It’s time to plan your herb garden if you haven’t already started one. April is when most herbs can be planted. Herbs can be planted among the flowers or you can create a separate garden. Herbs are easily grown in containers, in raised beds and in the ground. Many herbs are from the Mediterranean so will like a spot in full sun and well-drained soil. A few herbs such as parsley and chervil will tolerate some shade.
Before you get started, let’s look at some perennial herbs. Perennial means the plant will return year after year as opposed to annual herbs which complete their life cycle in one year. Examples of perennial herbs are lemon balm, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, fennel, chives, mint, sorrel, bay, garlic chives and lavender.
Do some research about the herbs you want to grow before you plant them. Plants such as mint, lemon balm, fennel and oregano spread quickly from either roots or by seed. Mint and oregano have a vigorous root system so they are best planted in containers. Lemon balm and fennel tend to flower and drop seeds. Those seeds germinate quickly and before you know it you have enough plants to share with the whole neighbourhood.
There are also biennial herbs that set leaves in the first year and flower and set seed in the second year. Parsley, angelica and clary sage are biennial herbs. In its second year parsley will set seed from large umbel shaped flowers. Many people think parsley comes back every year but most likely the original plant has dropped seed which germinated close to the area in which it was first planted. It’s best to plant these herbs each year from seed to have a continuous harvest.
Many of us enjoy annual herbs such as basil, chervil, cilantro, dill, marjoram and borage. Basil, marjoram and chervil are considered tender annuals and borage and dill are hardy annuals. I must say that chervil, if covered with a floating row cover, will last all winter here in the lower mainland of BC. Chervil isn’t common to most gardeners. It looks a little like a fine-leaved parsley but chervil has a licorice flavour. It’s a delight to use in salads.
Basil is considered a warm season herb and on the southwest coast of BC it’s usually planted out at the beginning of June. Once planted, our summer heat quickly has basil growing.
Cilantro on the other hand is a cool season herb which can be started as early as March. Above are cilantro plants that will go in the garden this week.
Dill needs room to grow so plant it in the vegetable garden. Dill attracts pollinating insects and will help you have a better harvest. Most dill plants can grow to 4′ high but Fernleaf dill is a bit shorter at 2′ high.
Think about where your herbs will go in the garden. Once you have determined if they are annuals, biennials or perennial, it will allow you to place them properly. You may want taller perennial herbs at the back of the garden and annual plants in front. Remember that the annuals will die at the end of the season leaving a blank spot in the garden.
Why not create an herb wheel in the garden? This type of garden is popular and has all the herbs in one place. In the center you could place a bird bath or large urn. In each section you will see that I have coloured in the leaf or flower colour of each herb. It’s important to think about which plants to put together but the heights and colours should be considered as well. In one section I have planted a Basil called ‘Red Rubin’ for its dark purple leaves. The inside areas hold the taller herbs like sage, basil, lemon balm,tarragon and cilantro with lower growing herbs like thyme, chives, parsley and mint in front. I would probably plant the mint in a large urn in the middle of the garden and use a lemon thyme in the section numbered 9. This will keep mint from taking over the garden. This type of garden will make the bees and other pollinators happy. You could also plant rosemary in the very middle of the garden instead of using a bird bath. Rosemary can easily reach three feet high. The light brown areas are pathways and edging. You could use bricks or pavers to finish the design. Enjoy herbs in the garden and bring them into the kitchen to use for meals. You will wonder why you bought the dried herbs after tasting fresh.