Hi guys, I hope you are having a wonderful day!
Today, I am delighted to have my blogging friend, Karen from Nature Inspired Mom, to share her experience of growing a mini herb garden. Karen shares her passion for hiking, gardening and healthy living on her blog. If you haven’t seen her blog, please check it out here Nature Inspired Mom. She takes you on her hiking adventure and shares a lot of wonderful photos. Her garden section is just amazing. She has a variety of beautiful succulents. I have learned a lot about gardening from her blog.
If you like cooking, I am sure you would love to have your own herb garden. Fresh herbs give extra flavour to the dishes we cook. Certainly, they make the food taste better too. However, not everyone is good at growing herbs. Karen will tell us all about her favourite herbs and how to grow them. I am sure you will learn something from the post. I know I will. 🙂
Creating An Easy to Maintain Mini Herb Garden
By Karen at natureinspiredmom.wordpress.com
Please excuse the mess, but this is my slightly overgrown mini herb garden today. A little less than 2 years ago, I started planting for a herbal tea garden, but now that I started cooking more, I love that I have my herbs ready whenever I need it! (By the way, on a cold rainy day, I still gather the same leaves for a nice cup of herbal tea!)
It’s a rainier and colder than usual winter here (low 50s to about high 70s), but even so, these plants thrive well. Some are dormant and I won’t talk too much about those for now, but I will focus on the key players (my favorites) in the picture…
- Lemon Verbena
- Sage (pineapple sage)
- Oregano vs. Marjoram
I know that you probably see more herbs in the photo, and indeed there are even more that are hiding in the bushes, but once spring comes around I will put together an updated post on my herbs. In addition, I have another small herb garden outside my kitchen (facing north), so I get different herbs from each side of my garden. This south facing planter is along the side of my garage which is closer to the front side of my house.
Soil: Unamended recently. When I first moved into my house, this planter and soil was already there. It looked like the hard clay soil in the area, so I bought some regular vegetable potting soil and topped it off whenever I introduced a new herb, along with some cactus/succulent/palm soil since I was starting a succulent patch close by and wanted good draining soil. I also mulched the area with some rubber bark. This was all almost 2 years ago.
Sun: This planter is next to my garage wall, so it gets a good amount of morning sun and then gets dappled shade in the afternoon heat.
Water: I treat these plants almost like succulents because they are actually a bit drought tolerant once established. I water when the soil is dry. In the winter or when it rains, I hardly water. In the hot summer, I water maybe once a day or twice if it’s past 100 degrees.
Pests: We get grasshoppers that come back annually and hide in my sage and lemon verbena bush. I don’t believe in pesticides and prefer organic maintenance (since I use the leaves in cooking), so I have gotten really good at catching grasshoppers of any size.
Also, we get the usual worms/caterpillars in the spring time that feast off herb leaves. I try to handpick them off, or I remove any visible areas of damage, along with eggs, and cocoons, if they are present.
Once in a while, there are aphids, and I use a handmade spray of hot sauce, water, and detergent.
But in general, there’s not much pests. Many are actually deterred by the herb scent.
Flowering and Harvesting: As a rule for herbs, I try to cut off any flowers I see so that the plant uses its energy for the leaves in hopes of prolonging its harvesting life as long as I can. I harvest before the herbs start flowering and putting out seeds. Most times the plant concentrates its energy on seed production and sometimes the plant dies back or the herbs don’t taste the same. Some herbs only grow when the weather is cool so by summer, they might naturally stop growing. Other plants are dormant in the winter and only grow in spring and summer, so that’s one reason I have different herbs growing at different times of the year, in different areas of the yard for sun exposure too.
First up is lemon verbena.
Right now lemon verbena isn’t growing as well, but it is still growing. Usually there are no holes in between the leaves, unless I have purposely trimmed it down, and the leaves are generally much larger and elongated. It’s winter so I’m surprised it’s still growing at all since it’s supposed to be dormant!
Lemon verbena is one of my most favorite plants for fragrance. Its leaves are especially fragrant and once one has rubbed and smelled it, it’s hard to smell anything else! I absolutely adore it. This scent is frequently found in perfumes and lotions, but I like it fresh and raw. But I admit, lemon verbena is not the easiest to grow initially. Once established like mine here, it is very low maintenance and actually most of the year I have to keep trimming it back and pass out the leaves like candy to my tea loving and baker friends. But before I found the right place for this plant, I went through about 2 lemon verbena plants that died (actually they were dormant and I didn’t know any better at the time and disposed of it). In the right location and with a good amount of space, it takes off beautifully. I have trimmed this one so that it grows upwards instead of taking over the planter, and it provides shade for my smaller herbs that I’m growing in front of it.
Lemon verbena blooms profusely and has beautiful bunches of small white flowers.
To harvest, I simply pluck off the leaves and rinse. I steep in hot water for a nice pleasant cup of tea, or I add in cooking recipes. I’ve used them mostly in baking…to add a little flavor of sweet lemon. Or scented sugar. Nice garnish/decoration on a cake or lemon bar. But I can also imagine using it to add flavor to a fish dish. I just pan fried fish yesterday with thyme…next time I will add some lemon verbena to it too! Chop it up and put in salad or pesto sauce. The possibilities are endless.
Next up is my pineapple sage plant. This plant is milder and sweeter than the regular sage plant, and more fragrant. It happens to be right next to my lemon verbena plant, and I have also trimmed it so it grows upright to provide shade for the smaller herbs below it. Pineapple sage smells like pineapple when the leaves are rubbed, and I use it like regular sage in my cooking. Because of its sweeter taste, I also use it in some baking recipes or as garnish. I use it to flavor meat when I stir fry, or to brew a good cup of tea along with thyme.
Just like lemon verbena, pineapple sage is super prolific and I have to make a conscious effort to keep this monster bush trimmed down. This plant had no trouble establishing itself but it does need some space and a lot of trimming (unless you don’t mind it growing everywhere). It is currently blooming and generally does year round here, and its red blooms are irresistible to hummingbirds.
Thyme…this is probably my most used plant. I use it in cooking meat (pork, beef, fish) and I use it as a main ingredient in herbal tea. Whenever someone in the household comes down with a sore throat, I quickly boil up some thyme tea and add some pineapple sage and honey to it. This plant grows quickly and the more sprigs I harvest the quicker it seems to bounce back!
There are different variations of thyme…for example there’s creeping thyme and lemon thyme, (I also grow these), but I like the regular thyme the best for growth and ease of picking. Thyme is very easily…I gave it a little more water while it was establishing initially, but now it basically is drought tolerant.
The next two herbs, Oregano and Marjoram, look very similar so I labeled them in the picture above. In retrospect, I should’ve planted them further apart so that I don’t get confused when I pick them late at night for my dinner entrées! But they sure smell and taste different…oregano to me is stronger/bolder while marjoram is sweeter.
Both are low growing and require a little bit of shade in the hot sun, so I placed them in the front for easy accessibility and also they are shielded by my lemon verbena and pineapple sage plants. Otherwise they grow easily and tend to spread like groundcover. I don’t mind that at all though!
Oregano is popularly used as a pizza topping. In fact, on pizza night at my house, I never forget to pick some oregano and basil. But besides that, chopped oregano is good as spice in any meat dish, depending on the direction you want to take it.
One can also dry oregano leaves and keep it around to flavor food as needed. Oregano is one herb where it holds its flavor even when dried.
Marjoram is used mainly in soups and stews. I’ve also heard one can use it to flavor mushrooms and veggie dishes. I actually haven’t used marjoram much myself, and I bought it on accident thinking it was oregano. Hmmm…time to try more marjoram in my cooking! One thing though, the flavor is best before it flowers/seeds, so be sure to pick some marjoram before that happens!
So the last one is my parsley. It grows so well in my garden that it has pushed my little owl yard décor out of the way and makes Mr. Giant Gnome peek out behind it. It also grew all over and suffocated my cilantro, dill, and chives growing beneath and behind it.
I use parsley a lot in my cooking. I confused it initially for cilantro so I started using it in place of cilantro (since parsley grows better for me anyway) and got used to the flavor of it. My kids love it. Sometimes I have to remind them to stop picking my parsley and eating them before I have a chance to rinse them off! But I use parsley as garnish. It looks great on top of my curry dish, on top of fish, meat, and it tastes great too.
My parsley is in the front, underneath my pineapple sage plant for shade. I thought it would be more low growing, but since it has started taking over the spot, it is actually growing taller than anticipated. Still we love it and use it so I like it is very accessible.
Something tends to take a few nibbles out of the large parsley leaves every now and then. I can’t seem to find the culprit. As long as there is still enough for us to eat, I don’t really mind for now.
Many herbalist believe that all of the above have added health benefits in teas and in homeopathic use. I haven’t explored much of that yet, but I know I really enjoy the caffeine free, natural fragrance and calming warmth of a good strong cup of herbal tea. So I’m glad I started my little tea garden initially…and now it has become my little culinary herb garden as well.
So creating a mini herb garden doesn’t require a lot of space or a lot of finesse. Besides finding the right location and first letting the taller plants (ie. Lemon verbena and pineapple sage) get established first so that the smaller plants can have some shade, everything falls into place. I guess I have been lucky in getting lemon verbena to grow, but if all else fails, another plant to consider in its place (so it can provide shade and grow upright) is basil. Basil is very easy to grow! I have mine in pots so it doesn’t dominate the herb planter.
Also, herbs do require more watering when establishing and I would recommend planting more in early spring (depending on where you live) so that the plants have a chance of growing in mild weather before the heat gets to them. But otherwise, these herbs are generally easy to grow and maintain and a wonderful addition to any garden, especially if you like cooking and herbal teas!
I’d like to extend a very special thank you to Jen Li for graciously allowing me to be a guest writer on her blog. I have been inspired by her wonderful blog, and love her recipes and style of writing. Along with cooking and recipes, I thought a cook might enjoy having fresh herbs in the garden ready to go. So I hope you find this post helpful and thank you very much for reading!
Thank you again for your lovely blog post, Karen. Please visit her blog Nature Inspired Mom.