Herbs are among the easiest and healthy plants to grow — here’s a guide to the essentials.
I’m calling this month’s Exquisite Practice theme Lush Life: planning, growing and using your garden. Herbs are among the easiest and prettiest plants to grow, so we’ll begin with a guide to herb gardening essentials. Next week I’ll share some recipes and delve into the incredible health benefits of these power-packed lovelies but, for now, here is a guide to growing success.
The Plan: There’s a myriad of creative and unconventional options for growing herbs. Call me a traditionalist (or lazy) but I like a classic ceramic pot or hanging basket rather than a DIY system — think overgrown, vintage English garden. That disclaimer out of the way, here are a few of my favorite herb growing options:
Window Boxes & Clay Pots: intersperse your colorful, organically growing flowers with herbs such as basil, sage or trailing rosemary (don’t pair flowers and herbs if you use pesticides, of course!) Even if you have a large garden, containing voracious herbs in a pot will help save room for other plants.
Hanging Baskets: hanging baskets are excellent for aggressive herbs such as oregano or thyme. It will allow them to cascade unchecked while maintaining the great drainage they need. Alternate with climbing vines like morning glory for that lush, overgrown look.
Pocket Living Wall Planters: As I mentioned, I avoid DIY planters such as pallet gardens, shoe hangers, plastic bottles or tin cans – they just don’t wear well through the rain and I have concerns about the material content leaching into the soil. My one exception: something like Wooly Pocket’s vertical gardening system which is a series of non-toxic pockets that hang from your wall. If you mix bushier plants like strawberries or lettuces with overhanging herbs like thyme or oregano, you’ll have yourself a beautiful living wall.
Maintenance: Promoting a healthy herb garden is quite easy.
Water: Make sure your plants have plenty of light, and don’t overwater them. Keep in mind that most herb gardens suffer from too much attention, rather than not enough.
Fertilize: use organic, safe fertilizers from your local nursery or garden store, rather than a big-box store. As with watering, less is more: keep a calendar and follow the instructions.
Harvest: Wait until your plants are mature before harvesting them. Don’t harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time, and wait for it to grow back before harvesting again. Pinch off any flowers to keep the plant shooting out leaves. Read up on the specific herbs you have to ensure you’re pruning them correctly. This will take you a long way toward herb garden success!
Which Herbs to Grow? When you’re at the garden center surrounded by hundreds of adorable herb starters, it can be hard to choose just a few. Below is a list of my favorite herbs and the easiest to grow. Tune into next week’s Lush Life post for some superb herb garden recipes.
Thyme: English Thyme and Lemon Thyme are the best. This aromatic herb is excellent in omelettes or on fish.
Parsley: I like Italian Flat Leaf Parsley for use in salads or as a garnish for any dish.
Rosemary: Common Rosemary is best, or try ‘Prostrate’ Rosemary for a draping effect. The hearty plant is excellent in baked goods, but also makes a great cocktail garnish.
Sage: Common Garden Sage is best. The deep, smoky flavor is wonderful with olive oil on pasta or polenta. Fun fact: chia seeds are from the sage family!
Mint: Go for Spearmint rather than Peppermint. Mint finishes any middle-eastern dish beautifully, from fresh salads to roasted vegetables and grain salads.
Lemon Balm: Also a type of mint, Lemon Balm is excellent with fish and its fragrance is intoxicating!
Basil: I like Sweet Basil. Thai Basil is very different, but worth a try in Asian dishes — be adventurous (and let me know if you find any great Thai Basil recipes!)