Herb Gardens

By Ginny Frizzi

February 19, 2010 4 min read

When it comes to growing herbs in a garden, many people who grow vegetables and flowers are intimidated.

"People look at books and magazines and see elaborate herb gardens on estates that require large staffs to maintain," says Jim Martin, horticulturist and executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy, in South Carolina. "They think it's too daunting because they don't have those resources."

It shouldn't be the case, according to Lance Walheim, co-author of "Vegetable Gardening" and a garden expert for Bayer Advanced lawn and garden products. "You shouldn't be afraid," he says. "Many herbs are tough and will survive."

Walheim recommends choosing a sunny spot with well-drained soil for an herb garden. Some herbs, such as rosemary and lavender, will do well in poor soil. Herbs also can be grown successfully in pots, e.g., half a wooden barrel filled with potting soil.

"Growing herbs doesn't have to be the biggest deal," Martin says. "The important thing is to just do something. You can start out in a box or barrel, but it should be at least 36 inches across, or else the herbs can't grow and you'll have to water them every day."

Martin recommends that first-time herb gardeners think about what they use in the kitchen. "If you use a lot of basil when cooking, you might want to grow it. I make floral arrangements and often use mint, which looks good with flowers and has a nice aroma," he says.

Walheim suggests that people who already garden think of the vegetables in their gardens and what herbs would go with them. "For example, a tomato lover should think about what can be used with them and maybe grow oregano," he says.

He recommends considering the ease of access when deciding where to put an herb garden. If it's close to the kitchen or grill, it's likelier that the herbs will be picked and used. Martin agrees.

"I think one of the most important things is to grow herbs near where you will see them day in and day out," Martin says. "Maybe it's by the driveway or outside the kitchen -- somewhere you will see them and enjoy them every day, not just on weekends."

Martin also encourages people to integrate herbs with their other plantings. "The beauty of the herbs can add to the beauty of the rest of the garden," he says. He suggests rosemary plants as edging in a garden. And he thinks lemon verbena is a good choice for beginners. "It's a shrub that you can't kill, and the aroma is subtle," he says.

Though books and seed catalogs are good sources of information, they can be overwhelming to a beginner. Martin recommends that first-time herb gardeners visit local garden centers to see what kinds of herbs they carry.

"Find the best local garden center in your area, and check out what it has. That should give you a good idea of what grows locally and at what time of year," Martin says.

Local garden tours are another good resource for beginners.

"Many of the owners are extremely knowledgeable and are glad to talk to you," Martin says.

Though many gardeners start their crops from seeds, plants may be the best choice for beginners.

"Start out with a healthy plant and set yourself up for success the first year," Martin suggests. "Try to grow from seed the next year."

"Once you get used to fresh herbs, you'll never go back," Walheim says. "Herbs are generally more forgiving than vegetables. They are the type of garden that keeps on giving."

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