If you love to cook and enjoy gardening, why not combine your passions by creating a culinary herb garden? Rather than running to the store to pick up a pinch of parsley or a teaspoon of tarragon, you can pop into your herb bed and just snip off what you need! The fact is, herbs are among the easiest plants to grow. With just a bit of planning, it won’t be long before you’ll reap the tasty rewards of your work.

Finished herb garden
Herb gardens can be a treat for the eyes, as well as the palate.
Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens
Unplanted garden space
Be sure to choose a sunny location near the kitchen so you’ve got easy herb access.
Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens
Planted herbs
Plant your favorite herbs according to their requirements, and add some simple edging to help keep out the grass.
Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

I had herbs scattered around my flower beds before I created my little culinary garden. While they looked lovely among my other plants, the idea of trudging through my flowers to find the right herb left something to be desired come dinnertime. My off-patio herb garden solved the problem by gathering all my favorites into one spot. And despite the herbs’ individual preferences for moisture, drainage and sun, I was able to create a lovely garden to enjoy with the eyes, as well as the palate.

Here’s how I did it:

First, I found the right spot. It had to get enough sun (at least six hours of full sun) to help my plants thrive, but not too much direct sun (because the heat would harm some of the herbs). I wanted it close to the house (specifically my kitchen), so I’d be inclined to use the plants in my cooking, too. The perfect spot turned out to be off our back patio. The 4- by 21-foot plot gets full sun in the middle section, with some partial sun on either end, providing proper conditions for those plants that can’t take the heavy heat.

Next, I selected my favorite culinary herbs and noted the specific requirements (sun, water and soil) for each. I began with some basics. My annual herbs (at least here in the Northeast) included parsley (Petroselinum crispum), dill (Anethum graveolens), basil (Ocimum basilicum), chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana). My perennial favorites included chives (Allium schoenoprasum), lavender (Lavandula augustifolia), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), oregano (Origanum), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), sage (Salvia officinalis), French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

I had to group the plants a couple of ways. I started with sun requirements. The sun worshippers included dill, lavender, marjoram, oregano, sage, rosemary and French tarragon. The others – parsley, basil, lemon balm, thyme, chives and chamomile – prefer part to full sun.

Now for the soil requirements. Soil preparation is crucial in most gardening, but it’s absolutely essential with this type of garden plot because it involves mixing plants with distinctly different needs.

First, I addressed soil conditions. I started by digging out the entire bed at least 18 inches deep, setting the soil to the side. (If this is too much work for you, consider bribing some friends to help out with the promise of future gourmet dinners!) My existing soil was basically your average clay, so I had to make some different mixes for the different plants to help them thrive in my little bed.

I made the mixes according to my plants’ needs. I created a rich moist-soil mix (1 part sandy clay, 2 parts organic matter and 1 part coarse sand) on one end of the bed for the moist-soil lovers, including parsley, dill, basil and chives. The sun lovers that also love well-drained soil (rosemary, lavender, marjoram, oregano, sage and French tarragon) went in the middle of my garden with my dry soil mix (1 part sandy clay, 1 part organic matter and 2 parts coarse sand). Those that could tolerate partial sun and average well-drained soil (lemon balm, sage and thyme) went to the other end of the bed that gets late shade. I made these gourmet delights an average soil mix (1 part sandy clay, 1 part organic matter and 1 part coarse sand).

After I made each of the mixes, I put the soil back into the bed, smoothed out the surface, mulched the area (to retain moisture and keep weeds at bay) and admired my work. With the soil prep completed, I added an edging of stones to match the patio. (Any edging with a little depth that keeps the grass out would work fine.) Finally, it was time to plant!

This was the fun and easy part: I just dug each hole according to the directions for each plant, popped them in the ground, patted the soil down, watered and waited for them to grow (while I began planning my menus). Of course, my herb garden wasn’t completed until almost the end of July, which was too late for much progress before frost, but it’ll be up and running for an early spring start this year! Once I replace my annual herbs, my family and I will be ready to enjoy the culinary benefits of my well-planned herb garden all season long – and now you can, too! Bon appétit!