One of the things I most enjoy about summer is having access to an assortment of culinary herbs growing in pots outside the kitchen door or a just few garden steps away. On serene summer evenings and lazy Sunday mornings, I meander outside barefoot with snippers, to cut a bouquet of aromatic leaves that always adds oomph to the concoction yet to be served in the kitchen.
But you don’t have to cook to appreciate them. Growing herbs is as old as civilization and still widely popular — not just for what they do in the kitchen, but for all their healing powers, their fragrance, their subtle beauty, and their ease of care. Rarely plagued by pests or disease, herbs are among the lowest maintenance plants to grow.
Homeowners grow herbs mainly for their foliage; flowering ruins the flavour of many herbs. But pollinators love their flowers and special seed heads so grow extra, routinely cutting some for cooking and allowing others to flower and seed.
Spilling from pots or window boxes dotted around patios and balconies, herbs are at home in casual cottage designs, but are equally suitable in formal plantings where order and symmetry rule. One advantage of growing herbs in pots is that they can be moved around the garden into sheltered or sunnier spots when necessary or brought closer where their special fragrances can be appreciated. There really is no reason for any garden to be without them. Following are four herbs I love to grow:
Parsley goes well with almost any dish and re-sprouts quickly when snipped regularly. In large numbers, it may even repel unwanted insect pests. Parsley is a cold-tolerant biennial that, unlike most herbs, will do fine with only four hours of sunlight. I plant Italian or curly parsley as an unexpected, decorative filler in seasonal containers and use the flat-leaved variety for cooking.
Who can resist basil’s intense, spicy scent as a hand brushes against its foliage, releasing aromatic oils. With origins in India, cold-sensitive basil is one of those herbs perfectly suited for container growing all on its own in rich, potting soil, and a spot with at least six hours of sunshine. I use freshly torn basil leaves on almost anything: tomatoes, eggs, pasta, even fruit. Basils have unique flavours as well as plenty of ornamental qualities. Experiment with spicy globe, purple ruffles and variegated basils.
Perhaps under-appreciated by gardeners because these hardy herbs are foolproof to grow, I love the way chive flowers look in my garden when lilacs are in full bloom and the flavour chives offer potato and egg dishes. Chives are just as lovely in pots as in the ground, where their vertical growth habit contrasts well with lower growing plants.
Young chive plants are easy to find for free from a willing neighbour or garden buddy since they proliferate if their pretty pink flowers are not cut back before they set seed. A newer variety called ‘Chivette’ displays flowers all summer long without self seeding. Garlic chives are just as lovely, but less pungent and flower in white umbels.
Most don’t like mint’s invasive nature, but their rampant underground runners are not an issue when contained in pots. Steeped in teas, crushed in summer drinks or flavouring meats and salads, mints are versatile and practical, and very easy to grow. With over 600 varieties to choose from, how can you limit yourself to just one? Pair pineapple mint with fruit salads, bake chocolate mint into cookies and enjoy refreshing mojito mint in summer cocktails.
Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com