If you want to begin a garden this year, but have only room
for a few pots or a tiny plot tucked beside the patio, try an herb garden. No matter how small your garden is, you have
room to grow some herbs for fresh consumption, and you probably have enough
room to grow enough to dry for use during the winter.
Some of my favorite herbs are rosemary, sage, oregano,
basil, thyme, parsley, and cilantro. Rosemary
is somewhat tricky to establish in the garden but once it is happy you will not
have to worry about it. Plant it
somewhere the soil is not soggy, but water it regularly, allowing the soil to
dry some between waterings, until it’s established. When rosemary wilts too much, it will die; it
doesn’t seem to recover from the shock like some plants. I have killed many more rosemary plants than
have lived in my yard, but because I persevered, I have several healthy,
trouble-free plants. If you kill
rosemary in one place, move it somewhere else until you find a good spot. They like sandy soil.
Sage, in my experience, is also difficult to establish and
likes conditions similar to rosemary’s preferences. My mother was kind enough to give me starts
from her plant until some survived. I
put dried sage in dressing, and I like using the fresh sage in other
Basil is very easy to grow as a crop among your other
vegetables. Sow the seed directly in the
ground and cover it, and you will have a crop in about 2 months. Basil likes evenly moist soil, although it
can wilt and recover from the strain. Three
plants are enough for me to use fresh, to dry, and to make pesto. Turning mounds of fresh basil into pesto is
the most efficient way to preserve basil.
I make bulk batches of it and freeze it in small plastic bags. When I need a quick meal during the winter, I
can boil some pasta, thaw the pesto, and have a nutritious meal in the time it
takes the pasta to cook.
Cilantro is more of a winter crop in SC than a summer crop;
naughty cilantro didn’t realize we needed it to use to make fresh salsa. One year I made salsa completely out of
ingredients from my garden except for the cilantro I had to buy because mine
had bolted to seed in the heat. By
vigilantly planting bolt-resistant varieties and by cutting off flower stalks
as they appear, last year I managed to make the cilantro last until some
tomatoes came in.
Thyme is useful as an attractive ground cover, and it will
meander happily among the other plants in your garden. It blooms during the late spring and early
summer, and it attracts beneficial insects to the garden. Oregano also acts as a ground cover, although
it’s taller than thyme. Like rosemary,
thyme and oregano need well-drained soil.
Thyme, oregano, rosemary, and sage are perennial plants,
which means they come back year after year; if you put them in the ground, try
to put them somewhere they won’t have to move.
Ask gardening friends for starts of any of them, because if they are
happy in the garden, they lay down their stems, produce roots, and make more
plants. Cilantro and basil are annuals,
which mean they produce seeds and die every year.
It’s best to pick herbs for drying when they are actively
growing. Pick them on a dry morning, and
shake off any bugs. I do not wash mine
because I do not use pesticides on them.
I spread them on a wire rack or on paper towels on a cookie sheet, and I
make sure there is ample room among the leaves for air circulation. When the leaves are crunchy, and completely
dry, I store them in zip-top plastic bags in the cabinet.