LOOKING FOR FLOWERS, flavor and fragrance? Herbs produce a greater yield from every inch of the garden they occupy than just about any other crop you can grow. Local garden designer and herb enthusiast Sue Goetz says, “In addition to harvesting for flavor and healing, herbs provide aromatherapy benefits, attract pollinators to the garden and add beauty to the landscape.”
Goetz should know. She’s the author of “A Taste for Herbs” and “The Herb Lover’s Spa Book.” When asked for a list of her favorite herbs to grow in a Pacific Northwest garden, she replies, “Some of the best and most reliable herbs are tough perennials that favor our dry summers, like rosemary, sage, thyme and lavender. Given good drainage and a sunny spot in the garden, those plants will thrive with little or no additional care — and they’re deer-resistant.”
From a practical perspective, Goetz suggests planting what you like and will use. “If you like basil, grow lots of basil,” she advises. But if you’re looking for good looks and a continuous harvest throughout the year, not just those basil-picking weeks in late summer, Goetz has you covered as well.
Herbs thrive in container plantings. When potting up a mixed planting, Goetz recommends selecting a container that is at least 18 inches in diameter, so plants have plenty of room to grow. Big pots produce big plants, which means a larger harvest. Pro tip: Place your container herb garden near the back door for frequent and easy-access harvesting.
Goetz encourages gardeners to combine perennial and annual herbs in containers to create beautiful, tasty and long-lasting compositions. “Annual basil — especially beautiful burgundy leaf varieties — can be used as filler around rosemary and thyme to create a culinary garden,” she suggests. “The only plant you’ll need to replace is the basil. In the spring, you can tuck in violas or calendula until it is basil season again.”
When plotting an herb garden, it helps to know in advance whether you’ll be harvesting the entire plant, like fast-growing tender cilantro, dill and chervil. Other herbs, like parsley, chives and basil, can be treated like other cut-and-come-again crops in the vegetable garden. Woody herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and sage, can be lightly trimmed throughout the year without diminishing their good looks.
Once you have herbs in the garden, pick them! “Herbs are the most flavorful and fragrant in the morning after the dew dries,” Goetz says. “This is the best time to harvest.”
Goetz recommends treating freshly harvested herbs like a bouquet. Fill a clean glass vase or wide-mouth canning jar with fresh water. Before placing herbs, strip stems to remove leaves that fall below the water level. Place your herbal bouquet on the counter, and harvest leaves as needed. If the weather is especially warm, put the entire vase in the refrigerator, where your bouquet will last for at least a week.
For more information on growing, harvesting and using herbs, visit Goetz’s website, where she shares culinary recipes and spa projects to savor and soothe; herbloversgarden.com.