Spice up your garden with herbs

Fresh herbs add a flavourful dimension to any garden

  • Jun. 9, 2018 7:30 a.m.

Brian Minter

Special to The Progress

Along with the growth in our culinary diversity, there’s been quite a resurgence in the demand for fresh herbs to add new flavours and zest. They not only have delightful and useful foliage, but their fragrance and flowers can also be a welcome addition to any garden or patio. One of the key things to understand about herbs is the difference between perennial varieties that come back year after year and annual herbs that are more tender and should only be planted out in late May / early June. Perennial herbs can be harvested all year round while most annual herbs will finish in late September or early October.

In the new reality of small space and balcony gardens, herbs adapt easily to both situations. They are among the easiest of plants to grow and are incredibly tolerant of neglect. Even so, they will perform and look far more beautiful with a little care and attention.

I’m a big fan of growing herbs in containers, and I love to combine them with annuals or perennials. One of the first considerations, however, is the style of the container. Size does matter, and the larger the better. Good-sized containers hold more soil and moisture and require less watering, a bonus during the hot, dry months of summer. If you intend to grow the hardier herbs year-round, make sure you purchase a frost proof container or at least ask for ‘well fired’ pots that will withstand modest to heavy frost. Move containers under eaves to minimize excessive moisture in the soil from winter rains and to prevent your pots from cracking.

There is a huge trend toward growing organically, and it’s much easier today with a greater selection of organic products that are more reasonably priced and very effective. The soil you select for your containers should be both well draining and moisture retaining. I always look for professional soil blends rather than shopping price, and I add 20 percent organic matter, like composted manures and ‘Sea Soil’. Many totally organic soils are now readily available, but make sure they will drain well.

Two important considerations are nutrients and pest control. Weekly applications of an organic fertilizer will do the trick, but in hot summer weather an application at each watering will make a huge difference. Fortunately, most herbs are not troubled with many insect problems, except for aphids that can be easily washed off with a gentle spray of water or kept in check by a few doses of ‘Safer’s Soap’ products. Powdery mildew is always a challenging disease for herbs, especially in wet weather. I’ve found that organic ‘Defense’ is a great control. Keeping your plants a little drier, rather than too wet, and watering in the morning so the foliage is dry at night is the best way to prevent diseases and keep your herbs clean and fresh.

When choosing herbs, select the varieties you know and use most frequently. Parsley, both the ‘Double Moss Curled’ and the single leafed ‘Italian’, is delightful in a range of dishes from soups and stews to lightly braised vegetables and egg dishes. It also makes a great garnish and breath freshener.

Chives are some of the hardiest and most ancient of all herbs. I love garlic chives added to cheese dishes, salads, herb butters and sour cream dips. In spring the pink puffy flowers of chives are edible and nice to sprinkle on salads. Mint can be invasive but is better behaved in containers. Today, we have many varieties of mint, ranging from apple and chocolate to orange and spearmint, and they are very popular as garnishes and in drinks and teas. Mojito mint anyone? They will also spice up salads, soups and meats.

Oregano and marjoram are plant cousins and very similar in flavour. Both are used in Mediterranean and Middle East cuisines. Oregano is often used in potpourris.

Thyme also has a unique perfume, and lemon thyme is becoming very popular because of its wonderful flavouring in soups and sauces, especially in Italian dishes. Thyme will also enhance the flavour of fish, poultry and pork.

Basil is the most sought after annual herb because of its great relationship with the tomato and all its sauces. Basil should never be planted out before early June as it needs to have hot, dry weather to minimize damping off.

Rosemary is one of the most beautiful of all herbs with its many trailing and upright forms and captivating perfume. In warmer areas, zone 6 and higher, it can stay out all winter with a little protection. A few sprigs of rosemary will lift meats, like lamb and pork, stews and stuffing to a new level. Rosemary ‘Arp’ is one of the hardiest varieties; R. ‘Roman Beauty’ is the most delicately shaped; and R. ‘Irene Renzels’ has the most delightful trailing form for hanging baskets.

Cilantro (it is really coriander) has been cherished for thousands of years. For a continuous crop, you can collect its seeds as it bolts, and it reseeds easily in containers. For a fresh supply, you need to keep planting every few weeks all summer long.

These are, by far, the most popular and delightful of all herbs, and it’s hard to imagine a small balcony or garden without them.

Just Posted

Chilliwack man arrested after drugs, weapons and cash seized

Suspect had been arrested three weeks earlier in another drug-related incident

Man confessed to ‘Mr. Big’ that he killed his half-sister by suffocating her

Details heard in court about murder of Rachel Pernosky, 18, of Mission

Cannabis retail gets Open House treatment June 28 in Chilliwack

Attendees to be surveyed on retail zoning, licensing and public consumption of cannabis

Chilliwack Basketball Club stays hot with back-to-back wins

The team went 4-0 on the home court of Trinity Western U to take top spot in the Border Battle.

Fraser Valley Regional District rejects request for lobbying money

Federation of Canadian Municipalities asked for more cash to lobby federal politicians

VIDEO: B.C.’s ‘unicycle cowboy’ aspires to be rancher one day

Burklan Johnson has only ridden a horse once, but this unicyclist has big plans to become a cowboy.

Fireworks and fires over a half-metre banned Friday in Kamloops centre

B.C. Wildfire Service banning to category 2 and 3 fires in Kamloops Fire Centre at noon Friday

Rescued Oregon family simply unprepared for adventure, RCMP say

Agencies now helping the group of four get to their destination in Alaska

Large B.C. tree dies after possible poisoning

Police and District investigate after large chestnut tree’s rapid decline

Canucks release 2018-19 season schedule

Vancouver to face Calgary Flames on Wednesday, Oct. 3, for home opener

VIDEO: Luxury Home and Design Show opens with Italian flare

Event set to run Friday to Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver

Small new charge on BC Hydro bills goes toward new crisis fund

The new fund aims to help customers who find themselves in financial emergencies

UPDATED: Crown appeals B.C. polygamous leader’s acquittal in child bride case

James Oler had been charged with taking his underage daughter to the U.S. to marry her off

South of the Fraser condo flipping increased as market heated up

Local realtors say investors were re-selling through assignment sales, but the trend may reverse.

Most Read