Guide to a successful herb garden


Question: I just moved here from the Midwest and am delighted to have an herb garden year round. Are there any herbs I can plant that will grow year round so I can have kitchen herbs fresh out of the garden?

A: Yes, there are quite a few and many are very pretty in pots, planted on the border or in the vegetable garden. Now is the perfect time to buy nursery seedlings that can be planted in pots or in the landscape. Many herbs are also easily grown from seeds.

Here are a few you want to get started with:

PARSLEY is a biennial herbaceous plant that comes in two varieties. It is believed that the flat-leafed variety is tastier, and curly parsley makes a more attractive garnish. In most gardens, parsley can live longer than a second year and if left to seed at the end of the second year, it will reseed on its own.

ROSEMARY is a hardy perennial that comes in a plethora of deer-resistant selections, from low-growing ground covers to erect varieties that reach 5 or even 6 feet tall. These plants are very attractive in the landscape and bloom in early spring, providing color to the garden. They are hardy in cold, hot winters, full sun and have good drought resistance. They stand up to our scorching summers and winter downpours, always available for fragrant sprigs to season roast or gravy.

CHIVE are a relative of the onion that grows in 1 foot clumps with narrow green leaves. You can use any parts, from leaves to pink-purple flowers, to garnish soups or to garnish salads. Grow its larger parent, the Garlic Chives for its distinctly garlic-flavored leaves. Its flowers are also edible, as are the unopened, bright-tasting buds. They are winter hardy and the clumps will spread slowly.

THYME is another cold and drought tolerant herb. English thyme (Thymus vulgaris) grows about 1 foot tall with tiny leaves and makes a beautiful potted plant. Other thyme selections such as silver, lemon, orange or lime and those with variegated leaves are more ornamental, but may be less hardy. All of them offer wonderful flavor additions to soups, salads and sauces.

OREGANO is a staple of Greek and Italian cuisine and comes in several ornamental varieties. Common oregano is best for culinary use. Pick one that has a scent and flavor that you like. Plants may freeze some in the winter, but come back from the roots each spring.

MINT is another wonderful herb that comes in a delicious selection of flavors such as chocolate, orange, and peppermint. Make sure you grow in pots to lock in its stray roots or you can have an entire herb garden just from mint.

SAGE comes in countless eye-catching ornamental forms, but for cooking, look for the 1 to 2 foot tall garden sage, Salvia officianalis. Some have colorful or variegated leaves, and all require good drainage. These can freeze in the winter and require planting new plants in the spring.

BASIL – One herb that is not winter hardy, but without which I would have a hard time cooking, is fresh basil. There are many different varieties which are quite attractive in the landscape such as “Deep Purple” and “Siam Queen”. I like to plant several different varieties from the traditional type of sweet basil to the “Spicy Bush” variety. Basil is a cold-sensitive annual that you’ll need to replant every year, but it’s worth it. Pinch off the flower heads as they form or the plants tend to become woody.

In general, herbaceous plants need six to eight hours of sunlight per day, and like almost all plants, under or over watering can be fatal.

The Shasta Master Gardeners program can be contacted by phone at 530 242-2219 or by email at [email protected] The Gardener’s Office is made up of volunteers trained by the University of California to answer gardeners’ questions using information based on scientific research.


Terri S. Tomasini