A culinary herb garden is almost a necessity for gardeners, because so many of us enjoy cooking. Even if cooking is not our first love, it is hard to make meals without some basic herb for almost every dinner. It can be expensive if we have to buy our parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but a small culinary herb garden, preferably not too far from the kitchen door is a thrifty answer. Fortunately for me the area by my kitchen door is perfect for growing herbs. Herbs do not need much fussing. My soil is fertile, and there is plenty of sun.
Some herbs are perennial. I have three clumps of chives next to each other. A single large sage plant lives nearby. I can pluck the leaves I need year round. Even though sage foliage curls up and does not look appetizing in the cold winter, it does not lose its savor.
Rosemary is also a perennial, but it is tender and its Mediterranean heart cannot endure our winters. There are different ways to manage this problem. Small rosemary plants are available every spring. Rosemary can be planted in the garden and for use all season, then potted up and brought into the house until spring when it can be planted in the ground again. This system worked for me when I had a cool sunny room and kept the plant well watered, in spite of directions to water lightly. Even in a cool room the atmosphere in a winter house is very dry. My new house is too warm and too dry to do this any more.
You can also simply get a new rosemary plant every spring, plant it in the garden, and use it as long as you can. I save some dried rosemary to use in winter.
Mint plants are among the easiest plants to grow. And they spread. I have a black stemmed mint that has made an arrangement with my lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, to share a space. The fragrant foliage of each of these plants is delicious in summer drinks. I don’t need a lot and I can just keep them trimmed so they don’t grow beyond their allotted space.
If you like different mints, orange mint, peppermint and spearmint and others which also have different foliage, you can pot up each kind and make a handsome array of pots and plants.
Thyme is a perennial, but I don’t have it in my herb garden. I use it as a ground cover, and then snip a bit whenever I need it in the kitchen. There are many thymes, but T. vulgaris is my standard.
Then there are the many annual herbs. It is difficult to call dill an annual because it self seeds with abandon. I love dill, as much for its childhood memories on a Vermont farm, as for its usage. I have a spot right by the kitchen door where the dill grows. In the fall I collect seed for my winter herb shelf. Inevitably some seed get sprinkled on the ground. Just to be sure, I save a few seeds, in case they are needed in the spring.
Other annual herbs that are frequently used in the kitchen begin with parsley. You can buy parsley starts which is what I usually do because seeds take so long to germinate. I use flat leaf parsley for most of my cooking, but I always buy a flat of curly parsley, too. Curly parsley can be used as a nice border plant, but an extra culinary benefit is that as winter ends curly parsley sends up new foliage. That early parsley really helps me in the kitchen while I wait for the new parsley plants to take hold.
Basil comes in many forms: Genovese Italian; lemon; little leaf; Thai and many more. Basil is a basic herb for lots of summer cooking. A few leaves can be clipped as needed. Basil also freezes very well for use in other seasons. I make little bundles of Genovese basil leaves and wrap them in wax paper. I put those little bundles in a freezer bag so I can use them in pesto or other dishes all year long.
Cilantro and coriander are a little tricky. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to realize coriander is the seed of the leafy cilantro. Part of the trick is that cilantro loses its leaves after a short season, leaving the coriander seeds. This means it is wise to have succession plantings of cilantro so you can have it over a long season. You can also keep collecting those coriander seeds.
Tarragon is an ingredient of Fines Herbes, along with chervil, parsley and chives. I have found it easiest to buy a tarragon plant. It is not easy to grow from seed. A small plant can settle in for the summer, but it is not hardy in our climate, indoors or out.
Chervil is sometimes called French parsley. It is delicate looking and delicate, but worth a try.
A small culinary herb garden can perk up your cooking – and save money.