Valued for their flavour, scent or medicinal properties, herbs are an excellent addition to any home garden. Herbs are often highly decorative and blend in nicely with established landscaping, although they thrive in container or window gardens, as well. When choosing herbs, growth requirements must be taken into consideration, although perhaps the most important deciding factor in choosing herbs is practical usefulness and personal taste.
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Rosemary is a hardy evergreen shrub with fragrant, needle-like leaves and dainty flowers that range in colour from white to dark blue. Rosemary is a popular herb for beginners due to its ease of growth, which can tolerate neglect, drought and poor soil. Rosemary prefers full sun and well-draining soil, but can thrive almost anywhere warm and dry.
Sage is a small perennial herb with oblong, woolly leaves that have a silvery-green colour. Although sage plants are tender when young they have a tendency to become woody with age and should be pruned back regularly to encourage leaf growth. Sage enjoys full sun and slightly sandy soil, but is adaptable to many soil types.
Thyme is one of the main components in bouquet garni, a French herbal blend. Thyme has a particularly strong flavour that it retains well when dried. Thyme grows naturally in rocky outcroppings and poor soil that receives an abundance of direct sunlight, so it thrives in hot, sunny gardens.
Perhaps best known as the key ingredient in pesto, basil is a useful and beautiful plant that is easy to grow. Basil is an annual that grows readily from seed, growing to a height of 18 inches with abundant light-green leaves. Best used when fresh, basil benefits from regular pruning or kitchen harvesting and quickly replenishes lost leaves.
Oregano is a cornerstone of Mediterranean cooking and is used in many pizza and pasta sauces. Oregano grows readily in poor soil and full sun, but has a tendency to become woody when plants reach three years of age, at which point they should be divided or replanted.
Dill requires hot summers, full sun and rich soil to flourish, with cool spells and shade drastically effecting yield. Dill grows up to three feet high with small umbels of yellow flowers, bluish-green stems and delicate, tendril-like leaves. Commonly used in Scandinavian cuisine, dill pairs well with fish and pickled vegetables. Both the seeds and leaves of dill are used in cooking.
Perhaps best known as a Latin American herb, cilantro is also used extensively in Southeast Asian cooking. Cilantro propagates readily in warm soil, however it requires partial shade during the hottest part of the day to delay bolting. If regularly pruned of flowers and given plenty of water, cilantro plants produce abundant leaves for up to 10 weeks.
Spearmint and peppermint are the two most common varieties of garden mint. Both are hardy perennial herbs that grow vigorously in moist soil, making them ideal for beginner gardens. Mint can become invasive, so container growing is recommended.
Often overlooked by gardeners, tarragon is a tasty and easy to grow herbaceous perennial with narrow, dark-green leaves and an anise-like scent. Tarragon loses all flavour when dried, so growing it at home is a good way to incorporate seasonal flavour into summer cooking. Tarragon tolerates full sun but thrives in dappled sunlight and requires protection from winter frost in order to keep its perennial growth.
A dainty cousin of the onion, chives are a highly ornamental and useful herb with a clumping, perennial growth habit. Chives thrive in a variety of soils and require very little care. Often used as a border plant for their upright stature and ornamental light-purple flowers, chives are a beautiful addition to small herb gardens.
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