Planning an herb garden

VermontCathy Posts: 1,827 ✭✭✭✭✭

I have grown a few herbs here and there in the past, but with a limited amount of fertile, sunny space, I've always focused on core vegetables.

Recently, however, I am seeing many empty shelves in the grocery store spice and herb racks, week after week. Some other shelves are empty one week and refill the next week, but not the spice racks. I think there must be an actual shortage, not just supply chain delivery issues.

After being unable to get dried mint for weeks on end, we ordered it online. But I'm determined to start growing the herbs we use the most this year, and drying them for winter.

My initial thoughts are basil, oregano, mint, dill, and parsley. Basil and oregano are a little tricky in a cool climate, but can be done. The other three will be easy. Parsley and mint are not far removed from weeds and will spread rapidly if allowed.

I'd like to get peppermint plants, but have been unable to find them online. Mint does not breed true and pepperimint is a hybrid, so to get actual peppermint you need to buy plants, not seeds. Peppermint has something like 40% active flavor ingredient, versus tiny amounts in spearmint or other alternatives.

Does anyone know where I can purchase peppermint plants? Even a small number would be enough to get a patch started. But it needs to be a trustworthy source that won't substitute some other mint to save money.

Are there any other herbs you would recommend for food additives? There is another thread on plants for herbal medicine, but here I'd like to focus on the food side.


  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,402 admin

    @VermontCathy I'm surprised you have difficulty with oregano. My oregano parent plants have survived for many years and they self seed so I find lots of babies every year. I have never had any luck with basil except for one year. My neighbour gifted me several basil plants in one of those hanging tube planters and they did quite well.

    I never have to plant dill anymore as it also self seeds quite prolifically in my garden.

    Richters sells mint plants and ships to the States. They are very reliable and have a large number of mints listed. Here is a link to their potted plants page.

    Thyme sometimes overwinters for me. I found a variety called Tabor thyme which seems to be a bit hardier and usually overwinters. Rosemary is not hardy for me so I buy plants every year. Sage does very well, surviving for several years before getting too woody and then I replace them. Marjoram only occasionally overwinters.

    Tarragon. There are two types; French and Russian. Russian is much hardier but French has a much better flavour. However, I have managed to get my French tarragon to overwinter for several years now.

    Cilantro (and coriander seed) is very easy to grow. Summer savoury does well as an annual and sometimes I have winter savoury survive.

    Lemon balm survives most winters in my garden, growing back from roots every year. Makes a lovely tea plant. So does bergamot (Monarda species) and it is very hardy. Anise-hyssop is another tea plant but not hardy in my area.

    Lemon verbena has such an amazing lemon scent and flavour. Not perennial but I try to find a couple of plants every year.

    While celery is usually thought of as a veg, I like to harvest and dry the tops to use as a spice. There is another plant called Par-cel, that I have grown before. Grows like Italian flat leaf parsley but has the flavour of celery.

    You can use safflower or calendula petals as a substitute for saffron. I might try saffron crocus' again but I haven't had luck with them in the past. However, safflower did very well and calendula will self-seed.

    Sorrel is good for adding to salads and is a perennial in my garden. Bloody dock, too.

    Chicory root will make a coffee substitute.

    Horseradish is a very important condiment in my house. Onions, garlic, peppers (cayenne, chili, etc.; make your own chilli powder), chives, garlic chives.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,827 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @torey Thank you! Great information!

    My husband doesn't like celery, so we don't use it.

    I've tried lemon balm once without much success, so it's not a priority.

    I haven't had luck with chives, and looking at some reviews on online seed sites, it appears that many varieties get a slow start in the first year and only come into their own in later years. I judged success by the first year, so maybe I didn't give it a fair chance. But I have limited space and don't want to make multiyear commitments in the main garden.

    Thyme is a great suggestion. I've added it to the list. Maybe I'll try sage, but we don't use it much in our cooking.

    I'll give oregano another try. We use a lot of it and it would be great to grow our own.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,827 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @torey Also, at least one type of oregano I saw at Baker Creek says it prefers "hot, dry, alkaline soil." That's the exact opposite of what I have: acid soil, wet climate, cool most of the year but hot for a couple of months. Maybe other varieties do better in cool climates. What type of oregano are you using?

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,402 admin

    @VermontCathy I have had these plants for so long that I can't remember. I think they were just marked as Oregano, no specific kind. Years ago, all you could get was one basic kind of every herb, not the selection that is available today.

    I have also grown a variety called "Hot & Spicy" but it wasn't hardy enough to survive the winters. I tried several times. It certainly had a bite to it, though.

  • Leediafastje
    Leediafastje Posts: 97 ✭✭✭

    @torey I have had great perennial success with Greek Oregano. My favorite Basil varieties are Purple Basil, African Ninum Basil (strong and spicy), and Thai Basil. They are all annual here but, worth the work for their flavor.

    I grow Lemon Balm in a large pot that is sitting under a pine tree. It has re-seeded and come back for the last 3 years and is looking good right now.

    When I have to buy seeds I use Baker Creek and Territorial Seed Co. When I am looking to purchase plants I go to The Brother's Nursery in Bremerton, WA. I don't know if they ship but, I find them very honest and their plants have never failed me.

    Good luck and happy planting.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,216 admin

    @VermontCathy I got my onion chives from someone who divided theirs. They are persistent being one of the first things up every spring. This might be the way to go. My garlic chives never grew.

    @torey has some great ideas. The only thing I'd add is to try to grow some of these herbs indoors if that is a possibility for you.

    I will second Richters. If getting plants from them, I'd email & ask if they are having any lag at the international border (and what extra cost might be incurred), since you are wanting live plants.

  • Cornelius
    Cornelius Posts: 872 ✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2022

    I like to grow herbs in pots (this also helps to tame mint a little lol). It is all the fun for planning years in the future without the commitment since I can pick it up (unless it is a very large pot 🤣). Wide pots are good for mint since it allows them to grow multiple shoots.