herbs are everywhere these days, in recipes, restaurants
and supermarket produce aisles.
in a nation that was relatively herb-averse for decades,
even lifelong gardeners may have little experience
growing, say, basil and cilantro.
writer Ann McCormick demystifies the process in
"Homegrown Herb Garden: A Guide to Growing and
Culinary Uses" (Quarry Books), the inviting new
book she co-authored with chef Lisa Baker Morgan. Along
with Morgan’s simple and appealing recipes that put
these herbs to work (two examples: springtime vegetable
stir-fry and pan-fried cantaloupe with honey-ricotta and
fresh mint), you’ll find McCormick’s detailed guide
to growing 15 adaptable and easy-going herbs, from
classics such as dill and mint to current favorites
basil and cilantro to adventurous options such as winter
savory, bay laurel and lemon grass.
herbs won’t necessarily taste better, says McCormick,
a straight-talking lifetime gardener who blogs at Herb
’n Cowgirl, but they’re a wonderful addition to a
garden, adding interest and aroma, and providing ready
access to fresh, seasonal flavor. You may see cost
packet of fresh oregano costs $2 or $3 at the market.
"You may pay — top dollar — $2.99 for a 4-inch
pot of oregano," she says. "You can grow that
in a container and ... you’re going to have access to
fresh oregano (throughout your growing season)."
And, of course, many perennial herbs will return year
after year in the garden, depending on your growing
generally need a warm, sunny place to grow; think the
Greek Isles in summer with whitewashed houses and rocky
hillsides, McCormick says. Some herbs, like dill, aren’t
hard to grow from seed, but she recommends that
gardening beginners start with the potted herbs widely
available at garden centers and in supermarket produce
with the herb you like best or, if you’re a rookie,
try McCormick’s top picks for trouble-free herb
gardening. While all 15 of the herbs in her book were
selected for adaptability in many growing regions, sweet
marjoram, chives, basil and thyme are among the most
forgiving and resilient, she says.
can be planted outdoors once daytime highs are
consistently above 60 degrees and nighttime lows do not
go below freezing. If you’re bringing home a potted
plant to put in the garden, exercise self control before
using it in the kitchen, McCormick says. You want to
give it a chance to grow before using its leaves. If
your basil plant comes home standing 4 inches, for
instance, wait until it’s about 6 to 8 inches tall
before you start harvesting.
rules for harvesting vary, but you never want to strip a
plant of all its leaves, effectively cutting off its
food supply. "When you’re harvesting an herb, you
don’t want to take off more than a third — at most
half — of the total leaves," says McCormick.
"And this assumes that you have indeed let it grow
larger than when you (bought) it."
the more you use a plant, the more you delay flowering,
which represents the end of an herb’s growing cycle.
Clipping your herb regularly will provide you with a
recommends harvesting when plants are well-watered and
unstressed and using sharp clippers so you don’t
damage the stems.
are at their most flavorful when they’re first
harvested because, over time, the essential oils that
give them their fragrance and flavor escape and
to name her favorite herb, she pauses, but not for long.
one that draws my hand to it when I’m out in the
garden, frankly, is rosemary: There’s something about
the aroma," she says. "I brush my hand over
the leaves and it releases that (almost piney) scent. It’s
a stimulating, refreshing scent that just really gets to
it up: Many herbs are pretty enough to grow alongside
flowers. Thyme makes an attractive ground cover, with
delicate early-summer blooms that are popular with bees.
You can plant thyme with perennial bulbs, or in the
front of a flower bed.
a hedge: Winter savory has attractive glossy foliage and
spikes of small pink or white flowers that grow on woody
branches. Try trimming it to form a low hedge separating
sections of your garden.
small: You don’t have to nurture a 4-foot dill plant
to grow fresh dill. Look for dwarf varieties such as
"Fernleaf" at your garden center. Dill needs
space for its taproot, however, so if you’re patio
gardening, choose containers that are at least 10 inches