There is nothing like using fresh herbs for cooking. When I lived in apartments, I usually tried to grow herbs with varying degrees of success. Basil usually worked well, as did thyme. Rosemary never worked—it always died. Naturally, when I planted a flower garden, I saved a small area for herbs.
The space is 2 feet by 8 feet, right on the yard’s edge next to my neighbor’s driveway. That first year, I planted the staples: thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, basil. I later added french tarragon and fennel just to see what would happen. I was wary of planting rosemary because of all the past failures, so I planted two rosemary bushes, each about 8-10 inches tall. Watching the rosemary grow that first year taught me what I had been doing wrong with the potted attempts. Rosemary is scrappy. It grows in the crevices and crags of rocks in places where the soil is poor and rain intermittent. All those years, I had watered the plants too much. Without my clueless overwatering, by the third season, one rosemary bush had grown to be five feet in diameter, taking over part of my neighbors driveway. I harvest rosemary frequently and store it dried, but it grows so fast that I (or my neighbor) usually end up hacking off large parts to keep it manageable. Oddly, bugs never seem to touch it.
Thyme is just as hardy as rosemary. I bought German and English thyme before realizing there was any difference between the two. German has larger leaves and spreads along the ground. English thyme, which I now know is the type sold in grocery stores, grows a little higher than the German, and its leaves are easier to remove. Three years ago, I decided to get rid of the German thyme because it was unruly. I pulled it up, scraped the ground, and planted all English thyme. The German thyme came back in a few weeks and has now spread into the cannas. I leave it alone. Here in Atlanta, both thyme and rosemary grow in winter. From November until April, they are lush and green and quite happy.
Sage grows quietly, keeping to itself while forming thick trunks and getting to be a foot or more tall. It also handles all the seasons well. Bees love oregano flowers as do butterflies. I don’t use it much, and that’s for the best because it flowers and goes to seed quickly each year.
The fennel was a complete shock. It grew to be over six feet tall—yes, six feet. It looked creepy, like an alien invading the garden. I managed to harvest a few seeds and vowed never to plant it again. The French tarragon could not handle the heat, so the third year, I planted Mexican tarragon, which thrives in the sun.
Basil is the only temperamental one of the group. I’ve learned to plant it no later than mid-April in which case it reaches maturity in August. If planted later, it cannot handle the heat. They have to be harvested soon after maturation, or they begin to yellow and wilt. I preserve basil with I trick I learned online–scald it in hot water for a few seconds, then freeze. It retains its color and flavor very well for later use.
Chives are the most recent addition. Chive flowers are pretty and edible, an unexpected bonus. I didn’t bother to read up on chives before planting them. Be warned; they spread—easily. They die off in winter and return in force each spring. No complaints; I make ranch dressing with them, and it’s delicious.
My herb garden has been a delight as well as a money saver. As a bonus, the rosemary, chives, and tarragon produce beautiful flowers. Tarragon produces deep golden yellow blossoms and the rosemary, delicate white flowers with lavender highlights. Chive flowers are bushy like dandelions.
After six years, I cannot imagine being unable to walk out the door and gather herbs as needed. If you have a small spot of land to spare, give them a try. Just be sure to plant English thyme.