How To Create Your
Kitchen Herb Garden

A kitchen herb garden is the best (and least expensive) way to get fresh herbs: just step outside your door and pick herbs for cooking!

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A sunny spot near your kitchen is all you need to start.

Planning your kitchen herb garden design

Choosing your herbs

Cooking herbs are inexpensive and easy to plant. Most annual herbs can be started from seed, while perennial herbs are best started from cuttings or bought as plants. You'll get a quicker start if you buy herbs the first time around. You can find herb plants for sale at any plant nursery or online.

If you do buy plants, remember that not all herb varieties taste the same. Taste a leaf to make sure you like the plant before you buy it

Beautiful kitchen herb garden

Make a list of the cooking herbs you use most frequently -- this will help you to select the right plants for your family.

Do you like Italian food? Choose basil, oregano, majoram, rosemary, and parsley.

If you cook a lot of poultry you might want to grow onion, garlic, sage and thyme. The bay laurel provides bay leaves, useful in stews and in food preservation.

Like tea? Chamomile, peppermint, spearmint and hibiscus are popular tea flavors, and stevia gives a sweet taste to your tea without added sugar.

Planning your design

Plant your kitchen herb garden as close to the kitchen as possible so you don't have to go far to reach your herbs in the middle of cooking. Full sun is best for good herb flavor and growth, and although you can get away with planting in partial shade (especially in very sunny and hot climates) your plants may become leggy or pale.

Knowing whether a herb is perennial or annual, as well as its hardiness, is important in planning your design, because annual (and biennial) plants -- and tender perennials in cold climates -- will have to be replaced or reseeded on a regular basis, while your hardy perennial herbs should be placed where you want to see them for years to come.

The shape of your available garden area will certainly influence your design. Very small kitchen herb garden layouts will need to focus on the use of compact plants that don't spread out much, plants that can be trained up trellises or espaliered on walls, and very low hedges. A large kitchen herb garden, on the other hand, will obviously have more room to maneuver.

Kitchen herb garden at Chateau Villandry, Loire, France

But the same principles can be applied to all designs, large or small:

  • Keep larger plants behind smaller ones
  • Make sure you can get to your plants to weed, water and harvest
  • Give spreading plants enough room to spread ... while herbs are much less prone to disease than other plants, adequate room will keep your plants from falling all over each other
  • Keep a sense of balance -- don't overwhelm small areas or under-plant large ones
  • Plant in odd numbers ... the bigger the plant, the fewer you can get away with planting in one clump
  • Plant what you eat, and use what you plant.

Planting and care of your kitchen herb garden

Set your plants out on a calm day, preferably late in the afternoon. This will help prevent transplant shock from the wind or withering in the midday sun. Dig holes larger than the root ball of your plants, loosening up the dirt when you re-fill the holes. Adding compost to the hole when you plant gives your herb a good start.

In most cases, plants should go to the level they were in the pots. If you have a very wet climate, you might consider raising the plant a bit above ground level. In very dry climates, set the plant down lower than ground level, so you can water just the plant, which saves water and time.

Water well for the first few weeks and whenever the soil seems dry after that. While you should put your herb plants in good soil, avoid heavy feeding or over-watering.

Picking before the plants flower will give you the best flavor, although herb flowers are also tasty in salads and as garnishes.

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If you plant several of the same herb, you might try trimming every other one, so you have alternating flowers and trimmed herbs, making a pattern.

Harvesting annual herbs regularly and not allowing them to flower until you want them to will prolong their lives until late in the year. If you want to save the seeds (or in warm areas, let them reseed on their own), make sure you do let them flower before they die back at the end of the year.

If you think about the shape you want for your plant each time you harvest from your kitchen herb garden, and clip off areas that are growing in a manner you don't want, this will save you from having to do major pruning later. This is particularly useful for plants like rosemary that tend to grow in wild shapes if unattended to, but can make great hedges and topiary if treated with care.

Using fresh herbs

If you generally use dried herbs, you'll need about three times as much of the fresh herb to get the same strength of flavor -- but the flavor will be much better! Very few herbs are the same once dried, and you'll find yourself relegating your dried herbs to the off-season.

Fresh herbs can be used in cooking, as garnishes, in teas, and rosemary branches can be used as skewers for kabobs, which adds a fantastic flavor.

Would you like to talk about your kitchen herb garden with people who love edible landscaping too? Join the Tasteful Landscape community, a free email list. Just fill out the form and follow the instructions:

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