Thinking of starting an herb garden?
Herbs have been a part of our lives for as long as recorded history. Early medicine was based almost entirely on herbs, and many of the compounds from those herbs are still found in modern medicine.
Because of their strong aroma, herbs were often used to mask unpleasant smells. They were used in embalming and were worn on the body to hide smells during the time when bathing was not practiced.
Herbal extracts still play a vital role in the production of perfumes ad cosmetics.
Because they had a strong flavor, herbs were added to food to cover the taste of spoiled meat in the days before refrigeration. Even after we developed ways to preserve foods, we still use herbs to enhance flavors as we cook.
Herbs have a rich strong history, and can be fun to study, to grow and to use. They are often low maintenance plants, that can bring enjoyment to our lives, as we relax in the garden, or as we use them, to cook and to clean, as well as many other uses around the home.
So many people tell me they want to grow herbs but aren’t sure how to get started. So I wanted to write some tips for how to start an herb garden.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is how much room you have. Do you want to grow a small tabletop garden? A container garden on your patio? Or do you want a big herb garden you can walk through, with benches and a gazebo? An herb garden can take as much or as little room as you want it to.
Most herbs will be happiest with at least 8 hours a day of sunlight, although some can do well with less. Sunlight helps the plants produce oils and that is where the flavor comes from, so herbs grown in the sun tend to have more flavor than those grown in the shade.
Most herbs like well drained soil. They should be watered regularly, but allowed to dry between watering, so a swampy location is probably not the best choice.
Once you have determined a location, prepare your soil. In you are planting a tabletop garden, a good potting soil is probably your best choice. For patio containers, I use top soil, mixed 50/50 with compost. If you have room for a bigger garden, herbs will grow well in most soils. If the soil will grow vegetables and flowers, it will grow herbs as well. For the beginner, I recommend that you choose five herbs to start. Some of the more popular herbs for beginners include:
Basil: An annual used in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. Easy to grow, very aromatic.
Chives: The smallest member of the onion family. Easy to grow, attractive purple flowers.
Dill: A self seeding annual, grows up to four feet tall. Dwarf varieties are available for tabletops.
Thyme: A small perennial good for both indoor and outdoor gardens. Many varieties available.
Rosemary: A perennial, grown as an annual in cooler zones. Great for patio containers.
Oregano: A fast growing perennial used in Italian and Mediterranean cooking.
Marjoram: A smaller sweeter member of the Oregano works great in tabletop gardens.
Mint: Easy to grow, but be careful it can be aggressive if you don’t keep it under control.
Pick herbs that you like to use, that you cook with and understand, and start with those. Growing a garden of unfamiliar plants can be overwhelming and confusing, so start with the ones you know and then add a new plant or two each year. Although many herbs can be grown from seed, transplants will give you a head start and get you on your way to an enjoyable garden much faster.
Troy is the author of I Refuse to Recede and DTL Herbs LTD and has been growing herbs for 25 years. He started when he worked in a restaurant and wanted to cook the same foods at home, but couldn’t afford to buy all the fresh herbs. Now, he grows them to use, but also for fun and enjoyment.