The Herb Garden

Herb gardens can be planted from seed or from plants.

Characteristics of Any Good Herb Garden

Herb gardens can be planted from seed or from plants.  Since most herbs are native to warm, sunny climates such as the Mediterranean or Africa, herb gardens almost always need full sun. Choose a site for your herb garden that has well drained soil, because most herbs dislike wet soil.  Herbs require only average soil, and fertilizer is rarely necessary. Herbs can be perennials or annuals. You can choose the herbs that you plant based on the type of cuisine you usually prepare, or the fragrances that you like best.

When planting an herb garden it is important to realize that some herbs, such as mints and dill, spread rapidly and could become invasive.  One way to control the spread of invasive herbs is to plant them in a pot that can be sunk down into the soil. Herbs are also easily grown in containers.  Container herb gardens offer many advantages.  For example, herbs planted in pots can be brought inside over the winter.  Herbs can grow in a sunny south facing window or under grow lights, and will provide the gardener with fresh herbs all year round.  In the summer it is easy to place containers where they will be close to the kitchen.

Maintenance of an Herb Garden

Although herbs are said to thrive on neglect, a few maintenance tasks will improve the quality and yield of your herbs.   One such task is pinching back any blooms that are developing on the plant.  Often the fragrance of an herb will be adversely affected by blooming.  For this reason, you should pinch back any blooms that you see developing. In addition, you should harvest small amounts of the herbs frequently in order to maintain a bushy growth habit.  Harvesting should take place in mid-morning, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun has become too hot.  If this need for constant harvesting gives you more herbs than you can use fresh, you can always dry herbs. Herbs keep their flavor when dried for up to two years.  The best way to store them is as whole leaves or plants, which can be crushed immediately before use.  Herbs can be dried using a variety of methods including air drying, using a food dehydrator, or freezing.

Why Plant an Herb Garden?

Growing herbs is one of the most rewarding and easiest forms of gardening.  Herbs rarely require much more than average to poor soil, and seem to thrive on neglect!  Many are drought resistant.
Herbs add a fresh zing or an interesting spice to many dishes.  They are never more delicious than picked directly from the garden and tossed right into a recipe.  In addition, with your own herb garden you can cultivate herbs that are not readily available dried in the grocery store, such as lemon thyme. Some herbs are not culinary herbs, but are used instead for medicinal purposes.  Examples include foxglove, from which the heart drug digitalis is extracted, and Echinacea, which is believed to alleviate cold symptoms. Finally, many people plant herbs for their delightful aromas.  Herbs such as lavender and anise hyssop give off fragrances that add another dimension to the visual beauty of a garden.  Also, when dried, aromatic herbs can be used in potpourris to freshen the smell of any room.          

A Word of Caution About Herb Gardening

If you plan to use your herbs in the kitchen, you should be very careful about any chemicals such as insecticides that you may be using in or near your herb garden.  Use only mild insecticidal soaps or products that have been approved for use on plants that will be ingested.  Also, always wash and dry your herbs before cooking with them.

The medicinal effects of some herbs have been documented.  However, it is difficult to know how effective a particular herb will be.  In addition, many herbs can be toxic if taken in sufficient quantities.  Thus, it is essential to seek a doctor's advice before using herbs to treat an ailment.

Our herb garden is located along the side of the building next to the compost bins.  Standing at the door to the cooperative extension, walk on the gravel path past the water garden and perennial garden.  You will be facing the herb garden. The herb garden is designed to show the variety of herbs that are commonly cultivated, in addition to showcasing some unusual herbs.  The plants in the garden have culinary or medicinal uses, or are exceptionally fragrant.  These three types of herbs were showcased in three different sections of the garden.  The aromatic section consists of the bed closest to the compost and the closest two feet of the bed beyond the stairs.  To the right of the aromatic section is the medicinal section, which is found to the right of the bench.  Culinary herbs are located in the area farthest to the right of the bed.