Growing herbs in a garden, on a sunny deck or on a patio is a fun and easy way to introduce fresh flavour to your cooking. Many herbs have attractive flowers and aromatic foliage that add ornamental beauty and fragrance to your outdoor spaces.
Herbs are generally considered easy to grow plants with most requiring plenty of sunshine and well-drained soil. If planting in containers, find a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom and fill it with a lightweight soil-less potting mix. Avoid using garden soil in containers as it is heavy and doesn’t drain well.
If you plan on creating a dedicated garden bed for culinary herbs, choose a sunny spot and rototill or dig the soil to prepare the site. Add a few inches of compost and some slow release organic fertilizer before planting. Once the garden is prepped, it’s time to head to the garden centre to pick up some seeds and seedlings.
Depending on the herb, you can direct seed outside (cilantro, dill), sow seeds indoors in early spring for a head start (basil, parsley, oregano, lemon balm), or buy transplants at your local garden centre (mint, thyme, lemon verbena, rosemary, chives). Generally, fast-growing herbs are direct seeded and slow-growing or woody herbs like rosemary, chives, and thyme are grown from purchased transplants.
Favourite culinary herbs:
Basil is the most popular culinary herb grown in gardens and it’s prized for its spicy-sweet clove-like flavour. I plant basil in containers and my garden beds, growing around a dozen varieties each summer. Because it loves heat, don’t plant it too early in the spring, and harvest it often to encourage plenty of fresh growth. Spicy Globe basil is one of my favourite varieties and forms round plants about a foot tall with hundreds of tiny, tasty leaves. I’m also a fan of Everleaf, a new variety with classic Genovese flavour and dense growth.
In my garden, parsley is no mere garnish—I use it to provide us with a non-stop harvest of curly or flat-leaves from spring through early winter. I add chopped handfuls of fresh parsley to salads, pastas, and bruschetta. Flavour-wise, I prefer flat-leaved Italian parsley, but my Lebanese mother-in-law likes curly parsley for her amazing tabouli. Parsley can take a bit of shade and for the best flavour, it needs regular moisture.
In most parts of Canada, thyme is a tough perennial plant that forms low-growing mounds of small, aromatic leaves. It’s very slow to grow from seed so buy transplants and tuck them in a site with full sun and well-drained soil or in containers. While common thyme, also called English thyme, is the typical type used for cooking, I’m also partial to lemon thyme which has a fresh citrus fragrance and flavour.
The fresh scent and flavour of rosemary has made it a classic kitchen herb. We enjoy it fresh from the garden spring through autumn and then dried for winter cooking. It thrives in container gardens and can be paired with herbs like thyme, oregano, and lemon verbena that have similar growing needs. Clip and use rosemary often to encourage fresh growth.
Mint is an essential herb for culinary and tea gardens, but it’s so invasive it should come with a warning label! Plant mint only in containers as it will quickly take over a garden bed, choking out other plants. I like to pick up a handful of different types of mint each spring so we can enjoy a range of flavours, planting them in a big pot on my sunny back deck. Try mojito, peppermint, spearmint, strawberry, and chocolate mint.
Lemon Verbena is an under-appreciated herb with a lemony fragrance and flavour that can’t be beat! This heat-lover can grow three feet tall and produce hundreds of pointy lemon scented leaves. I like to add a few leaves of lemon verbena to a pot of mint tea to add a tasty citrus punch.