Updated: May 19
Whether you've tending an ornamental yard in town, or you're an apartment dweller with just a window sill, it's possible to grow your own edible plants. To my mind, the most fun and easy-to-grow plants also deliver the most bang for the buck, flavor-wise. These are the herbs—the plants we grow specifically for their fragrance. The ancients were awed by this invisible power and used herbs in ceremonies, for healing the sick and injured, and fortifying a healthy constitution.
Hitting the herb trifecta
The big secret? Herbs pack a lot of nutrition—herbs are the vitamins of the plant world! Rather than buy herb bundles that are hard to use up before they go brown, grow them at home and pluck your herb pinch fresh. You don't need much of an herb to add a distinctive note to a dish.
More to herbs than taste
Herb plants yield as much aromatically as they do visually. You can grow a splendid variety: from tiny-leaved, low-growing thyme that grows judiciously between paving stones to 4-foot-tall feathery fennel and dill to grow along the backs of herbaceous borders.
The herb family trifecta lands with breathtaking flowers and foliage. Chives (onion greens) posture pretty purple or white pompoms; anise hyssop shoots violet spikes; and lemony herbal marigold has hundreds of delicate yellow and orange flowers. Other herbs have leaves that present striking hues. Pineapple sage has spiky chartreuse leaves; sweet basil can be purple, green and white, or a mixture; fennel comes in a gorgeous bronze.
Grow your own
Herbs can easily be grown in an over-sized window box or other container in good sun and most of them tolerate poor soil conditions quite well. They are survivors—many are perennial or self-seeding and will grow year after year. Herbs evolved their strong odors and flavors to repel grazers and their strategy works—deer, groundhogs, and other garden-raiders usually leave herbs alone.
Plan to grow your herbs in the sunniest part of your yard or window, as part of a border or in a bed. They also make great container plants—think of placing them in containers near seating areas where you'll be close enough enjoy the wafting scents, and even pluck a leaf to add to a cold drink.
A good place to learn about the amazing variety of herbs is to browse the seed company websites. Our local Hudson Valley Seed Company is the good place to start. There you will find seeds for plants especially happy growing where I live. Other good companies are
Lots of local nurseries also carry seeds. If you have experience starting seeds, want to grow rarer varieties, or want lots of plants, growing from seed is a good way to go. Start your seeds indoors in March.
If you're a beginning gardener or gardening on a small scale, consider buying "starters." In general, one or two plants of each type will provide you with plenty of herbs for the kitchen. So it might be cost-effective to buy small plants from a local nursery or a Cornell Cooperative Extension Plant Sale. What you'll pay for a plant or two won't be not much more than the cost of a seed packet. Plus, when shopping locally, ask for advice from the very growers who nurtured the herb plants. Lots of great local nurseries sell their herb plants from the end of April until they run out. Be adventurous and try something new!