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Herb Gardening

Herb gardening has become a very popular past time with youtube videos available to newbies and a host of websites educating visitors on their history and importance, to offering advice on how to grow, how to care for, how to use for culinary, spiritual and medicinal applications.

For our purposes, we’re going to focus on their ornamental and culinary value.  Culinary Herbs can be perennial, for example Thyme and Lavender, while others are biennial, e.g., Parsley, annuals e.g., Basil, shrubs e.g., Rosemary and even trees, like Bay Laurel.

Today’s herb garden definitely need not be relegated to a small windowsill.  Herbs are excellent additions to containers, borders and vegetable patches.  In fact, especially when space is a factor, feel free to grow perennials, annuals, herbs and veggies all together.  There’s no need to mull over garden design plans for months, unless you want to and it gives you pleasure, since there’s no wrong way to garden.  It’s very personal!

You don’t require much space to grow herbs and you can enjoy doing so indoors or out.  Growing indoors may be easier (no weeding) but outdoor grown herbs will be healthier and tastier.  In most cases, fresh herbs or more flavourful than dried ones and they add colour and fragrance to your garden.  If you’re restricted to a small plot or balcony – not a problem.  A strawberry jar-type container, window box, small individual clay pots or a simple wooden crate lined in ground cloth will suffice.

Herb gardening is easy and rewarding – all they’ll ask for is sunshine and well-drained soil.  To get you started, let’s discuss the Top 10 easiest to grow Herbs for ornamental value and for use in the kitchen (in alphabetical order):

1.  Basil – the ultimate compliment to tomatoes (see Mighty ‘Mato Tomatoes under Gardeners Resources), onions, olives and garlic.  There are dozens of types available to suit any palate but the dark-leafed ones are especially ornamental. The leaves are the best part of the plant for cooking; thick stems are bitter.  The flowers should be pinched to allow more leaf growth but they are also edible.  Basil has a lighter flavour so use with Oregano, Rosemary and Sage so you don’t overpower it.  Use at the end of the cooking process or use fresh, uncooked on bruschetta or home-made pizza.  Grow in full sun.

2.  Chives – a subtle onion flavour best known for their tubular stems topping off a baked potato with sour cream but can be used in so many other ways in the kitchen.  A replacement whenever onions are called for and a flavourful and attractive topping to corn on the cob, garlic bread and pasta dishes.  The flowers are also edible.  Pretty enough to be grown anywhere in the garden and beautiful in containers.  Grow in full sun and dead head spent flowers to prevent self-seeding.

3.  Dill – the smell of dill conjures up images of pickles, where the seeds are used.  The plant produces two herbs, dill seed and dill weed.  Use the seeds (just as they ripen), flowers (just as they open) and leaves (as needed) to season food.  Excellent sprinkled on barbecued fish and as an addition to dips.  Grow in full sun.  If the seeds are allowed to ripen on the plant, they will self-seed.

4.  Garlic – try growing it near roses where it reportedly repels aphids.  Cooking with Garlic:  the finer the chop, the stronger the taste, cooked garlic is sweeter and less strong tasting, and it mellows the longer it is cooked.  After a gastric feast that includes lots of garlic, see Parsley below.  Plant cloves in late summer, mulch and harvest the next year.  Grow in part shade or full sun.

5.  Lavender – the flowers provide nectar to bees which results in high quality honey.  Used in aromatherapy, to add fragrance to perfume, soaps and cosmetics as well as medicinal purposes.  For culinary use it provides a sweet, floral flavour with a lemon/citrusy taste.  Excellent addition to sorbet and can be used as a substitute for Rosemary in many culinary delights.  Caution:  a little goes a long way.  Adds a wonderful fragrance to your herbal or flower gardens and is lovely dried.  Full sun and well-drained soil is a must.

6.  Mint – Chocolate, Orange, Apple, Pineapple, Spearmint, Peppermint and the list goes on.  Spearmint isn’t quite as strong so is the most widely used in cooking:  added to sauces, marinades, dressings and as a garnish.  Wonderful as a ground cover but keep it contained or it will take over its less vigorous neighbours.  Excellent in containers.  Prefers partial shade but will tolerate full sun in cooler regions.

7.  Parsley – highly nutritious and excellent when used as a garnish or as a breath freshener, after you’ve consumed too much garlic.  There’s curly and flat forms – the flat (Italian) is more flavourful and is used more often in cooking because it can retain its essence through the cooking process and the curly having a milder flavour is used in salads, soups and as a garnish.  Grow in full sun to partial shade.

8.  Rosemary – you can choose upright or trailing forms that require hot, dry sunny locations to thrive.  The trailing form is especially nice in containers.  Most often considered when cooking lamb but also excellent in a marinate for chicken and pork.  Like Lavender, Rosemary has a strong flavour, so a little goes a long way.  Use in sprigs for roasting or barbecuing or sprinkle the flowers over ice cream.

9.  Thyme – always a favourite in the garden and in the kitchen.  It forms an excellent ground cover, is used extensively between paving stones and provides colour to the summer garden.  One of the most versatile herbs in the kitchen, it is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking emitting a woodsy, warm flavour to dishes.  Most often used in soups and stews, it is a welcome addition to grilled and roasted vegetables and meats.  Best when grown in full sun.

10.  Oregano – native to the Mediterranean Region, this herb is widely used in tomato-based sauces, meats and salads but is best known as the spice of choice for pizza and spaghetti sauce.  There are several varieties available and they vary in flavour with Greek being the most intense.  You’ll find  up to eight species of culinary Oregano available and many more attractive and useful varieties for the garden.  To use fresh, select stems before flowers open and refrigerate for up to a week.  Easy to dry or can be frozen.  Grow in full sun.

Enjoy!