Create the essential garden of aromatic herbs
Herbs are essential garden plants, as pretty as they are useful, so when choosing herbs for your garden don’t just think about taste – remember the color, fragrance and texture, and give the herbs plenty of room in your garden for plans.
There is an herb for every recipe, but really no recipe for an herb garden – the important thing is to grow what you like and find places and ways for the herbs to grow. An herb garden might include old-fashioned roses for rose petal jam or tea, lemongrass for freshening up Asian recipes, or sesame plants for your baking. You could grow a row of tall, cheerful sunflowers and collect seeds for both yourself and the birds. You don’t even have to dig – just place a jar of rosemary on the back staircase where you’ll enjoy its scent as you come and go.
The choice of plants for herb gardens “is wide open,” says Gayle Engels, director of special projects at the American Botanical Council, which specializes in herbal medicine information but widely promotes herbs and gardening of herbs. Herbs from around the world bloom in 25 Medicinal and Culinary Herb Gardens at ABC Headquarters in Austin, Texas. The demonstration gardens are pretty, but they have a purpose. The goal is to inspire the cultivation of herbs and suggest new ways of using herbs.
Engels does not have a handy list of recommended herbs for everyone. It “depends on the individual and what he wants,” she says. Many herbs are beautiful and versatile: Engels loves calendulas for their shiny petals, which are dazzling in a salad. They are certainly appropriate in a culinary garden, but they are also cultivated for their medicinal uses: Engels makes a skin-soothing oil from calendula petals and almond oil. Mint also works hard in culinary and medicinal herb gardens – it’s a classic herb for summer drinks and salads, but a large bundle of mint leaves can also be used to make a soaking solution. first-rate for tired feet, says Engels.
Most herbs grow best in a sunny location. “It doesn’t have to be the best floor ever,” says Engels, as long as it drains well. Many annual herbs – parsley, basil, cilantro, dill, and more – thrive in the heat of summer and don’t need pampering to grow and thrive. Perennial herbs – sage, oregano, thyme, lavender, mint, chives and others – are also easy to grow and benefit from pruning and harvest.
Experience is a great teacher, says Engels. You will learn by doing and by persevering. If you’ve tried growing an herb that doesn’t seem to thrive for you, try moving it to another location. In AHC gardens in Texas, if an herb is still not doing well after a few movements, they replace it with a plant that prefers the hot, dry conditions of their climate.
You don’t need 40 acres and a tractor to have a successful herb garden. A large flower pot will serve several plants of parsley, basil and dill. Plant labels may recommend generous spacing, but when you’re harvesting regularly, it’s a good idea to squeeze the grasses together. Many herbs grow well alongside ornamental plants; try planting zinnias with dill or basil, for example, or grow a border of parsley, chives or lavender around a flower bed. Remember that many common garden flowers – daylilies, dianthus, pansies, nasturtiums – are also traditional herbs.
Nowadays, gardeners are expanding their herbal selections to include spices commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese recipes, Engels says. It’s easy to try them out, either by planting seeds, getting cuttings from friends, or buying transplants. “Push the envelope back. Try new things, ”she says. “It’s more of an art than a science.”
Engels teaches herbal gardening classes, and she says her students are also researching new ways to use familiar herbs. Many gardeners ask him about herbal teas, herbal infusions and elixirs, and the benefits of herbs for pollinators. The flowers of many herbs, including dill and fennel, attract butterflies to the garden, and their leaves and flowers are a source of food for caterpillars. It can be disconcerting to discover caterpillars eating your parsley, so plant enough to share, she suggests – vegetable gardens are even more productive when there is a thriving pollinator population in and around your garden. .
Herb gardens have their roots in the past, but they’re teeming with modern adventures, Engels says. They are rich in scents, flavors and cultures of distant places. No matter where they come from, you can fully enjoy them in an herb garden in your own backyard.
– The American Botanical Council is an excellent source of information on herbs of all kinds. The Council specializes in information on herbal medicine and supports sustainable gardening. Council headquarters in Austin, Texas, are open for tours. For more information, abc.herbalgram.org.
– The Herb Society of America is another excellent source of information promoting the “knowledge, use, and enjoyment” of herbs. For more information, herbsociety.org.