You don’t have to be an avid gardener to have the desire to grow your own herbs. After all, while you can purchase fresh herbs from the most basic market, you will pay anywhere from $2-3 dollars for them and it’s a one or two-time use of the herb. By growing your own you can have the reassurance that when you need herbs for a recipe, fresh rosemary or parsley will be a few steps from your back door or a short reach to the window planter to obtain any amount needed for the current recipe. A few of my favorite herbs, maybe because they are pretty much fool proof, are basil, thyme, parsley (flat leaf and curly leaf), oregano and rosemary. Aside from the basil and parsley, these will grow year round if your growing area is near the coastal region of Southern California and you don’t get frost in winter.
There are a variety of basil to choose from. I’ve seen lemon, blue basil and your standard ‘sweet’ basil offered at most nurseries. Trader Joe’s (a Western region market) even sells 6″ post of basil. I prefer to buy 2″ or 4″ pots to plant. Basil, when planted in the spring, grows like a weed and can get 2′ to 3′ in height. The blue basil, while not as flavorful as sweet basil (in my opinion) grows very large and really looks like a perennial flowering plant. Talk about dual purpose planting! I grew a blue basil for 2 years and it never died back in the winter. However, as I mentioned, I don’t think the blue basil has the same great flavor that the ‘sweet’ basil has.
Thyme is so wonderfully pungent and it enhances the flavors in so many different dishes that I consider this a ‘must have’ staple. The little thyme plant creeps, so plant it where you don’t mind it spreading a bit. There are also flowers that grown on thyme but try to keep them trimmed off so that the herb continues to add new growth.
Parsley is delicious no matter whether you prefer the curly leaf variety or the flat leaf, sometimes called Italian parsley. I can’t keep it healthy year- round, the winter months are too cool for it to grow at my house, but it is well worth the $3 you might pay for a 4″ pot. Plant it in early spring and it will reward you all spring, summer and early fall with beautiful fresh leaves.
Oregano is always easy to grow and while I don’t use it as often as the other herbs I’ve mentioned, I do love the flavor of fresh as opposed to dried oregano.
Finally, Rosemary is probably the easiest plant to grown and can be used anywere in the garden as an addition to the perennial flowe bed. The upright Rosemary will become quite large over time, but you can cut it back by half and it won’t mind. There is a low growing variety that makes a nice border along a planting bed and serves as herbs for great grilled dishes as well as an easy to care for border plant.
All of these herbs can be grown indoors in a sunny window. I would recommend taking them outside for a bath occassionally. Be sure to lightly fertilize your plants if they are indoors, DON’T fertilize the outdoor herb garden, it makes the herbs less flavorful. Do plant in well-draining, sunny soil and don’t overwater. If you decide to plant mint, another easy-to-grow herb, be sure to put it in a clay pot. It will quickly take over the flower bed and you will end up with mint everywhere, including the grass.