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Gardening Encyclopedia
Herb Gardening

Herb Gardening

A garden of fragrant, beautiful and useful plants sums up an herb garden.  Herbs are so versatile.  They can be ornamental and enjoyed for their aromatic scents; they can be culinary, and they can be planted for their medicinal qualities or selected as useful dye plants.


Whatever herb plants you decide to place in an herb garden is a personal choice.  Herbs can be planted in a large plot, or you could plant up a miniature window box herb garden; or if space is at a premium, arrange a few containers in the backyard or near the kitchen door.  Even city dwellers can garden with herbs.  An apartment balcony garden in a sunny location is a good spot for herbs within easy reach.

Creating a Herb Garden

The site for an herb garden should receive at least six hours of sunlight in well-drained soil.  Be sure to locate your garden where it can be enjoyed from indoors or outside living areas like a patio or sun porch.  The garden should be accessible for your visual and fragrance enjoyment as well as easy maintenance.

Choose an ideal location; then prepare the soil.  Dig the ground to a depth of at least l2 inches.  Remove weeds, stones and other debris and underbrush.  Work a 6-inch layer of compost into the top 12 inches of soil.  Herbs prefer neutral to slightly alkaline or sweet soil with a pH of 6 or 7 ½.  Have a soil test to know your soil.

Have a Design in Mind

Herbs can be planted formally or informally.  Formal design dates back to days of Roman nobility when a well-ordered garden signified luxury.  Formal design usually follows a very defined pattern and uses geometric shapes.  A formal garden design has an orderly look with paths and beds laid out that give a sense of balance.  Bricks are a popular border for garden paths and defining beds.  Paths are important links to areas of the garden for enjoying and maintaining the plants. The intricate knot design with its formal pattern is an ideal herb garden design planted with a variety of leaf shapes and plant sizes with contrasting clumps of color.  Many of the shrubby types of herbs, such as rosemary, santolina, lavender and thyme can be clipped into formal shapes and hedges and act as a natural border enclosure around the garden.   

An informal garden strives for a natural or “just happened” look and may look slightly shaggy and a bit wild, but in fact grows to a strict plan.  It often has a thick planting of mixed species and this type of garden suits a large plot, but it also can be adapted to a small area or even a single bed or border.  A triangle design can be informal with tall plants massed at the back of the garden; the center has mid-sized plants; set shorter plants along the front leg of the triangle; and place different varieties of low growing thyme in the corners.  Cedar posts make attractive edging for informal beds.  An old wooden ladder becomes an informal garden when the spaces between the rungs are planted with herbs in groups of three.  For design ideas, visit public herbs gardens and gardens showcased on house tours.  Your local library, gardening magazines and books on garden design and garden centers are other good sources to consult.

Favorites for the Herb Garden

An ordinary dish will no longer be mundane when you discover the pleasure of growing and cooking with your own homegrown herbs.  The following are my favorite culinary herbs:

CHIVES—they herald spring for me with their blades of green shooting up through the snow-covered garden.  The delicate onion flavor complements new red potatoes, and chives’ purple blossoms impart a lavender tint to herbal vinegar. 

DILL—its tangy taste and slender flowers and feathery foliage lend an airy quality to the herb garden and go well with fish dishes, especially salmon and egg dishes.  Its leaves and seeds enhance potato salad.

FRENCH TARRAGON—use this warm anise flavored herb from roasted chicken to salad dressings and sauces for egg or fish. 

LEMON THYME—the citrus flavor complements fish with a lemon zest; also adds a citrus taste to lemon tea bread.

MINT—with many scents to choose, there are apple, pineapple, orange, spearmint and peppermint.  Mint is an invasive plant, so place it in a container in the ground in the herb garden, and use it to flavor teas, fruit salads, peas and lamb; also nice to make mint jelly.

OREGANO—its peppery taste and hearty robust flavor give a boost to Italian cuisine.

ROSEMARY—its pine-scented pungency lends a unique taste to meat and chicken dishes.

SAGE—many attractive varieties of this strong flavored Mediterranean herb are available.  Use in vegetable dishes, stuffings and rich dishes.  It boasts an array of foliage types—golden, purple, variegated, tricolor in purple, green and cream and garden sage with soft gray-green leaves.

SWEET BASIL—with a fragrant mingling of spicy cloves and licorice, its crinkled green leaves enhance many tomato based Italian dishes.  (do not overlook other basils like cinnamon and opal)

THYME—for flavoring soups, poultry, fish, vegetables and omelets, try thyme.

Whether it be a window box garden, a small patch of ground or a container garden, there is the potential to create an herb garden full of useful, fragrant and beautiful plants.