The Best Herbs for an Herb Garden
When I first started having success as a gardener—like filling-entire-baskets-with-delicious-harvests-type of success—it was with herbs.
There was the rosemary plant that I managed to keep alive all winter in my kitchen window and then planted outdoors in the spring. There was the oregano that my mom planted by seed after I'd had my second baby and that grew and grew even though I did nothing to tend it (the herbs, not the baby). And there were the chives that I kept in a little pot by the back door and snipped from whenever I needed a fresh flavor for a dish.
When I think of these herbs, I recall pride at keeping a plant alive for the first time, awe at how hardy those oregano plants were in the face of my pretty severe neglect, and excitement at the prospect of never having to buy rosemary from the grocery store again.
Herbs are the perfect starter plants for new and would-be gardeners. They don't require much space, much sunlight, or even much tending.
If you're looking for a place to start, you've come to the right page. Learn to grow herbs successfully first, and then you can branch out to plants that require more from you.
But, how do you actually start an organic herb garden? Like with everything I do, I like to learn about the plants first.
The best way to start an herb garden is to categorize herb plants
Before you start your herb garden, you should definitely get to know herb plants and understand their needs. In general, herb plants are quite different from most other plants in the vegetable garden. Their needs and care demands are unique to them—unlike tomatoes, squash, beans, or even lettuces.
So, before heading out and buying a bunch of herbs from the store, it's important to learn more about each plant and discover its particularities.
My favorite way to do this is to learn which plant family each herb plant belongs to. In fact, I love this method so much, I made a whole video about it. You can watch it here.
By learning the key herb plant families, you'll begin to be able to categorize the herb plants you want to grow and understand each plant's unique growing needs.
Your membership gives you access to our complete Gardenary course library, including the popular garden course Herb Garden Guide and our brand-new course Year-Round Herb Harvests.
Herb Garden Plant List
Herb Plant List in the Lamiaceae Family
Herb Plant List in the Apiaceae Family
Herb Plant List in the Asteraceae Family
Herb Plant List in the Onion Family
Learn the Main Herb Plant Families
I recorded a video to introduce you to the main herb plant families right here. Once you know the main plant families for the key herbs you want to grow, you'll know how to start your herb garden.
The second step to start an herb garden is to create a growing space
Once you begin to understand herb plant families and their unique needs, it's time to create a special space for them to grow. As you'll learn as you discover the herb plant families, few of the ones we enjoy in our kitchen originated in our home state.
So, when you set up your herb garden, your main goal is to re-create an environment for your herb garden that feels like home to them. In other words, setting up an herb garden usually requires you to engineer a unique space with a different soil blend, perhaps a different level of water, and maybe even a raised garden. Creating a space that will feel similar to the area where your herb plant originated will make your herb garden so much more successful. Your herbs will literally be making themselves at home.
I've found the most success with starting an herb garden in a raised garden or container, rather than growing herbs directly in the ground. This is mostly because I've usually gardened in areas with clay soil, and few if no herbs originated in an area with heavy and wet clay soil. So, a raised garden or containers provides a much better soil for herbs to grow that feels a lot more like home, particularly if you add a soil that drains quickly.
Instead of growing each herb separately in its own little pot, I've found better success growing several herbs together in one larger container. Herbs don't need a lot of space to themselves, and larger containers allow them to reach for more resources (like water and nutrients from the soil) when they're struggling. If you've killed your fair share of herbs before, it might have been due to growing them in a small container that dried out very quickly. (Learn how to set up an herb container garden.)
All the Tools You Need to Grow Herbs in One Package
Gardenary's Herb Tool Package includes a mini dibber, mini pruners, herb scissors for harvesting, and wooden plant labels.
The third step to set up an herb garden is finding great herb sources
Just buying an herb plant from a big box hardware store is likely not the best way to start out your herb garden, at least in my experience.
Most of these herb plants at large franchise stores have traveled quite a distance before reaching the store and have most likely been treated with fungicide or synthetic fertilizers so they look great when you see them at the store. If you don't continue to feed them the same fertilizers or fungicides when you get them home, chances are, they'll either just sit there and not grow or just give up being green entirely.
So, now you know what not to do. Where, then, can you get great herb sources for your herb garden?
Some herbs are best started from seed in your garden. These include cilantro, parsley, dill, and basil. Other herbs are better to purchase from a local nursery or grower or propagate from a neighbor or friend's cutting.
When buying herbs from a local store, be sure to ask your grower how they grew your herbs, if they used any synthetic fertilizers, and if they have any recommendations for growing them at home. In my experience, the more local the nursery you buy your herb plants from, the better.
When buying herb seeds, be sure you're buying from a source that's serving up organic, non-GMO seeds. Some of my favorite sources are Baker Creek, Botanical Interests, Southern Exposure, and High Mowing. Just one packet of each variety is plenty to fill your herb garden with loads and loads of fresh herbs.
The Herb Garden Guide is a four-module online course that leads you through every step in setting up, planning, planting, tending, and enjoying your own delicious organic herbs from your own raised bed or container herb garden. You can get full access to the Herb Garden Guide inside Gardenary 365.
When starting an herb garden, learn first, buy last
You can absolutely have a ton of success in your herb garden. Herbs are one of the simplest and most prolific things to grow in your kitchen garden. The trick to success, though, is not to head to the plant store, and definitely not to the hardware store, right away.
Instead, learn first. Discover the plant family each herb you want to grow belongs to and create a special space for your herbs that will feel like home. Then, and only then, can you head to the plant store... but make it local. When you learn first and buy last, you save tons of money and frustration, and those plants that were going to die anyway don't end up doing so under your watch.
When you learn first and buy last, you're well on your way to having herb garden success. And just like me, you'll soon look back on years of gardening and remember the herbs that first made you believe you actually had a green thumb (because you definitely do!).