Gardens - Herb Gardening

Grow your own herb garden

By
Charmian Christie

Tantalize your taste buds with fresh herbs

You don't need a garden plot to keep yourself supplied with fresh herbs all summer long. A sunny location, some soil, pots and a bit of care can turn a balcony, staircase, deck, patio or window into a private produce department. While mint and rosemary are best grown in individual containers, you can pack a smorgasbord of various herbs into a window box.

Whether you're new to gardening or a seasoned pro, these tasty, but easy-to-grow, flavour-filled herbs will have you hooked on fresh.

Basil
This tender annual can't tolerate cold, so plant only after the threat of frost is over. Place in full sun in rich, moist soil. Encourage new, bushy growth by pinching back the plant to a pair of branching stems. Because basil is most flavorful before the flowers bloom, pinch them out before they bloom and plant a succession to ensure an ongoing harvest. Pick the leaves immediately before using.

Basil has a hint of licorice and is a classic choice with tomatoes and in Mediterranean dishes. Sweet basil is the most common, while the less sweet, purple-leaved variety adds colour to your favourite dishes. If you have room, try planting lemon, cinnamon or clove basil, which smell like their names.

Dried basil has very little flavour, so use fresh or make pesto, then freeze.

Dill
This feathery, fern-like herb is actually a hardy annual and acts as a biannual in some climates.

Dill is tall, so plant it behind shorter herbs. It thrives in sun, in rich, loose soil and can be picked at any time — just pinch out the leaves. While the leaves are most flavourful before the flowerheads go to seed, the seeds themselves are coveted for pickling. If you want to use the leaves, deadhead throughout the summer. If you want the seeds, allow the plant to flower and set seeds; leave these until they've dried out and turned brown.

Vegetable soups, green salads, chicken and fish pair perfectly with dill's bright, lemony undertones.

Rosemary
This tender perennial thrives in the heat of a Canadian summer, but should head indoors to a sunny window come autumn. Because rosemary needs good drainage, a terra cotta pot is ideal. Unlike most herbs, rosemary likes to dry out between waterings. To encourage growth, snip the ends often.

This astringent herb is perfect for roasted potatoes, lamb or in a mix of herbs with grilled chicken.

Mint
Versatile but invasive, give mint its own pot. Mint will have you tearing your hair out along with its roots if you decide to plant it directly into your garden.

Whether you opt for mild spearmint or stronger peppermint, full sun and moist soil are all that's required. This low-maintenance plant grows quickly and can be picked at any time. Just pinch off as many leaves as you need.

Fresh leaves make a refreshing tea and jazz up all kinds of warm weather drinks — from mint juleps to lemonade. Mint also lends authenticity to Middle Eastern dishes like tabouli.

Charmian Christie is an avid gardener and home cook. When she's not digging in the dirt, she's charting her culinary adventures on her blog, Christie's Corner.

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