Eight Herbs for Your Perennial Herb Garden
Like all plants, herbs can be either annuals, biennials or perennials. Perennial herbs are among the most popular herbs for herb gardeners, since they grow for several years, giving you a continuous harvest for your kitchen.
Many can be dried or frozen for winter use, when the plants have either died back for the season, or are covered with snow, awaiting spring's warmth to once again bring them to life.
Plant your perennial herbs in their own garden space near the back door where they are in easy reach for cooking. You'll also love their aroma on a hot summer day when their fragrant oils disperse.
It is possible to grow them in containers, but most perennial herbs prefer a permanent position in the garden. Judge how you plant them by checking their hardiness. Thyme and sage are very hardy, for example, while your rosemary bush just won't tolerate much cold weather.
Growing and Using Herbs
Which Herbs Will I Choose?
Perennial herb gardens will give you an inexpensive and fresh supply of many herbs.
Just think, you'll have mint for your teas all year long, either fresh or dried.
You can add freshly chopped oregano to your tomato sauce, and fresh sprigs of thyme to give zest to your chicken soup.
Imagine stepping out the kitchen door for a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and stuffing them into the cavity of your Sunday roast chicken. Heavenly smells!
Eight of my favorite culinary perennial herbs just outside my kitchen door are mint, Greek oregano, thyme, chives, winter savoury, rosemary, sage and French tarragon.
Mint can be an invasive plant, but if you plant it in a bucket or bottomless container sunk in the ground, you can contain it somewhat. It has pretty purple flower on a small spike, and exudes a fresh smell. Its strong flavor complements lamb, peas, fish sauces, chocolate and vegetables. The leaves, harvested fresh, make a refreshing tea, or you can cut the stalks and hang them to dry for winter use.
I've set my mint plant into its own bed, and it has become a three foot wide monster this year. Several bundles are hung to dry in my pantry, and each day I brew a fragrant and delicious tea - still from the fresh leaves. However, the dried leaves are equally fragrant and delicious.
Oregano may not overwinter well in cold climates, but if you cut it back in fall and shelter it with straw, it will usually rejuvenate in spring.I find here in the Pacific Northwest, my oregano is green all year, and I can often use it fresh in winter months. However, it does not continue growing in cold weather, so I dry bundles every summer, and have the harvest to use over winter.
It's strong sage-like flavor is used in much Mediterranean cooking, and it goes well with tomato dishes. Oregano requires regular pruning, as it tends to sprawl, with the stems rooting where they touch soil. Snip fresh sprigs all summer for immediate use, and preserve it for winter by cutting long stems just before flowering and hanging bunches to dry. I find dried oregano retains its flavor very well.
Thyme has to be my favorite herb. It's small, aromatic, and flavorful. It takes virtually no care, and will grow almost anywhere. The plants will grow for years, and are very easy to propagate from cuttings.
Culinary thyme is a small shrub with tiny aromatic and flavorful leaves and small spikes of purple flowers. I use it widely with most meats, in soups and sauces, stews, stuffings, and even in breads. It likes a sunny spot, and needs clipping back in spring to encourage fresh new growth.
With its attractive flowers, even culinary thyme can be a good addition to a path border. For cooking, use it fresh or cut the sprigs before flowering, and hang them to dry. Rub the dry leaves from the stems and store them in a cool, dry, airtight container.
Chives are part of the onion family, and the green hollow spears add a mild onion flavor to salads, eggs, sauces, vegetables and dips. Just snip off the the leaves as needed. Add the flowers to your salads for both color and a mild onion flavor.
Chives are easily started from seed, and will soon expand to a clump of bulbs and tops. Thin the clumps every three years for best growth. The clump will die down in late fall, and in spring, the new green shoots are often the first green in the garden. Chives do not dry well, but it is easy to pot up a small clump for indoors over winter.
Winter savory is a bushy hardy perennial with a peppery flavor. It can be used to flavor teas, herb butters and herb vinegars as well as other dishes.
This herb does best in drier medium soil, since that is its natural habitat. As the shrub ages, the leaves become sparser, so take cuttings and start new plants every three years or so. This herb has been used for hundreds of years, and has some medicinal qualities as well.
Rosemary can grow into a lovely shrub, with its pine needle-like leaves and tiny blue flowers.The bees love it, so it will attract them to your garden. This plant can be used also as an ornamental, and if you're in the right area, a few rosemary shrubs will make a pretty hedge. The needles release a wonderfully pungent aroma when crushed or cut, and a few sprigs tossed in the bath make a refreshing soak for tired muscles after a hard day.
It is hardy only in zones 8 - 10, but can easily be grown in a container and overwintered in a cool sunny greenhouse or enclosed porch. With its pungent scent and flavor, rosemary can easily overpower a dish. Use it with roast chicken and meats, and in stews. Finely chopped leaves make a nice addition to breads and biscuits. It can be dried for winter use, or small twigs can be put in freezer bags and stored in the freezer.
Sage has a strong bitter flavor, and is generally used in stuffings, stews, sausages and herb breads. You'll find a little sage goes a long way in cooking.
It comes in many colorful varieties, with soft leaves in variegated colors of green, or in dark greens. It sports a very pretty flower spike, so as a small shrub, sage can be planted around the garden as an attractive filler plant. It will grow in most climates, and if cut back severely in fall, will come back well next spring. It also can be dried, and the dried herb retains its full strong flavor.
French Tarragon has slender green leaves with a licorice aroma and a loose shrubby growth. It cannot be grown from seed, but you can take cuttings from the new growth in fall to start new plants. Its heavy licorice flavor makes it a useful herb in vinegars, fish dishes, poultry and vegetables. Freshly cut foliage will last for several weeks in the refrigerator if wrapped in paper towels. It can be grown indoors for fresh taste all years round.
When buying a tarragon plant, make sure you have the true French tarragon, as other varieties do not have the same flavor, and are of no use in cooking.
Growing Culinary Herbs
Before You Plant
Before you plan your perennial garden, research each herb to familiarize yourself with the best growing conditions and soil type.
Decide which ones you will use in cooking, teas or herbal preparations. Having these fresh herbs growing in your perennial herb garden will supply you with both fresh and dried herbs for your home use throughout the year.
Questions & Answers
Will lemon grass grow as a perennial in southern Ontario?
Lemongrass only thrives in zones 8 - 10, so it would likely would not survive as a perennial in southern Ontario. Try planting it in a container (would need a large one) and protect it in winter or bring it indoors where it can go into a dormant state if you place it in a cool but dark spot.Helpful 11
I want to create a living wall on the back of my house. I have 10”w x 7”d x 7”h planters. I can bring them in during the winters in NY. Which herbs do you suggest for this size planter?
I assume you want culinary type herbs. The planter size will limit you somewhat to smaller plants - chives, parsley, basil, some oreganos, some mints, thyme, chervil, lemon balm, cilantro and summer savoury.Helpful 3
Which herbs like full sun?
The Mediterranean herbs like full sun - thyme, marjoram, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage, rue and lavender. Also, chives, fennel and dill. Others that do well in the partial sun are parsley, tarragon, chervil, mint and cilantro.Helpful 2
How are culinary herbs helpful in gardens?
Not only are these culinary herbs attractive additions to the garden, they all are useful in adding flavour, minerals and vitamins to your cooking. Many are perennials, so do not need to be replanted or replaced on a yearly basis.
What herbs are suitable for a mostly shady location?
Mint, cilantro and chives will be fine in partly shady areas. Most herbs prefer a sunny location. Try thyme, tarragon and lemon balm as well.
© 2009 Nicolette Goff