An herb garden can be in the yard or on a humble windowsill. With a little water, soil, light and care, you can grow your own fresh delicious herbs.
In The Garden:
Many herbs will grow outside year round and several make excellent companions to fruit and vegetable plants. The smell and taste of chives, which humans tend to enjoy repels many insects such as tomato hornworms and aphids. The flowers of parsley can be attractive to predatory wasps and flies that can control the spread of pest insects. Basil, when planted with tomatoes is said to enhance the flavor. Some herbs are better suited to containers because they will take over an area if given the chance and some, like rosemary can become quite large and will need eventual pruning.
Choosing a Window:
If you want to start a windowsill herb garden the first step is to find the right window. Most herbs require bright light, and the more the better. For this reason, a South-facing window is best and a West-facing window might also work too.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Basil is a favorite for any herb garden. The most common type is sweet basil, which is used in Italian cooking. However, there are many other varieties, such as Thai basil and lemon basil that are used in Asia. Basil requires bright light and will grow best outside. However, basil is very sensitive to cold weather and if there is any danger of frost in your area you should move your plant inside during winter or consider growing it indoors year round. Basil will grow easily in a pot on a sunny windowsill with regular watering. Simply pull off leaves as you need them for cooking. Pinching off the growing point at the top of each stem will produce a bushier, more compact plant.
Mint (Genus Mentha) – Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and comes in a huge variety of scents and flavors. In general, mint likes cool, moist shade but will tolerate brighter light. Light that is too intense will result in smaller leaves and a lower scrambling plant. Mint is fairly hardy, and depending on the species can survive freezing cold. Most species of mint are so vigorous, in fact that they can become weeds if you’re not careful. Mint should always be planted in a container by itself as it can quickly take over an area. Mint can be harvested in copious amounts because it grows so fast.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Rosemary is another staple of the herb garden and is in the same family as mint. Rosemary grows very well outdoors in climates with no extended periods below freezing. If you live in a place where winter temperatures routinely drop below freezing then you should move your rosemary indoors. Rosemary prefers full sun to part shade and once established, will require very little water (no water at all if planted outside). In a container, it is best to let the soil dry out completely before watering.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – Chives are a member of the genus, Allium. This genus also contains other familiar plants such as garlic, onion and leeks. The slender, round leaves emerge from a bulb that does, in fact, look like a small onion. Chives have a flavor similar to their relatives but much tamer. Chives are easy to grow and can spread rapidly if not in a container. They prefer full sun or part shade and should be watered only when the soil starts to become dry. During winter, if grown outside, chives may die back to the bulbs only to come back in spring when they produce small, spherical clusters of purple or pink flowers.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – Parsley comes in several varieties but the most familiar is curly leaf parsley, which is often used as a garnish. Parsley is also in the same family as coriander/cilantro and has a similar taste to cilantro leaves but is much milder. Cilantro is harvested for both its seeds and its leaves, which have different flavors. The leaves are often used in salsa and chutneys, while the seeds are used in curries. The care of parsley is the same for cilantro, and they both make excellent additions to any herb garden. Parsley likes part shade and moist but not waterlogged soil. It is a hardy biennial, meaning it will grow the first year, flower the second year and eventually die.
By: Jacob Shogren