Herbs – Baker’s Dozen for Kitchen & Garden

Sometimes being the best (or perceived as the best) only involves a small detail.

Two Analogies:

When a two great horses are racing and one wins by a nose, the winner is titled “the best” although he only won by a small amount. (And sometimes that “win by a nose” can make the difference in thousands of dollars.)

In the Olympics or even professional sports — all players are deemed excellent.  But the winners — even if they only win by a tiny margin — are titled “the best.”

Herbs can give you this extra advantage in the kitchen. And having your own fresh herbs and their blossoms to draw from, increases that advantage even more.

Once you start learning more about herbs, I think you’ll feel like I do: Herbs belong in every garden or border and especially if you cook.


Keeping a few indoors is certainly an option if you have a bright southern exposure, but just don’t expect them to grow as robustly as they do outside. Even with a southern exposure the light will be a much lower intensity than it is outside.

Easy to Grow.  Easy to Fit-In.

Some of the most popular herbs are the easiest to grow and you can fit them in almost anywhere. Just make sure they will have good drainage, good light and good air circulation .  Some are annuals but a few will winter in your garden or borders and give you as much to use (or more) as they would in a window sill.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of popular herbs that I consider “must haves” and a few things about each that I thought might interest you.

Rosemary – If you’ve only seen this herb (or pictures of it) in a small pot, you’ll be amazed at how big it can get in the garden or border. It’s like an evergreen shrub and produces beautiful light blue, white, or purple flowers in the winter that make beautiful garnishes for a meal on plates or serving dishes.

Rosemary in bloom during the winter. Ornamental grasses grow behind.

I’ve read where it does not survive temperatures below 30F, but it has survived in my border in years the temperatures were in the teens or colder.  I guess a lot depends on how protected it is.

In my opinion, fresh is the way to go.  Wonderful roasted with fish or poultry.

For added flavor to meats or vegetables sprinkle rosemary leaves on the hot glowing charcoal while grilling.

Greek Oregano – the one that cooks say have the best flavor.  A classic for use especially with tomato dishes.

Easy to grow.  Spreads slowly.  (Mine is 3 foot clump after 10 years.) Winters over in my garden.

Oregano in my garden.

Sage – You’ll enjoy this herb especially it you make dressing for chicken and turkey.  Also good for a dressing stuffed roast.

I had cut this sage almost to the ground in early spring.

Can get fairly large.  Mine is about 3 feet tall with a 1 1/2 foot spread.  Winters over for me.

Thyme – A basic.   Use fresh or dried.  Use leaves and branches. Fresh thyme as a delicate scent that cannot duplicated.  Dried thyme is fabulous tossed with olive oil on roasted vegetables.

Can’t imagine a good stock or soup without it.

I grow it several places in my borders since it can be prone to dying out when you least expect it. Each makes a loose clump 1 to 2 feet across.  Winters over most years in my garden.

Lemon Thyme – Has the most delightful smell and is wonderful in salad dressings, tea, and with poultry.   Winters over most years in my garden.

Parsley – There are many bouquets garnis.  But almost all of these bunches of herbs used for flavoring stews, soups and sauces contain parsley.  Parsley is high in nutrients and makes a wonderful eatable garnish for almost everything.

I suggest growing several as annuals every year.  They winter over, but send up a seed stalk the following spring rather than giving you lots of usable foliage.


Basil –  Some folks consider Pesto the best reason for growing your own basil.  This mix of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, nuts, and parmesan is wonderful on pasta and just about anything else.

Grab all the gusto in the summer, because it doesn’t winter over. Fresh is definitely best. Make up pesto and freeze for winter use.  Best harvested before it blooms, although I harvest even after that when I need to.

Garlic chives – Leaves are delightful finely chopped and sprinkled on baked potatoes or in cheeses to use as appetizers.

They winter over and even in severe cold I can usually find enough to chop and garnish what I need. (If I were going to grow an herb inside, I would try my hand with a few chives potted up.)

Lemon Balm – I enjoy the leaves to serve with tea or chocolate desserts.

It reseeds prolifically.  Watch that it doesn’t take over your garden or borders. I’ll use lemon thyme as a substitute in years when I don’t have lemon balm.

Dill – Annual. Nothing like it. Fresh is the ONLY was to go, so I miss it when its finished.  Great for potato salad and baked potatoes.

Sow seed every week or so in spring to keep it going longer.  Save some seed so you’ll have it every year.

A volunteer dill seedling growing with lettuce in a friends garden.

Dill, fresh out of the garden.

French Tarragon – Fresh is the ONLY way to go.  Wonderful with chicken.  Put’s me in the mind of something like anise, but not quite.

I’ve had it winter over for me, and then die out the third year.  Forms a loose clump about 2 feet or more across.

Lavender – Lavender loves hot and dry.

I grow it just because it looks so good in my borders. But I try to remember to pick the blooms each year and put them in with my linens.  Makes my sheets smell so good.

Onions –  I’ve covered onions in other posts.  They go in just about everything and I don’t know how anyone lives without them —–or garlic.

Final Thoughts

I plant the majority of my herbs outside my garden.  Most don’t need my best soil and I can tuck them in where I think they will add to the overall look of my borders.

As you make your lists for Spring planting, why not include a few (if not all) the herbs mentioned here. I think you’ll enjoy the added advantage they give you.


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  • That was a great article and wonderful pictures. I’m inspired again.
    I just noticed your new archives. This is SUPER. So easy to use and find what I want to read about. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

  • Hi Theresa,

    Are all your herbs planted in full sun? My parsley & sage didnt do so well this summer in the heat. I’m sure part was my soil but can all the herbs handle full all day sun?

    Thanks as always!

  • Hi Beppy,
    I am still working on improvements and am almost finished, and was delighted that you noticed the changes. It will get better and I’ll let everyone know about it in the next post.

    So glad you enjoyed the post on herbs and were inspired. You inspire me continually!

    Again Beppy, thank you ——so very much.


  • Hi Sheri,

    Most of my herbs get lots of sun and don’t seem to mind.

    Nothing did as well this summer because of the severe drought. On the other hand —-
    Sage is pretty tough. Also not particular about soil. If it looks bad as Spring begins – try trimming it back a bit and give it another year.

    Parsley does benefit from better soil — but it should do ok in average. I’m not aware of mine suffering from the heat —but parsley is prone to root rot and the first indication is it being droopy. At first glance one would think it needed some water.

    You are very welcome. I am always happy to help.

  • Lemon Verbena sounds wonderful. I have never grown it — but might have to change that. 🙂

  • Theresa, I had almost given up on my oregano coming back this year, but I trimmed it back and noticed some tiny little sprouts down below! My spearmint has been up and running a couple of weeks now, so I really thought the oregano should be running neck and neck with it.

    My sage is several years old and I am wondering if I should start a new plant. Sage doesn’t seem to be long lived in my garden. And the rosemary is in an old whiskey barrel looking rather dead… but there is just a hint of green in the needles of one or two branches. I should probably transplant it into the ground?

  • Oregano has always been pretty hardy in my garden, Pat.

    Sage can start look pretty shaby after a few years. I cut mine back. You can take cuttings and start a new plant if you like.

    Rosemary definitely looks dead after this severe cold, but I’m going to leave mine until May or June to make absolutely sure its dead. I’ll start new plants but I use so much rosemary that a new plant will never be able to give me enough for fresh use. I’ll give the old plant every chance before removing it.

    Since you already have your rosemary in an old whiskey barrel, I would suggest leaving it for while to see if it is going to put out new growth. Start new plants this year and put one in the ground. Things always have a better chance in the earth.


  • Theresa, I haven’t had much luck trying to root cuttings. I need some training perhaps? If I start new rosemary and sage plants from seed, must I do that soon, so the plants reach a certain stage before next winter?

  • Pat, I’d start them about the first of April. (Or some now and then again in April.) For general instructions see my post https://tendingmygarden.com/cuttings-free-and-easy-way-to-new-plants/
    If your rosemary and sage plants look really bad now, I doubt that cuttings from them will be vigorous enough. You’ll either have to find strong plants to take cuttings from or wait and see what yours will do. Even May is not too late to start cutting if you tend the plants.

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