Jane Says: Herb Garden Makes Anything You Taste Better

“What’s the best way to grow herbs for cooking and what are some ways to use the harvest?” “

—Laurie Eyre

I know your question is relatively straightforward, but damn, is there a lot to say on the subject. This week, let’s stay in the garden, and next week, I’ll go back to the kitchen.

The great thing about growing herbs is that they adapt to almost any life situation you find yourself in. Growing a selection of herbs is not only convenient, you can harvest exactly what you need, but it is also a real source of inspiration. Having an abundance of parsley on hand, for example, allows you to use its fresh and bright flavor (not to mention the healthy amounts of iron and vitamins A, B, and C) in everything from salad to potatoes. from butter noodles to burgers or an Argentinian. Chimichurri sauce for Memorial Day Grilled Steaks. Once the weather gets hot and stays that way, I will pretty much live on tabbouleh, which is made in the Middle Eastern style which is an emerald green mound of chopped parsley and mint leaves sprinkled with bulgur. In other words, when you start to think of parsley as a green vegetable instead of a garnish, a whole new world opens up.

Herbal cultivation provides an ever-evolving connection to our long and complex global history. The man-grass connection reminds Stephen Orr, author of the book The New American Grass, of our relationship with domestic animals. “Wherever we go, we carry our useful plants with us,” he wrote in his introduction. “In fact, the broadest definition of the word ‘herb’ is a plant that people use. If you exclude all the plants that we consume as food, you still get a huge list of thousands of species valued for fragrance, industry, oil, textiles, fibers, medical reasons, flavor, tincture, hallucinogenic / intoxicating ends – or even poison. For countless years, these species have traveled the world wherever civilizations have taken them. Some of them, like sesame, safflower, fenugreek, and indigo, have been cultivated for so long that no one really knows where they came from.

Herbs are tough, stubborn plants and take up little space, so they have an excellent success rate for novice gardeners or those with space issues. While it seems obvious, the fact that you don’t always have to plant your herbs together in the same spot can come as a pleasant surprise. Herbs vary in type (annual, biennial, or perennial) and growing requirements, after all. Some you want a lot (basil for pesto or chamomile for tea), others not so much (a little oregano is a lot). Below are a few options that you can mix and match if you wish, depending on what works best for you and your gardening space. But first…

Some basic rules

At this time of year, young herbaceous plants are available at farmers’ markets, nurseries and garden centers. They’ll start an herb garden, but if you’re interested in growing herbs from seeds, the easiest to sprout are basil, chives, cilantro, dill, marjoram, and oregano.

In general, herbs need a lot of sunlight, but some – mint, parsley, and chervil come to mind – also thrive in partial shade. For anything you plant, good drainage is essential.

Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and marjoram tolerate dry, rocky and poor soils. Consider their native habitats, advises Orr, “Over-fertilizing them will only cause them to grow too many leaves and diffuse the flavor and scent you grow them for. If you need to revive a poor performing weed, very rarely apply a natural organic fertilizer such as compost or a diluted dose of bottled fish emulsion.

The chemicals that give each herb the characteristic flavor and scent are at their peak just before the plant blooms, and the more leaves or sprigs you harvest, or at least pinch the flower buds, the more blooming the plant will thrive. .

Growing herbs in containers

Left on their own, vigorous-growing herbs such as mint, rosemary, and French tarragon can trample more polished plants in a garden bed, so enclose them in long boxes or large pots ( using an old plastic bucket with drainage holes drilled into it and burying it in a garden bed if desired) makes sense. One advantage is that reducing their root systems helps keep plants compact and tasty. Another plus is their decorative appeal: Grouped together with pots of ornamental plants, they look great on a patio or deck and can be easily moved indoors for the winter.

Orr suggests grouping similar types of herbs in the same pot: woody herbs (like rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon); leafy herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro, chives); herbal tea (such as lemon verbena, lemon balm, pineapple with mint). It helps to have the herbs you use most often near the kitchen door so you can cut them in the middle of cooking if needed.

Orr also offers suggestions for a hanging herb garden for a small space. Rosemary, thyme, and sage, in particular, enjoy drainage in a hanging planter. “Add an herb or two with a trailing growing habit like Cretan dittany, nasturtium, yerba buena, or variegated pineapple mint to hang from the planter.” He recommends starting with an open metal basket or even a sturdy product basket hanging from several levels. Dampen several pieces of dried sphagnum moss, squeezing out some of the water and line the basket with a one-inch layer. Fill the moss with potting soil, leaving room for the soil of the potted herbs, and position your herbs; water abundantly and hang it on a metal plant stand on a sunny patio or balcony.

The main thing to consider when planting herbs in containers is that the soil dries out quickly, especially in a hanging basket or clay pots. Mediterranean grasses, in particular, are extremely drought tolerant, but you may need to water every day or so in hot, dry weather.

Growing herbs in the vegetable patch or flower garden

Based on the global text by Barbara Damrosch Garden primer, one of the advantages of growing herbs in the extra space of a vegetable patch is that you can grow them successively. Some annual herbs, like dill, chervil and cilantro, go to seed easily, she explains, especially when the weather gets really hot: the cooler weather of fall. If you like to cultivate the garden at the end of the growing season, you’ll want to place perennial herbs such as sage or chamomile in a dedicated space.

Because so many herbs are so beautiful, they also fit into a flower bed. A number of them have flowers that pollinators love, so plant additional dill, basil, and bee balm (loved by hummingbirds as well as bees), for example, and let them follow their path. life cycle. The gray-blue leaves of common sage are striking, as are the purple, almost black foliage of opal basil or the rose-veined cultivar called Purple Ruffles.

Quite! It’s late May, and I have to hurry up and go crash some stuff. You also.

Terri S. Tomasini