If you want to start a vegetable garden next spring but are worried about the time and labor investment, an herb garden is an excellent, easy-to-manage substitute.
Herb gardens are great because they can provide a lot of flavor in a little space. Because of their ability to dress-up or transform food, herbs allow you to make the most of the produce you buy from the farmers market or your CSA.
Starting an herb garden is a great introduction to growing your own food. You don’t need a lot of space (in fact, many herbs grow perfectly well in pots), and you’ll save money by not buying overpriced herbs from the grocery store.
Here are some tips to start planning your herb garden:
1. Decide which herbs you want to grow. Pick herbs that you use often in your cooking, or ones that you would use more often if they were more affordable. Order seeds to start yourself or buy mature herbs from your local nursery.
2. Chart herb characteristics. Make a chart documenting each herb variety’s life span (annual, perennial, biennial), height (short, medium, tall), season (early, mid-summer, fall), and other considerations (such as color, texture, or leaf size).
3. Design your garden. Sketch what you want your garden to look like.
- If your garden has shallow, poorly drained, or infertile soil, consider building a raised bed for your herb garden.
- If your garden is over five feet wide, include access paths for weeding and harvesting.
- Keep low-growing plants at the edges of your garden, keep medium-height herbs in the middle spaces of your garden, and keep tall herbs in the center of a broad garden or in the rear of a narrow garden.
- Use an urn, bird bath, or tall potted plant to provide a central focal point to your herb garden. Cluster taller plants around it.
- Keep large or aggressive plants such as mints in their own section of the garden (preferably in a bed situated between pathways or walls, which slows their spread) or confined to a pot.
- Keep annual herbs in a separate bed, portion of the bed, or pot(s). Keeping annuals and perennials separated allows you to rework the soil or replant without disturbing perennials.
- Consider which color combinations of flowers and foliage will be most aesthetically pleasing, especially if you’re planting several varieties of herbs in one pot.
4. Pick up a good book to learn more. Here are some useful ones:
- The Herb Gardener: A Guide for All Seasons by Susan McClure
- Making an Herb Garden: Beautiful Designs, Plantings and Ornamentation by Catherine Mason
- Your Backyard Herb Garden: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Over 50 Herbs Plus How to Use Them in Cooking, Crafts, Companion Planting and More by Miranda Smith