Herbs for Cooking and Fragrance
May is an ideal time to establish a perennial herb garden in our area. We are usually past the last of the spring frosts and have time to get plants established before the drier summer weather sets in. If you want to grow Mediterranean herbs--rosemary, lavender, sage, and thyme--keep in mind that these herbs want to bask in balmy sunshine so you need to find a protected sunny spot in your garden. They also don't want much water after they get established and definitely don't like to live in soggy soil. Using raised beds, about 4-6" above the natural soil line is often enough to take care of excess moisture. If you have a sunny slope, this is also a great location for herbs. And of course the closer to your door, the easier it is to cut for cooking.
Perennial herbs tend to be very insect resistant. The strong essential oils act to ward off most pests including those pesky deer that are just looking for the latest snack.
Perennial herbs is attract bees and butterflies to act as pollinators for the rest of your garden.
Try any of the following plants this summer and be sure to start planning menus to take advantage of your home-grown herbs. Click here for our recipe section.
Rosemary can thrive in our county and it’s not unusual to find 3' tall shrubs. Unusually harsh winters are problematic so it's best to find it a spot sheltered from frost and harsh winds.
Thyme is one of the sturdiest and most versatile of Mediterranean herbs. Common thyme likes a dry, sunny location and is low-growing so it's a good choice to fill in along a wall or path. It has small bluish flowers in early spring and the leaves are good for cooking, fresh or dry.
Lavender, provided you plant a hardy variety, is fairly forgiving. Lavender does well for 5-7 years after which it starts to get woody which affects the growth of new leaves. Annual pruning will prolong the lifespan and also helps to the plant to flesh out in the spring. Any traditional type of English lavender should work well. ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ are generally stocked in local garden centers. Don't forget to shop at our annual Master Gardener Spring Plant sale.
Mint of almost any variety will thrive in this climate. Most varieties can handle partial sun and are not affected by our typical morning foggy and partly cloudy summer days. Mints will take over all the garden space you have so be sure to keep them under control. You can put them in containers, or keep them in gallon pots planted directly in the soil, or better yet, just keep harvesting the leaves. Mint makes a great summer tea. Check out our recipe section for herbal tea ideas.
Oregano, a member of the mint family, also grows well along the coast. Depending on the variety it can also be an attractive flowering plant for your garden--although not using it for cooking would be a missed opportunity. Try out a Greek Oregano which goes well in a classic Greek salad or adds a new zest to spaghetti sauce.
Bee Balm is welcome when it multiplies and spreads and I gladly transplant portions of a good clump to other areas. I love the vivid color of the red varieties and enjoy seeing the hummingbirds flock to it.
Sweet Woodruff is a lesser-known herb in these parts but it will happily spread around in a slightly moist area with mottled sunlight. It disappears in the winter, but comes up in early spring and has small white flowers in May. The leaves dry well and retain the scent of freshly mowed hay. It spreads slowly and makes a good low-lying ground cover. This plant makes a great ground cover for shady moist areas of your garden. I usually plant it under benches, trees, and in back corners where it can spread itself and be happy.
No garden space--try a container garden
It's simple. Grab a container. It can be any shape but not too small so you can include a number of herbs. Add a good potting soil, but nothing too rich. Plant some seeds or seedlings, water and wait for them to leaf out and produce.