Herbs, Beautiful, Scented and Delicious

August 1, 2015

There’s nothing like walking out to your garden and picking your own herbs for homemade spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, or potpourri. Herbs grown at home have so much more flavor and scent than those bought in the produce section or in the dried spice aisle of the grocery store.  Lightly brushing your hand though herb plants releases wonderful aromas that sooth and calm you after a long day, and the pretty little blooms bring a smile to new and seasoned gardeners alike. The best part about growing herbs is that it’s relatively easy. A well prepared bed, proper sun and moisture, and occasional weeding are all that you need to become the herbal envy of family, neighbors, and friends.  Many herbs are sun lovers, while others are partial shade to shade tolerant, so it’s important to observe how much sunlight the garden bed will get before choosing your new plants. Six to eight hours of daily sun are a must for sun lovers like anise, dill, and chives. Some members of the mint family do well in full sun to light shade. Herbs make great companion plants and do well in flower and vegetable beds, creating lovely contrasts in those spaces. I prefer using plants as seeds take anywhere from 5 days to a full month to germinate. If you plant seeds, spread them over prepared soil then lightly cover. If planted too deeply, the tiny seeds won’t germinate. Herbs require good drainage. To accomplish this, consider planting in a raised bed. Raised beds are convenient because there is less digging of the soil. Instead, a good mixture of garden soil, quality topsoil, and organic weed/seed free compost is built on top of the existing ground. Raised beds can be boxed in with large decorative rock or wood. My beds are surrounded by creosote-free railroad ties, and I have flat garden stones spaced among the beds so that I can weed and water without stepping on the soil. This keeps the soil well-aerated and makes it easy to cultivate between plants.  Boxing in decreases soil loss and increases water drainage, a must for herbs. You can also simply mound the soil, but I’ve found that the one-time effort of boxing in saves me hours of time and labor in the long run. For sauces and dressings, try planting thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley. Thyme likes full sun and is a low-growing shrubby perennial that spreads slowly. Its tiny leaves are greenish-gray and the pale purple, pink or white flowers sprinkle the entire plant. Oregano is another sun-loving perennial, grows 12 to 18 inches and has pale to medium green leaves and spikey clusters of purple and white flowers. Basil is a very fragrant, upright annual that loves full sun, grows 1 to 2 feet, and has deep green leaves. The tiny purple flowers grow along a thin 4 inch stem at the top of the leaves. Parsley is a partial shade loving biennial that grows 12 to 18 inches. Its pale green leaves can be fern-like (plain parsley), curly (curled parsley), or flat (Italian parsley). The pale green-to-white flowers grow in an umbel much like onion or chive flowers.  For beauty and potpourri, my favorites are thyme, lavender, and lovage. Lavender is semi-hardy at altitude and will need protection from early and late frosts. It is a shrubby plant that grows crooked branches and reaches a height of 1 to 3 feet. The leaves are a pale grayish green, and its purple-gray flowers grow in rings above the stem. The perennial lovage is now unusual in gardens but used to be very popular in English gardens long ago. It grows in full sun and has thick, erect stems of 3 to 4 feet in height. It has dark green, shiny leaves, and its umbels of yellow flowers closely resemble fennel. Lovage is prized as an ornamental as well as scented plant. The very best part of growing herbs is that the more they are picked, the more they grow. Whether in their own bed or among flowering plants and vegetables, herbs bring charm to your garden. Their beauty, scent, and flavor will soon make them a must for your kitchen, home, and garden for years to come.

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