The local farmers market is finally open, and I’m in the car, driving, gardening trowel in hand. I march directly to the neighborhood herb stand, where I’m confronted by an embarrassment of riches. All of a sudden I’m in a panic; the world is a spinning blur of leafy greens. The next thing I know I’m sitting on the couch, totally herbless, eating a locally baked carrot cake straight from the box.
Starting your first herb garden can be a daunting task. The trick, according to local gardening gurus, is to start small and simple.
“We establish a planting plan every year,” said Magdiale Wolmark, chef and owner of Till Dynamic Fare. Till keeps a biodynamic garden out back of the restaurant, growing fresh vegetation for the menu.
A good first step is figuring out exactly what it is you want out of your garden.
Cilantro lends itself to multiple uses. Wolmark noted that it’s useful in all stages of its life—the leaves, raw cilantro seeds and as coriander seeds. Additionally, cilantro grows very much like a weed, which could be good or bad depending on your situation.
“You might just find it all over your garden,” Wolmark said.
Here is another great starter plant, according to Kate Wilson, horticulturist and education coordinator at Oakland Nurseries. Oregano acts as good ground cover as well, which is the plant equivalent of tossing a rug in a room that you don’t know how else to decorate.
Basil is the plant most first-timers gravitate toward, which makes sense as it’s generally hearty and easy to grow. Basil also lends itself to companion planting. This practice is when things are planted at the same time and pair well—such as tomatoes and basil, Wolmark said. This can be helpful in effectively utilizing herbs for a new gardener.
Lavender might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but Wilson explained that the plant tends to take off and grow quite easily. The other benefit is the smell.
The next step is figuring out where and how you want to plant your herbs.
“I think the vessel is a big deal,” Wolmark said. He stressed the idea of drainage. So if you’re thinking of going a DIY route, using something other than a traditional pot, you’ll want to modify it to allow for drainage.
“Herbs are pretty tolerant as far as living inside as long as they have that sunlight, but outside the sun is always there,” Wilson said.
Wolmark saw value in a garden but also touted the idea of starting small with potted plants. If you do choose to plant in a garden, be sure to mark it clearly. “In the beginning it can be hard to tell if that’s a weed or herbs emerging,” Wolmark said.
The last bit of advice is knowing how to snip your herbs. “You can’t just hack away,” Wolmark said. Typically you’ll want to pinch off new growth to use and leave old leaves so the plant can continue to grow. Wolmark suggested doing some research on each particular herb before you snip anything.
“An herb garden is an ongoing process,” he said. “It’s all in the process.”