. Either way, you’ll want to keep a few basics plants in mind when planning your herb garden.

Getting Started Growing Herbs

Most herbs are easy to grow. While a few will grow well in semi shade, most prefer a sunny location, so look for a spot that gets a minimum of four to six hours of full sun per day. Well-drained soil is also a must for most herbs. Your herbs should do fine in any reasonably good garden soil, but it never hurts to till in some compost or aged manure before you plant, and fertilize just as you would your garden vegetables. 

You’ll also want to be sure they get adequate water. Watering needs vary from herb to herb. Many, such as sage and rosemary, originate from the Mediterranean region and are suitable for use in a drought tolerant garden. Others, like basil, will need to be watered regularly when the weather gets dry – although proper drainage is still important. It is a good idea when planning your herb garden to group your plants according to their watering needs, so you don’t end up having to choose between drying out one plant and drowning its neighbor.

Life cycle is another element to keep in mind when planning an herb garden. Herbs may be perennial, such as mint or oregano, or annuals, such as German chamomile or summer savory. Biennial herbs, such as parsley or dill, are most often grown as annuals for best flavor.  Many annual herbs will readily re-seed themselves, and perennials tend to spread, so don’t be surprised if your herb garden takes on a life of its own after a year or two. Fortunately, everyone loves herbs so it’s easy to give away extra plants, or even sell them if you get the entrepreneurial bug.

Speaking of bugs, most herbs are fairly resistant to insects and disease. This is because the essential oils that give them their flavor and scent evolved as a kind of natural repellent to protect the plant. However, if you do find aphids or other bugs chewing away at your plants, there are many good natural products available to combat them. A trip to your local retail garden supply store should provide the solution you need.

Harvesting herbs is easy. Simply snip off tender sprigs from the plant, using a scissors or shears for a clean cut. The more you cut, the more it will stimulate the plant to grow, so if you use a lot of herbs you are likely to enjoy full, lush plant growth in your herb garden.

Want to try your hand at growing herbs in your own home and garden? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Herb Gardens for Small Spaces

Got limited space? Herbs are the ideal garden solution. They don’t need a lot of room, so you can fit a variety of plants into a tight area. Try out these small-space gardening solutions for size:

  • Container herb gardens: Most herbs don’t have extensive root systems and happily grow in confinement, provided they receive enough water and sun. Visit your garden center for ready-made window boxes or decorative garden urns, or let your creative side go wild by finding unique containers to plant them in (an old wheelbarrow, perhaps, or even a colander or a set of abandoned drawers) – just be sure to drill holes for drainage! You can use a single large container of herbs as an accent piece, or group several smaller ones together in a whimsical arrangement on your porch or patio. They look great in a mixed planting with annual flowers, too! When planting in containers, pay special attention to the watering needs of each plant and be sure to plant compatible ones together.
  • Vertical herb gardens: Vertical gardening is all the rage these days, and easy-care herbs are a natural fit for a vertical garden. All you need is a way to hang containers or contain dirt on a vertical surface – for example, a wooden palette leaned against the wall can be filled with dirt and herbs planted between the slats. Some herbs that grow well in a vertical setting include parsley, thyme, mint, basil, and lavender.
  • Indoor herb gardening – Winter doesn’t have to put a crimp in your passion for fresh, home grown herbs. Many are just as happy to grow in a sunny windowsill as they are outside. South, east, or west light is best, or set them up under a grow lamp, and re-pot as needed with fresh potting soil to keep them at their best. Snip and harvest regularly to keep plants lush and full, and enjoy fresh, savory herbal flavors all winter long.

Grow a Kitchen Herb Garden

Once upon a time, every home had a small patch of herbs growing near the kitchen door. With the resurgence of interest in locally grown food and outdoor living, many modern homeowners and apartment dwellers are revisiting this trend. Whether you choose to grow your herbs in containers indoors or out, or dedicate a portion of your garden beds to your favorite seasoning plants, you will love the convenience and yummy results of having fresh herbs at your fingertips.

It may help in planning your kitchen herb garden to know that there are two culinary classifications of herb:

  • Robust herbs: These include full-bodied, richly flavored herbs such as garlic, sage, and thyme. A little goes a long way with these herbs, and they are commonly added to stews, roasts, and grilled food at the beginning of the cooking process.
  • Fine herbs: These are much more delicate and mild, and their flavors may not hold up to prolonged cooking. For this reason they are usually added to recipes near the end of the cooking process, or eaten raw in salads or as garnishes, such as dill, mint, and cilantro.

Consider planting your fine herbs closer to the kitchen door for convenience, because these are the ones you are more likely to want to add to food on short notice or on a whim.

Combination Gardening        

While a dedicated herb garden is a lovely thing, there’s no reason your herbs have to keep to themselves. You can create spectacular effects in your yard and garden by combining them with flowers and other ornamentals. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Borders: Low-growing herbs can make a charming border for a garden bed or path. Try any variety of thyme, chives, Roman chamomile, lavender, or curly parsley.
  • Flowering herbs: Many herbs have showy and/or interesting flowers and hold their own in a flower bed. Lavender, borage, bee balm, anise hyssop, Echinacea, and dill look great in a mixed flower bed. As an added bonus, many of these plants are super attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
  • Colorful foliage: Some herbs stand out for their foliage, and you can create striking effects in the garden by including them in your flower beds. A few to consider include sage, purple basil, and variegated cultivars of any herb.                                  

Veggie gardens can also benefit from the inclusion of herbs. The strong fragrances of many herbs help to repel pests and attract beneficial insects. And the beautiful flowers and leaves of many herbs bring a splash of beauty to any food plot. Herbs tend to be light feeders with small root structures, so they can be easily interplanted with your vegetables without robbing them of nutrients. Try these herb-veggie combinations in your garden next season:

  • Carrots and marigolds
  • Broccoli and dill
  • Chives and strawberries
  • Basil and tomatoes
  • Garlic and just about anything!

Ready to Grow?

Herbs offer a fun and easy way to make your garden uniquely your own. With the huge variety of types and cultivars available today, the world of herbs is full of endless possibilities. Whether you like them for flavor, beauty, or both, a garden full of herbs is sure to delight you and your guests alike.

If you’re looking to transform your backyard into a lush garden, a local landscape professional can help you design a space that is perfect for your lifestyle.