Thursday, April 11, 2013

Creating a Culinary Herb Garden

In my family bland food was the norm.  I longed for food to taste like it did in fancy restaurants.  My mother however, was not interested in cooking, so as soon as I could cook without supervision, I was let loose in the kitchen.  At first I worked with those herbs that I could find easily in the store, then I worked up to unusual herbs that I needed to grow myself.  Today it is much easier to find fresh and dried herbs in the markets, but those elusive flavors from specialty herbs still require growing them yourself.  So if you love to cook and enjoy experimenting with favors I recommend putting together a Culinary Herb garden for yourself. 

Herbs to Choose
Garnish Herbs

The most useful herbs for garnishing are parsley and chives. You can pluck a leaf of parsley and place it on a plate.  Nibbling the herb after a meal takes away food breath. 

Fresh chives clipped onto a baked potato or
Parsley border
snipped into a salad add a tasty dimension with no fuss.  These herbs are indeed readily available in grocery stores, but in one's own garden, you can have them fresh daily, whenever you need to pluck a few stems for use. 

These are also perfect herbs for a container, so you don’t need a large garden, just place a pot by the kitchen door.

Basic Herbs for the Herb Garden

Experiment with the herbs grown in the garden. The basic herbs most cooks use are:
  • Rosemary
  • sage
  • rosemary
  • parsley
  • chives
  • dill
  • marjoram
  • basil
  • tarragon
  • oregano

Choosing which herbs to grow is a matter of taste and experimentation.  Usually only one or two plants of any variety are needed. Sage, for instance, can grow into a very leafy low shrub. A family of three or four likely won't need more than one plant.
If you love basil, remember it is an annual and not very hardy in cooler temps so placing it in a pot means you can bring it in when the weather cools.

Sweet basil

Exotic Herbs
Holy Basil in bloom
These are those special herbs, like scented geraniums, lemon-scented basil, apple mint, lemon verbena and other less-commonly seen herbs, that you must grow yourself if you wish to utilize them.  Purple Basils and Holy Basil are also among this group as finding fresh or dried can be a real challenge.  

Pineapple sage flowers

I grow Pineapple Sage and Lemon thyme because the tastes of these are so fleeting that even if you can find a source the quality is not always as good as it can be when you grow them yourself.  Choose one or two exotics to start with and experiment with them, then slowly add more to your garden.

Planting the garden
Basil & tomatoes together in rows
Requirements for a Healthy Herb Garden

For the most part, herbs require full to partial sun and an open location with good drainage. Even though they do best in open locations, they still need protection from those drying winds. A hedge or row of trees several feet away would be a perfect location, depending on which way the wind blows in the garden location.  

Herbs are not demanding when it comes to soil conditions, but clay which will hold too much water should be augmented with sand; and sand which does not hold enough water should be improved with compost.  

Till the soil down 15 inches to make it loose for the plant roots and plant according to spacing directions provided by the nursery or a good plant book.  Since spacing differs from plant to plant and are based on the potential of the plant to spread sideways as well as up, you need a bit of guidance for this or you could end up with an over crowded garden.  I recommend Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Herbs for spacing information and sun requirements.  Mulch around the plants to preserve moisture and keep down on weeds.

Thyme bed spaced with room to grow
The most important piece of information you need to start gardening is what your Hardiness Zone is.  I live in northern Illinois which is zone 5a meaning the winter average temp at its lowest is -20 degrees and the summer highest temp averages less than 90 degrees.  For full details on hardiness zones, check out:  the National Gardening Association Zone Finder.

The Herb Garden

Herb gardens can be traditionally laid out with raised beds, decorative patterns, or as a cottage or wildflower garden.  
thyme in a corner bed
You can even plant them in rows as the gardener would plant a vegetable garden.

vegetable-style patch in a raised bed

Whichever pattern chosen, nurturing the herb garden is most pleasurable pursuit.  Walking around the herb garden lightly touching the leaves can inspire recipes to suit the herb rather than herbs to suit the recipe.

The Basil Bed at the Case Western Reserve Herb Garden

Growing and nurturing a culinary herb garden gives you instant access to those special ingredients that add punch to a recipe. Even a few little pots of herbs on a balcony or in a kitchen window may be enough to get you started.  The scents alone will create a fun experience in the kitchen and the wonderful foods created with these fresh ingredients will only make you yearn for more!


  1. Herbs are not demanding when it comes to soil conditions, but clay which will hold too much water should be augmented with sand; and sand which does not hold enough water should be improved with compost.

    click here for free landscaping ideas.

  2. It's really a great idea to grow one's own herb garden to get fresh herbs easily.Whether you’ve got a roomy garden, a small kitchen balcony or even a tiny window sill, growing your own fresh herbs is extremely easy.Thank you for sharing this.


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