Herb gardens are the original kitchen gardens and many cooks wouldn’t be without their own fresh herbs. Your herb garden might be as small as a few pots on your kitchen window sill, some pots or tubs on a balcony or patio, or an entire plot in your yard.
In my area if you want fresh herbs throughout the winter, you would have to have some herbs in pots and many people do have simple things like rosemary, basil and mint growing in their kitchens all year. Lavender and chives are both perennials and will come up every year in your garden.
Herb gardens are ancient. Before the crusades, herbs were the only ways to flavor or preserve food. Without iceboxes herbs were relied on to "disguise" the taste and smell of not so fresh food. Now we have lots of ways to preserve and mass produce foods, but we need fresh herbs to bring back real taste to some of our food!
Many herbs were also gathered or planted for medicinal uses. They're usually called apothecary gardens when the plants are strictly used as medicines or for aromatherapy when they're grown for their scent.
The plants in herb gardens aren’t always showy. They are not usually grown for their beautiful flowers but instead for their properties of healing, flavoring, fibers or scent. Lavender, chives, and bee-balm are all exceptions to this statement, though, because they all have both showy flowers and herbal properties.
In cottage and country gardens, herbs are often grown close to the back door and perhaps as borders all along the sidewalk. This makes using the herbs very convenient to the cook or housewife. In urban gardens herbs are grown in pots, on window sills and balconies.
Herb gardens evolved gradually from their completely utilitarian format to more elaborate and formal gardens when they were adopted by monks in medieval monasteries. Often they were laid out in geometric patterns with a fountain or birdbath in the center and paths dividing the shapes into quadrants. Each quadrant was identically planted and the symmetry of the garden added to its beauty.
After the crusades, European herb gardens started to contain new plants such as rosemary, sages and thymes that were brought back from southern Mediterranean countries.
Later, the early colonists brought their herbs with them when they came to America and added new plants such as tobacco to their herb gardens.
These days many colonial museums have cottage and herb gardens as part of the whole experience. Three of my favorites are at Old World, Wisconsin, Cooperstown, New York, and Williamsburg, Virginia.
Many botanical gardens also have herb gardens and they are as beautiful as they are useful. If you’re looking for ideas to create your own herb garden, taking a field trip to a local botanical garden might give you the inspiration you need to get started.
In the early spring it is easy to obtain small herb plants from most nurseries. They are usually located near the vegetable seedlings, and there is a wide variety of choices. Some staples are of course parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. But other basic choices include dill, basil, lavender, chives, oregano, mint, scented geraniums, and rue.
In recent years, with the growing popularity of Mexican food, many northern gardeners are adding cilantro to their herb gardens also. Buy what you like to eat, but don’t be afraid to experiment either. Your taste buds will appreciate your new sense of adventure.
You don’t need a lot of space either to have a variety of tasty herbs. Whiskey barrels, strawberry pots, planter boxes, and woven baskets all make excellent homes for small herb gardens. Sometimes you might even find little planters already preplanted with an assortment of herbs. These are fun, but if they seem too pricey to you, look at them carefully and then try your hand at making your own.
This year I found golden oregano, some silvery sages, and a variegated rosemary that were adorable in a wicker basket by the front door. I added some blue lobelia to it for a pop of color.
It’s helpful to know a plant’s growing habits to put them in the right places in your containers. Basil and rosemary will get tall. Sage and parsley will form a clump and thyme and oregano tend to hang or trail.
Before you plant your container make sure it’s big enough to accommodate all the roots and then clean your container with a solution of water and 10% bleach. Rinse well.
There are many commercial potting soils and “soilless” growing mediums such as peat moss that make good growing mediums for container gardening. If you’re making your own, a good recipe is 1/3 potting soil, 1/3 peat moss, a product that will absorb some water and perhaps some commercial manure. Add plenty of sunshine and you’re good to go.
Now you just need a pair of kitchen shears to harvest your herbs. Snip off chives and parsley for cottage cheese and baked potatoes. Add basil, oregano, and cilantro to salsa. Or perhaps you’ll really get into it and use your own dill to make pickles, your basil for homemade pesto sauce, and your mint in tasty, fresh Mojitos.
Besides the pleasure of using your own herbs, they are also fresher and far more economical than the packages you can get in the grocery store. So start planning now for your new herb garden in the spring.
Cooking with Herbs
Annual Flower Garden
Small Space Gardens
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