Some years I get excited about my garden. I write a plan, I start seeds, I make a trip to a specific nursery to search out my favourite varieties of heirloom tomatoes. But in other years, like this one, I’m exhausted and just want something tasty with minimal work. Either way, I plant herbs.
Herbs embody the number one vegetable gardening hack, which is to focus your energy on high impact crops. (Are herbs vegetables? I’m not sure I want to debate that. But they can definitely grow in a vegetable garden.) Fresh herbs from the grocery store are an expensive luxury; dried ones are cheap but blah. But stick a pot of basil (for example) in your windowsill, and you can get that fresh basil flavour any time you want, for almost free.
Not only are herbs among the easiest garden plants to grow, they’re also the easiest to harvest. You don’t have to wait all season for fruits to ripen, nor suffer a glut of more than you can eat if you miscalculated. The herb plant is both an ever-renewing source of flavour, and a storage method for it.
If you only have room for a few pots, that’s fine; herb plants are small and grow well in containers. If you have an actual garden plot, go ahead and plant them in the ground, where they will grow big and happy. Here are a few of my personal favourites, and how to care for them:
Sage is a tough plant that comes back every year, and it’s often still alive when it’s time to season the Thanksgiving turkey. I do literally nothing for it. It just grows.
I’ve owned many chive plants in my lifetime, and I think I may have bought either one or zero of them. Chives grow in bunches that get bigger over time, and then you can dig up part of the bunch and put it in another pot or another part of the garden, or give it to a friend. I got my first chive plant this way. Care: none. They make pretty flowers, too.
Compared to the others, this one is a prima donna. Like, it helps if you actually water it sometimes. And to keep it from going bitter, you have to pull off the top set of leaves so they can’t flower. Then, this is the worst part, you have to eat them with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella or toss them into pasta. Exhausting, really.
There are two kinds of gardeners in the world: those who plant their mint in containers so it doesn’t take over, and those who plant their mint in the ground so it does take over. If you like mint, buy mint. Once.
If you grow your herbs in pots, remember to let them get lots of sun (a balcony or window box is better than indoors) and give them a little water from time to time. If you plant them outside, you don’t have to do much at all. Sage, chives, thyme, and sometimes rosemary will survive the winter. Others may re-seed themselves. I find mint and oregano sprouting almost every spring.
My best advice for beginner herb gardeners is this: Don’t try to start your herbs from seed. They take forever. You can buy pots of herbs at any garden store or grocery store, eat a few leaves when you get home, and declare yourself a successful gardener minutes later, because look! You have an herb garden! You green thumb, you.