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The Garden Club: The Herb Edition

Culinary herbs are easy to grow and give a new gardener a sense of accomplishment. Now is the time to get those herbs growing.

I have grown culinary herbs for more years than I care to admit.

It started with a potted rosemary plant in a college apartment. I never cooked with the rosemary, but I loved the smell. It thrived in less than perfect conditions: little sun, less water and ambient temperatures for a college student with little money for the heating bill.

Thus, began my love affair with growing culinary herbs. Herbs are easy to grow and give the beginning gardener a great sense of accomplishment. They can be grown in pots or in the ground. Herbs add a fresh touch to even the most boring dinner menu, which is my main reason for cultivating them.

You do not need a dedicated garden to grow herbs. I have a friend who tucks her culinary herb plants seamlessly into her flower garden along her front sidewalk. One disclaimer on that idea, however, is to be certain that you do not use chemicals for pest or weed control around anything you will eventually eat.

If this is your first attempt at growing herbs, start with one or two herbs that you will use in your kitchen. I find that basil is my most used herb, followed by rosemary and chives. All three can be grown in pots on your front porch and provide you with a fresh culinary touch all summer long.

Most of my herbs are grown in my herb garden. I have the basic suburban subdivision yard, so years ago we added terraced beds down the side of the house to give me some planting room. Most of my herbs are dedicated to a space less than six square feet. This summer, I hope you will follow me in my quest for great herbs all summer long!

Over the years, I have determined there are four basic types of herbs that I like to grow. My type classifications are not based on anything scientific. The types are based on how I start the herbs and where I plant them.

The first are herbs I buy in cute little pots each spring from Lowe’s and stick directly into the ground. Based on trial and error, these herbs seem easiest to grow from a purchased plant rather than seed. In this St. Charles county climate, these herbs do not seem to survive the winter.

They include a rosemary plant and a couple of basil plants. Most of my basil starts as seed, but I am impatient for it when spring hits, so I like to start my garden with a few established basil plants. This year, I also purchased a sage plant. I have never grown sage, so this will be an experiment.

The second is one herb that I grow only in pots. Mint is known for its invasive properties, so I grow this only in pots. This year, I started it from seed. In past years, I have purchased already thriving plants from Lowe’s. I find mint beautiful and fragrant, so it doubles as my “decorative” front porch plants. Yes, planted in large decorative pots flanking my front door.

The third type of herbs are those that keep coming back year after year, regardless of what I do.  These include chives, tarragon and thyme. The St. Charles County winters are no match for those hardy herbs. I had chives poking up through the last snow of the season.

The fourth, and most fun for me, are herbs that I start from seed. Each year, I get my basil, oregano, parsley and coriander (cilantro) seeds and plant them directly into the ground in mid to late April.

Some people find cilantro tricky to grow. The first time I planted a packet of cilantro, I harvested some tender young leaves then within a week, the cilantro bolted and went to seed before I knew what was happening.

If you are going to plant cilantro, make certain you purchase several packs of seeds. In two weeks, I will teach you all about the art of growing cilantro all season long. 

Carolyn May 03, 2011 at 05:51 AM
We planted mint in a large pot last year instead of the garden because of it's invasive growth habit. Like a dutiful perennial, it died off in very late fall. I thought wintering mint in an outside pot would be a bit much to expect even from that hardy plant. So we put the mint pot in the garage through the winter. It came back bushier than last year. Guess the mint always comes back in a planter, pot or garden. I would love fresh mint all year long, so I'm going to try a small pot in the house and see what happens.

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