On All Year-Round Herbs
All year-round herbs have their disadvantages – most require sunny spots in the garden, many die down in winter and some are untidy thugs. However, with careful selection and a little thought, we can have fresh herbs all year round – with very little effort! Firstly, we need to decide what to grow. Many herbs are invasive weeds so stick to culinary ones. Once you have decided what to grow then decide how to grow them. Most people grow herbs in herb gardens or containers in the garden. Although this may be good for the plants it can be irksome having to wander around the garden half way through cooking. The answer is to grow herbs in a portable medium – either a lightweight plastic container or hanging basket. A hanging basket can be hung on a bracket outside the kitchen door and brought in when required. Planted in the top and through holes in the side, the herbs can easily be cropped next to the chopping board and then returned outside. This does however ignore the size and requirements of each herb so I suggest replanting the container every 6 months.
Year-Round herbs for your garden
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
This feathery-leaved perennial grows almost anywhere and even enhances the disease resistance of neighboring plants. Yarrow is quite hardy, but if a lengthy freeze comes your way, protect it with mulch or a frost barrier. Use the leaves in salads year-round and infuse the summer blooms for a refreshing skin toner or a cleansing hair rinse. Dried yarrow flowers look stunning in herbal arrangements.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum).
This mild-flavored hardy perennial is happy indoors and out. Harvest the leaves all year to flavor and garnish food. In June, cut the flowers for a pretty addition to a summer salad. You can trim chives down to 1 inch, four times a year, to sprout a fresh batch of leaves. After cutting down the plant in the fall, dig up some of the bulbs and plant them in an indoor pot for chives through the winter. The bulbs can be kept inside year-round or planted outside again in the spring. If you live where winters are harsh, mulch your outdoor bulbs each fall.
orseradish (Armoracia rusticana).
If you want to add heat to your cooking year-round, grow horseradish. Because peppers only thrive in the summer in most areas, horseradish can provide spice the rest of the year. Horseradish grown in the ground can become invasive, so grow it in a large pot to encourage root growth. Harvest the leaves from spring to fall to add a warm kick to salads. To use the root any time of year, push away a little of the soil, cut off an end piece and then re-cover the root with soil. Outdoors, the root is quite hardy and will survive frigid conditions, but if your soil freezes you won’t be able to dig down to the root.
Mint (Mentha spp.).
The many varieties of this herb make it difficult to classify. Some are frost-hardy, some are evergreen, but all are perennials with delicious leaves. Because it spreads easily, mint is best grown in containers. The rest of the year, they will thrive outside in partly sunny areas with little care. Pluck the leaves any time of year for garnish, jelly or tea. In summer, sprinkle salads with its tiny flowers.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
This herb’s piney flavor is a perfect addition to poultry, potatoes, stews and cookies. Despite its Mediterranean origins, this hardy evergreen adapts well to any situation except full shade or soggy soil. Rosemary needs little care throughout the growing season and is drought-tolerant. Established shrubs withstand tough winters, but smaller plants should be covered with a frost barrier when the temperatures drop. Rosemary also grows well in containers that can be brought inside in winter. Trim the plant into a tree shape for a wonderfully scented holiday decoration.
Plants That Keep Giving
Some herbs present you with different culinary gifts over the growing season. Unlike the year-round plants described above that mostly provide leaves, the following plants have more diverse offerings including leaves, flowers and seeds. Leaves should be harvested lightly so you don’t defoliate and weaken the plant (which is a good reason to plant more than one). If you intend to collect seeds, don’t harvest or deadhead all of the flowers earlier in the season.
Dill (Anethum graveolens).
Sow the seeds of this annual in the spring to enjoy the cool taste of dill in salads and sauces from late spring to early fall. Dill grows in sunny and dry areas, requires very little care, and the flowers are attractive in the garden. When the seeds start to form, place paper bags around the flower heads to catch the seeds as they drop. Dry the collected seeds for use in pickling mixes.
Mustard (Brassica juncea)
This is another choice for leaves and seeds. In temperate areas, mustard produces leaves from spring into early winter. Use these leaves in salads or as you would spinach. In fall, collect the seeds to make your own spicy mustard.
Bergamot (Monarda spp.).
The plant’s frilly, bright red flowers are excuse enough to grow this hardy perennial. This herb, which is native to the eastern United States, is well-adapted to cool, moist conditions. If you have a semi-shady spot in your garden and need a dash of color, try planting bergamot. Its leaves and flowers have a unique citrus scent (think of Earl Grey tea) that is retained even after drying. To add a citrus taste to tea, juice or wine, the leaves can be plucked most of the year (the plant will die back in mid-winter). The flowers that arrive in mid-summer make a gorgeous addition to fruit salads or can be dried for potpourri.
The Flower Bearers
Even if they don’t behave like year-round superstars, some herbs almost beg to be grown for their flowers. Whether you just want to look at a bed full of color or use the flowers in the kitchen, these are some easy-to-grow choices.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis).
Sow this annual in the fall for spring flowers, then sow again in the spring for late-summer and fall flowers. Calendula, or pot marigold, grows in most any soil condition. The bright-orange petals are known as poor-man’s saffron and can be used in rice dishes in place of the expensive spice. The petals are also used fresh or dried to decorate salads and baked goods.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.).
Many people wouldn’t consider their herb garden complete without this aromatic wonder. Evergreen in some areas, a deciduous shrub in others, lavender puts on a show of scented purple flowers each summer. Dry the flowers for sachets and wreaths, or use the flowers to flavor sugar, ice cream and pastries. Even without flowers, lavender stalks smell lovely when handled. Other than a “haircut” at the end of the season, lavender requires little care.
Viola (Viola spp.).
In most regions, violas produce a lovely show of purple and pastel flowers from late winter through spring and then again in fall. Violas are a perfect choice for borders in areas that don’t receive intense sun. They can even grow in full shade. While pretty enough in the garden, violas are even cheerier in a spring salad or sugar-coated to beautify a cake.