Gardeners' Dirt: Kitchen gardens bring herbs closer to home
By Charlie Neumeyer - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Dec. 6, 2012 at 6:06 a.m.
This time of year we are all consumed with homemade food and drink that tastes good and touches the heart. I need not have to tell you that fresh herbs can add terrific flavor to those food and beverage items, but I do want to suggest easy access to them for ease in preparation.
Bought vs. grown herbs
Most grocery stores now carry a selection of fresh herbs, but they can be expensive and, unless you plan ahead, they require another trip to the store. With fall being a good time to plant many types of herbs, those that you have way out in the garden are not in a spot that is convenient to the kitchen. So, instead of you going to the herbs, why not have the herbs come to you - and plant them near your kitchen?
Location, location, location
One of the nicest things about a kitchen garden is its proximity to where you cook. If a recipe calls for a snip of this or a pinch of that, it is really convenient if the herbs are just steps away. Dedicating a particular bed to herbs, or creating a whole new herb area, will make the chef's life easier and may serve as a creative spark in the cooking process.
My own garden
Because we just moved into a new home, I decided to create a small garden specifically for herbs. Located just off the back porch, the 18-by-12-foot area is just the right size to grow more than enough varieties of herbs to add interest to cooking. I built up the area with a concrete brick retaining wall and brought in soil to fill the area, adding compost for enrichment.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recommends that the site be sunny and well-drained and that a well-balanced fertilizer be added. The extension service does caution against the excessive use of nitrogen, however.
Tips for easy maintenance
For accessibility, taller herbs should be placed to the back of the area, and perennial herbs should be placed around the perimeter. This will allow you to add and remove herbs as the seasons change without having to re-plant the entire bed.
I added a concrete block walkway in my garden so that I can easily get to each herb. Drip irrigation and mulch help create a garden that is low maintenance and water efficient.
Choosing cool weather herbs
While many herbs can be grown during the summer, the list of herbs that are suitable for cool weather growing is more limited. I planted cilantro, both types of parsley, dill, garlic chives, multiplying onions and red-veined sorrel. I also planted arugula, salad bowl red lettuce and bronze and green fennel. While these plants are edible on their own, fennel and arugula are often used to spice up various salads, sauces and pasta dishes. All of these plants are considered by the extension service to be hardy for our area.
Other hardy herbs
Other herbs that are considered hardy are chamomile, chervil, salad burnet, lemon balm and mint marigold. Two perennial herbs that are often used as landscape specimens and are very hardy are rosemary and lavender. If you have the room, bay leaf ) does well in the area and will become a small tree about 15 feet high.
Because my kitchen garden is in a relatively protected area, I also planted opal leaf basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, garden sage, scented geraniums, Cuban oregano and lemon grass. While this sounds like way too many plants, remember that you only need one or two specimens of each to keep you well supplied.
Herbs with color and texture
Some of the herbs such as bronze fennel and red-veined sorrel provide color and textural elements to the kitchen garden. However, a little jolt of color always adds interest to a garden - no matter what kind of garden it is.
For color, I added marigolds, ornamental kale and yellow violas. The bright yellow really contrasts the green and bronze hues of the other plants in the garden.
All about flavor, convenience
Fresh culinary herbs have become mainstays in many kitchens, and they can become so in your kitchen also.
Whether you want to add the subtle flavor of parsley or a strong jolt of flavor from fennel or rosemary, a variety of tastes can be just a few steps away in a nearby kitchen garden.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.