No Big Dill
If I’m cooking I want the meal to be quick, fresh and tasty. The trick to pulling that off is to have fresh herbs available a few steps from the kitchen. May is a great time to put one together if you have a small space available in the sunshine, even if it’s just a few pots. Here are a few suggestions for some easy to grow plants that go a long way in the kitchen. As an added bonus, don’t call it an herb garden, call it a french potager. It’s a great way to annoy that snooty garden club friend of yours. “What, you have no potager? <in affected french accent> Tisk, tisk on you.”
If I could choose only one herb for the garden, it would be rosemary. I love the smell and taste of fresh rosemary, and here in Virginia it is perennial so it’s available even in the dead of winter. It can be grown in a pot, or given the space it will grow into a medium sized bush. If it likes where it is, it will quickly grow to the size where you can use the stripped branches as fantastic aromatic skewers or use them as decorative greens over the holidays.
Another garden workhorse is thyme. Culinary or English thyme can survive winters to -30 degrees, so they are a welcome addition in cold weather. It prefers a sunny spot with well drained soil, and it’s an attractive addition to a rock garden as it’s a low spreading plant. Like rosemary, once it’s established you can forget about it.
It would not be a Virginia herb garden without fresh basil. It’s an annual, so you’ll need to plant this each year. I start by picking up a pot of basil at a garden center, then plant basil seeds at the same time. Younger plants are best, so I’ll sow seeds about every three weeks to replace the older plants. Once the plants bolt or start to produce seeds the flavor changes and the leaves become tougher, so pinch off the seed heads as they develop.
Another friendly addition to the herb garden, excuse me, potager, is dill. Fresh dill has a wonderful subtle flavor that dry dill can’t duplicate. It is a fast grower with a short lifespan, so grow it from seed and plant it until midsummer for a constant supply.
Those are my top picks, but if you have the space I’d also include oregano, and marjoram, especially if you like making Italian sauces. They both need full sun, and trimming them occasionally encourages new growth. If you have some space left over, add a lavender plant. They smell great, attract pollinators, and are a wonderful addition to simple syrup. English lavender is not a fan of Virginia’ humidity, but I’ve had good luck with hardier varieties like Munstead. These sell out quickly at nurseries, so pick them up now.