When you’re working with limited space – like on a condo balcony or in a small corner of a flower bed – the practical considerations of economics and overall usefulness can be front of mind when planting an herb garden. It’s nice to have a supply of garden-grown herbs while cooking throughout the summer months, but there are also herbs that make little sense to grow on your own if space is limited. Why plant cilantro when you can buy it by the bundle for a dollar at the supermarket?
Ultimately, what you choose to plant depends largely on what you cook at home and the kinds of herbs you typically buy. Having a number of different fresh herbs handy means you can snip a little of this and a little of that for an impromptu blend of fresh herbs for mixing into savoury scones or biscuits, folding into an omelette, adding to marinades, turning into a bouquet garni or jazzing up a tomato sauce. To buy four herbs in packages at the store every time you want to use a blend can get expensive very quickly.
For advice, we turned to green-thumbed chef instructor Jess, who has experience working in restaurant kitchens that grow all their own fresh herbs. As someone with a patio garden of her own, she recommends herbs like Italian parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil and chives, to name a few. She also likes growing oregano and mint, but with a caution: “Be careful, because both can spread. If you’re going to plant them, keep them isolated.”
Another benefit of growing herbs is that you can grow things that are tough to find fresh at the grocery store. Fresh bay leaves are hard to track down outside of specialty shops, but they can be grown from a plant at home. For something more exotic, lemon verbena can be used in marinades or as a lovely flavouring for an ice cream.