Herbs In The Garden
Whether you’re a beginning gardener or a seasoned green
thumb, herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. Herbal pleasures can be yours,
from aromatic scents to tasty culinary herbs, with our useful planting guide.
Before the first crocus emerges in defiance of late
snows, I pull back mulch and uncover my rosemary. My thyme beds are beginning
to green up and are basking in the sunlight. In Kentucky, it’s springtime-time
to throw open the doors and begin renewing my herb garden.
Spring is synonymous with new beginnings and rejuvenation.
Emily Dickinson wrote, “A light exists in Spring not present in the year
at any other period when March is scarcely here.” It is certainly true
for Kentucky herb gardeners. The days are getting longer and we can now put
cabin fever behind us.
Today, happily, herb gardening is mostly for pleasure.
Backyard herb and vegetable gardeners enjoy it more as a leisure activity than
the critical necessity it was when this country was being settled.
Colonists brought with them many essential medicinal
herbs and familiar Old World flavorings needed in their new environment. Stories
are told of boat fares being paid in herb seed. The British levied taxes against
this precious commodity. Being asked to tea was a high honor since a cup of
tea cost the host about $1 in today’s money. In fact, used tea leaves weren’t
tossed-they were given to servants.
One of the greatest values in gardening with herbs
is to experience something new and delightful each day. Herbs are a pleasure
to the senses. The plant varieties are distinctive and beautiful to see. Perfumes
pervading the garden stimulate our sense of smell, tempting us to feel the textures.
Taste is most excited by the wonderful flavor herbs add to our cuisine.
If your interest in herb gardening is budding, here are a few suggestions.
Space and Design
When planting an herb garden, keep in mind that
the essential oils producing flavor and fragrance will occur in greatest quantities
and intensity when the plants receive at least six hours of sunshine a day and
grow in a well-drained, not-too-rich soil.
By carefully choosing herbs, you can accomplish a
useful herb garden in a small space. Your options are not limited even if your
Flower boxes or pottery gardens adapt easily to urban
sites, adding beauty and fragrance to your windows, patios, and balconies.
Strawberry pots make wonderful containers for herbs,
but keep them well-watered since clay pots dry out quickly. During hot weather
daily watering is critical, but avoid overwatering.
Suburban homes may also have little space for herbs. If this is the case, consider
a kitchen or pocket garden near an entrance to your house. Plant it with major
cooking herbs sprinkled with flowering herbs for fresh bouquets.
Think about placing herbs at the base of trees in
the perimeter of your lawn. Many herbs do well in shade or partial shade, such
as ajuga, chervil, chives, coneflower, French tarragon, lady’s mantle, thyme,
nasturtium, parsley, salad burnet, sweet woodruff, and violets.
Where space is not a problem, pull out your garden
hoses and lay out designs or shapes on the ground before actually digging. Soft,
flowing shapes work best.
Start small, increasing the garden size as you increase
the number of plants. Growing herbs can become habit-forming so plan for growth.
Concentrate on planting herbs you would actually
use. Will you cook a lot of Italian food? Then plant oregano, garlic, and basil.
Do you cook Spanish food? Add cilantro and chervil. Plant French tarragon and
fennel and you can add French cuisine to your list.
Do you prefer to grow herbs for crafts? A short list would include strawflowers,
sweet Annie, sage, baby’s breath, eucalyptus, and tansy. How about growing a
medicinal garden for simple herbal treatments or flowering herbs for fresh bouquets?
Medicinal herbs might include basil, garlic, chamomile, dill, horehound, lemon
balm, and rosemary. For fresh flowering herbal bouquets, plant chives, pot marigold,
lavender, nasturtium, yarrow, and purple coneflower.
No two gardens are alike. Developing a feel for the types of plants you would
like in your garden will result in one with your personality.
After making some decisions about the design
and use of your garden, soil should be considered.
Good drainage is necessary, but your soil should
still be able to retain some moisture. If it is composed of mostly clay, add
some sand and organic matter to promote good drainage. If it is light and sandy,
add organic matter to retain water. Organic matter continually decomposes and
needs annual replacement.
The “perfect” soil is described as loam
with the right combination of sand, clay, and organic matter. Good loam retains
enough moisture for sustained growth while draining well.
Most herbs need a pH level of 6.5 to 7. Add a thin
layer of lime and have your soil tested, or get one of the inexpensive kits
available at garden centers and you can do your own testing.
Planting and propagation
Transplants purchased from a nursery are the
quickest way to begin with perennial herbs. “Plants offer variety and immediate
harvest that seeds cannot,” says Cathy Rock of Life Spring Garden and Gift
Plants are a good investment considering you can
purchase one good stock plant and increase it over and over again.
“Unless you’re extremely patient,” says Rock, “it’s much better
buying herbs than starting your own from seed. Rosemary, for example, is slow
to germinate, growing so slowly it will take over a year before it’s large enough
to harvest. Sometimes plants are large enough at the time of purchase to take
clippings for use that evening for dinner.”
Spacing is up to you-whether you want a quick effect
or if you would like to give plants “growing room.”
In the springtime, plants in your herb garden can
be increased by propagating the plants you have. Some methods include using
seeds, cuttings, divisions, layering, and runners.
One of the easiest ways to propagate is to gather
seeds this year for planting the next season. Annuals do well using this method.
Dill, anise, and coriander are true annuals and can only be raised from seed.
Basil is easily grown from seed, as are cilantro, borage, and nasturtium.
For an early start, plant seeds indoors in early
spring or simply plant directly into the ground after all danger of frost has
passed. Dill can be planted just before the last frost is expected.
Stem and root cuttings are two additional methods.
Rosemary does well with stem cuttings, as with most shrubby herbs. Horseradish
is best propagated using the root-cutting method.
Stem cuttings are taken aboveground by cutting with
a very sharp knife (scissors crush the stem) at an angle, giving as much surface
to place into contact with the soil as possible. Dip the cut stem into rooting
powder and plant in a pot containing light soil that will retain moisture. Water
well, allowing excess water to drain out. Cover with plastic and place in sunlight.
Keep the soil moist but do not let the pot sit in water. When fully rooted,
the plant can be transplanted into the garden.
Make root cuttings by taking the dug-up root and
cut several sections, being careful to leave roots on each. Each piece planted
will form a new plant. Comfrey and angelica are also good candidates for root
When perennials begin to emerge, take a spade
and lift plants for dividing. Separate the roots by gently tugging and cut with
a sharp knife, making certain there are healthy roots on each piece. Replant
immediately. Use this method with chives, oregano, thyme, and mint. Dividing
every three or four years keeps perennials healthy.
Layering and Runners
Layering is the easiest and safest way of increasing
a plant. Without cutting from the mother plant, take a branch and bend it to
the soil. At the point of soil contact, cut a small opening in the stem to encourage
rooting. Place a stone or bent wire over the stem.
When new roots have formed, separate from the mother
plant and place in its new site. Sage and lavender work well with this technique.
Runners are similar to layering. Roots grow along
some herb stems and when they come in contact with the soil a new plant is formed.
Simply snip the new plant from the larger plant and move to an area of its own.
Mulching is necessary for conserving moisture
in soil by reducing evaporation, keeping soil cool around the roots of your
plants, adding important nutrients to the soil, and preventing weeds from emerging.
Mulch can prolong the life of tender annuals late into the season.
Some recommended mulches are grass clippings, hay,
pine needles, peanut hulls, aged sawdust, and crushed or composted leaves.
Using these suggestions will help get you started
with herbs. Growing herbs is a learning process providing enjoyment for years
to come. We learn by doing and sharing information.
So before the ground has warmed to the touch or the birds have paired, throw
open your door and begin gardening with herbs!
Carol Asher, our feature writer, combines her enthusiasm for gardening and
devotion to cooking in her newest cookbook, Herbs-Cultivating & Cuisine
(McClanahan Publishing House Inc., $19.95). Asher includes easy-to-prepare recipes
and “gentle lessons” on how to plant, grow, harvest, and store herbs.
The book is available at your local bookstore or by calling McClanahan Publishing
House Inc. at 1 (800) 544-6959, or by going online at www.kybooks.com
on your computer.
Carol Asher will present a cooking demo with recipes at the 26th Annual Central
Kentucky Home & Garden Show on Saturday and Sunday at Rupp Arena, Lexington,
March 29-April 1. For more information call (859) 233-4567.
Kentucky Herb Sources
Briar Ridge Herb Farm
6701 Briar Ridge Road
Mt. Eden, KY 40046
Louisville, KY 40252
Flag Fort Herb Farm
900 N. Broadway
Lexington, KY 40505
Life Spring Garden & Gift
100 S. Lincoln Blvd.
Hodgenville, KY 42748
Reminiscent Herb Farm,
Nursery & Landscaping
1344 Boone Air Road
Florence, KY 41042
Thieneman Greenhouses Inc.
9120 Blowing Tree Road
Louisville, KY 40220
Wilson’s Nurseries Inc.
3690 East-West Connector Road
Frankfort, KY 40601
Kentucky Herb Association
An association for herb-related businesses. They
also offer workshops to the public.
Attend the Annual Herb Fest, June 9, Lakeview
Park, Frankfort. Three workshops on making vinegars, poured candles, and soapmaking,
along with Chef Stephen Lee, herb-related craft booths, and catered lunch. Pre-registration
required. For more information contact Sue Clifford at (859) 234-1452.
KET & KET2 Public Television
“Juliette of the Herbs” will appear
on Sunday, March 11, at 6 p.m. The show is a portrait of the life and works
of Juliette de Bairacli Levy, renowned herbalist and author on herbs and herbal