Of all the ones I have grown over the years, I chose the ten best herbs that I like best. Keeping in mind that I love “the growing” more than than the usefulness of plants, my list is not restricted to culinary herbs.
That is not to say I don’t love to harvest, dry, or cook with these herbs, but that I would grow these lovely garden companions anyway… just for their fragrance and beauty -all their other many uses are just a bonus.
The reasons for loving a particular plant is given, and this may be completely different from why you might like growing a plant, but I hope my loves may become yours. Not so you or your garden can be like mine, but so you might enjoy some of the wonderful things a plant could offer.
There are no perfect choices or gardens, just the ones we make and love. If we work on creating something that shines in a way that makes it the best of its kind, then the garden is given recognition by many others. But I suspect that garden beauty is like that of women, it depends not so much on standards as making the best of the innate beauty in the given nature. In the case of a garden that will be the “place”, the climate, the soils, and what is native to these elements.
Illustrating Some Scenes
Here are the ten and why I love them in a garden
I love the thymes (it must be plural!) for many reasons. They always add scent, they are easy to grow, and there is something invariably pretty about a thyme planting. They flower, and help the bees. I have always had the best luck with Thymus vulgaris and its variations, but I attempt to keep the others happy, too. Combining them with their low growing variation of leaf form and harmony of pink and white flowers is always an interesting feature in a garden.
Different thymes have variable hardiness in my garden. The lemon thyme is one of the most cold tolerant and the decorative ‘Pink Chintz‘ and Wooly thymes are almost annuals in my gardens.
I confess to always dreaming of a carpet of thymes with their subtle variations, but have not found a spot where they survive well. Not entirely. My most successful planting was a raised bed along the south side of the house, but this past winter was too much, finally for the thymes and they will need to be replanted.
I’ve always grown my own plants from those I purchased or started from cuttings, and haven’t tried growing thyme from seed, although that would be an economical way to get lots of plants.
Generally these herbs are hardy to zone 5, which is my planting zone.
- Marjoram, Origanum majorana
To my taste, this flavor is preferred to oregano. Oregano should be grown on Greek mountainsides, in my opinion, but marjoram gives fine scent and flavor when grown in Ohio conditions.Except that it isn’t hardy here and has to be replanted each year, this is a must have for herb gardens, vegetable patches, and containers of herbs.Besides flavor, a little wreath of just Marjoram is the most charming kitchen decoration ever! Its aroma lasts for a very long time.It is a softly colored plant, giving grace by its presence rather than pizazz, but that is true of many of the herbs.
- Spicy Basil
- San Remo Basil
- Sweet Basil
Basil is a darling for many people and the many varieties gives a clue to just how popular it has become. I think one could make an entire bed of just the Basil varieties in their different leaf colors and sizes.
Basil has been rising on my list of favorites in the past couple years. Blame Marguerita Pizzas or perhaps a new obsession with smoked Mozzarella pasta with Basil leaves and roasted red peppers … or little appetizer stacks of the cheese with fresh slices of homegrown tomato and the leaves, drizzled with garlic-flavored oil. This is one herb definitely loved for what it gives my tastebuds instead of any of the others sense (although it does smell heavenly).
If you cook, you will definitely want a number of basils.
A tender annual, here, it must be grown anew every season.
Chives comes not only in its mild onion flavor, but in a “garlic chive” type that is between the onion-y and the garlic flavors. It is the perfect addition to mild dishes such as omelettes or loaded baked potatoes. The flowers are pretty and an edible addition to salads, too. Super easy to grow from little sets of bulbs, chives are hardy in my garden.My mother always loved chives and the stand I grow now was a gift from her garden, although I always grew them within my herb plantings and near my vegetable patch. so good with cream cheese or as an addition to sour cream on top of a baked potato that they are almost a cliche.I must confess that the shaggy, little lavender balls of the flowers are what convince me to put them in such a prioritized level of estimation.
By now you will see a pattern, maybe even an Achilles heel, in my reasons to esteem certain plants for the herb garden. Such plants ought to be loved for their usefulness, for their culinary necessity; but I have a weakness for color, or bee and butterfly attraction, or scent.This plant qualifies for at least two of my criteria with their intense blue flowers which are always abuzz with bees.They do have a cucumber like taste and are edible and pretty in salads, or to flavor a cold summer drink, but I must admit to you that I did not make much use of them in a any way.They are nevertheless one of my all time favorites. Reseeding themselves delicately and politely for a few years, then needing renewal.
- Sage, Salvia officinalis
A powerful, beautiful, and aromatic subshrub. Who does not need this flavor in a poultry stuffing? Well, there are some, but I am not in their number. Sage is a strong grower and hardy, if it is the common culinary type.Every time you brush by this good sized (2-3 feet high and wide) herbal bush, the unmistakeable smell of sage scents the air. It has pretty purple flowers with an interesting spike shape in late spring, about the time that irises bloom.The lovely variegated types are grown like annuals and I like to include them in flowering containers for a sunny spot.
- English Lavender, Lavandula vera
Beloved by many for its scent, and grown in my garden from earliest attempts at making a gardened place, this has risen to the top of my list. So much so, that if I had to chose a limited number of plants for a garden… I would always choose to have a bit of lavender.So I guess I would say that of the ten favorite herbs in this list this would have to be considered “top choice”, if given in order of importance (which is so hard to do!) It wasn’t until many years later that found the taste it gives to meats and stews to be that certain “je ne sais quoi”. Often a partner in Herbe de Provence, it grows much happier in a warmer drier climate, but Ohio is a place where it can usually grow just fine (I am glad to say). Though many gardeners claim to grow lavender from seed with ease, if you are a beginning gardener plants might be a much better and more successful choice. For one thing, you get named varieties with certain qualities. I often see “French Lavender”, L. stoechas for sale here in Zone 5, but it will die from our cold. Even L. vera has had a checkered history of surviving my winters, so get the type best suited to your climate with traits that come from cuttings if that is your expectation.
That said, I would still plant seeds to try for a large number of plants, especially if using it for crafts.
- Sweet Mint
For smoothies, for tea, as a garnish, and for making Middle Eastern dishes, mint is a must have. Don’t listen to those who decry its aggressive ways. You have to have mint in your kitchen, and freshly grown mint that can be plucked from a garden stash is the best.
Beautiful bright green leaves in the Spearmint is my favorite, Peppermint can be quite strong with its dusky leaved and floppy appearance, but find a place where their roots are contained and by all means grow enough to keep the kitchen supplied.
Having grown both the Italian leaf and the curled leaf types, my opinion for flavor and use comes strongly down on side of the flat leaf Italian type. This is what my Hungarian Grandmother favored for her delicious chicken soup which was a staple first course before every Sunday and Holiday meal. It grows easily from seed or plant although it will not reliably survive my winters.I have always grown parsley as did my mother before me. I tend to tuck it under tomato plants as it stands some shade, but ever since re-purposing an old ladder as a slightly raised Herb plot, it has its own space at the entrance to my vegetable garden. The easiest way to harvest the delicious leaves is to simply snip them with handy little garden snips. Then I use Kitchen shears to cut them up, after a light rinsing, for soup or as a fresh addition to salads, etc.
I planted the seeds that come up in my garden many years ago and haven’t needed to replant since! Of course that can’t be guaranteed to all, since my gardening mother was jealous of this success story of sturdy and flavorful dill that loves my loamy clay and partly sunny veggie garden.This is to say: that dill seeds will likely plant themselves once introduced. Dill is never a nuisance for me, however, since it is easy to grub out if unwanted, and doesn’t widely spread. It does need cultivated soil to sprout up. And sun, don’t forget to have at least a partly sunny space for it. Then you can cut the fresh finely threaded leaves to chop into any dish that deserves the piquant flavor it can add. It is a must in fresh cucumber salad, Hungarians love this fresh pickle with most meals. Still, it is Scandinavian cuisine that is most famous for their use of dill.
Yes, I reference my mother a great deal when telling the stories of why I have grown to love a plant, and occasionally my maternal Grandmother makes her way into the tale, as well. I think the reason for this is the genuine passion and joie de vivre that the warm Hungarian nature displays for sweet aromas, delicious flavors, and such makes a powerful impression on the memory.
My paternal grandma also had a legendary love of flowers, and probably a much better talent for growing them, but it was my time in my mothers family’s kitchen (and her mother’s use of the fruit and flowers since she didn’t do any gardening- that was Grandfather’s, “Apa’s”, task).