Every year, I plant a potted herb garden on my patio for convenient access to fresh herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and rosemary.
Nothing says summer like homemade basil and it is heavenly in the caprese salad, which consists of layers of vine-ripened tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh mozzarella. This quintessential Italian salad is then garnished with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Cooks also often plant basil to make fresh pesto. However, consider growing other herbs to treat. My favorite alternative pesto is lemon thyme. When you crush the lemon thyme leaves, they give off a wonderful lemon aroma.
An herb garden is more than just a kitchen convenience. It is a ready-to-use sensory garden for children.
When my daughter was a preschooler, we both planted an herb garden so that she could safely explore the world of plants. She smelled the delicate scent of the lavender plant and smelled the texture of sage leaves.
For fun I planted different mints such as spearmint, pineapple mint and even mint which tasted like chocolate. Every day after kindergarten, she would jump out of the car and try out the mints.
For visual appeal, I planted pansies and nasturtiums to add color. All the plants in this garden were edible and safe for a curious child.
Plant an herb garden to protect the environment. Many herbs will grow or flower in response to longer days in summer. Although the taste qualities of herbs diminish after they have bloomed, now is not the time to throw the plants away. Pollinators, including bees and painted butterflies, are fed by the flowers.
Strolling through the herb garden and seeing a cloud of painted butterflies take flight is fun. A short list of pollinator-approved flowering herbs includes chives, mint, basil, lavender, lemon balm, and thyme.
Herbs should be grown in full sun (at least six hours of light per day) and in well-drained soils. Fertilize sparingly to avoid diluting the oils that give herbs their flavor.
Potted plants may need to be watered more frequently during the heat of summer. Harvest the sprigs in the morning when the plant is fully hydrated. Herbs are at their most flavorful just before the plants bloom.
If you are growing mint, it is better to plant it in a pot than to grow it in the garden. Mint is a perennial in our climate and can be propagated very vigorously by rhizomes in the garden.
Everyone wants to know if lavender is hardy enough to overwinter in the northern Great Plains. ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ are two of the more resistant cultivars. However, neither will reliably survive the winter in the north of the country.
Both cultivars are listed as hardy under U.S. Department of Agriculture Zone 5 (think Chicago). Plants can survive one or two winters if grown in a protected microclimate with sandy soils and lots of snow.
Finally, think of your herb garden as a source to spice up your drinks. Lemon balm leaves are refreshing in iced tea after a long day of gardening.
K. William Boyer is the editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at [email protected], or by phone at (701) 662-2127.
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