Category Archives: Herb Gardening

Salad Garden in One Square Foot

Building a Square Foot Garden
You don’t need much room to grow a salad garden. In fact, salad gardens are perfect for the Square Foot gardening technique first developed and popularized by Mel Bartholomew about 10 years ago.  A square foot garden can comfortably live just outside your kitchen door, or on your back patio, as long as it gets plenty of sun and water.

The Square Foot Garden Theory
The idea behind square foot gardening is to maximize growing space by subdividing a garden plot into one foot squares, and replanting them as soon as you finish harvesting the crop from the last plant. This keeps the soil in use, and by paying attention to which crops you grow in which square, you avoid depleting the soil of important nutrients.

A Square Foot Salad Garden
Start by building a four foot by four foot raised bed for your plants. Place it where it gets southern light so that there’s as much sun as possible throughout the day. If you’re gardening directly on the ground, all you’ll really need is a 4×4 foot wooden frame, though you certainly can get decorative with rock walls and other methods of building raised beds.

Fill with high quality soil mix enriched with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer – or use good organic compost, depending on your own beliefs in gardening. I personally recommend composting as both less expensive and healthier.

If you choose to start your plants from seed directly in the bed, plant immediately after the danger of frost is past. In northern states, this really isn’t as feasible – the growing season will be far too short. Start plants indoors about four to six weeks before the last frost is expected, and transplant outside after the last frost.

Divide the bed into one foot squares – you’ll have sixteen of them. Each square can support one of the following:
1 tomato plant
4 lettuce plants (plant several varieties)
6 onion sets
6 garlic sets
6 chive sets
2 cucumber plants
4 marigold plants
16 carrot plants
4 herb plants
4 nasturtium plants
4 mini cabbages (Cole slaw anyone?)

Plant tomato plants and other taller plants toward the back of the bed, with shorter plants progressively planted toward the front. Keep well-watered throughout germination/growing season.

You can begin harvesting lettuce and greens as soon as they have 8-10 leaves – pick just enough for a salad, making sure to leave at least three leaves on the plant for them to regenerate. By harvesting leaves instead of entire heads, you’ll get to eat the greens far sooner, and prolong their growing season for weeks. Harvest tomatoes and cucumbers as they ripen, being careful not to let them go to seed too early to extend the growing season. Marigolds and nasturtiums are both delicious in salads, but they serve the additional purpose of helping to keep your garden pest free. Harvest the flower heads frequently once they start opening to keep the plants blooming.

As plants go to seed, clean out their square and replant with a different variety to cycle the nutrients in the soil. Dig in compost when you replant, but otherwise, your salad garden should need little care other than regular watering and harvesting.

And do harvest often – the more you harvest, the more they’ll produce. Bon appetit!

Tea Garden

Is there anything more refreshing on a hot summer day than a tall glass of iced tea with a sprig of fresh mint? Or a more calming end to a long day than a steaming infusion with chamomile or mint? A tea garden can ensure that you have a steady supply of your favorite herbs – and it’s surprisingly easy to grow.

Most tea herbs grow quite happily in moderate sun, so choose a spot that gets about 6 hours of full sun a day. If you choose to grow your tea herbs directly in the ground, be aware that many of them will spread voraciously, choking out any other plants nearby. To prevent that, sink bottomless buckets or baskets into the ground and plant the herb plant inside it to help control the roots. Of course, if you choose to garden in containers, that won’t be a problem at all.


Chamomile is a very pretty, lacy annual (though there is one variety that is a perennial) that grows about 2 feet high. It likes partial shade to full sun, and sandy, dry soil. The tea is made from chamomile flowers rather than leaves. Harvest regularly once the plants start to flower. To dry chamomile, cut stems back to new leaf growth and tie in loose bunches. Hang upside down in a dry, dark place till the leaves are crumbly. Or: dry just the flower heads on drying screens in the oven or in the sun.


Catnip has been used for medicinal teas for colds and stomach upsets since ancient times. Its most often combined with other herbs – lemon balm and lemon grass are particular favorites. The plant is a perennial that grows readily in dry, sandy conditions, but can be coaxed along in nearly any sort of soil or light conditions. Added bonus: catnip is a natural pest repellent, both in the garden and dried. To take advantage of its pest repellent properties, dry and place in cloth pouches and tuck under baseboards or closets. Tea is made from dry or fresh leaves, combined with chamomile, comfrey or lemon balm.

Lemon Balm

A hardy, drought-resistant perennial, lemon balm grows so readily that it is actually considered a pest plant in some parts of the United States. The plant looks a lot like mint – to which it’s related – and has a hint of minty flavor to it. Like most other tea herbs, it can be used either dried or fresh, though the dried leaves have a more intense flavor. The plant grows about 24 inches tall, and must be pinched back and pruned often to keep it under control.


Ah, mint! There are so many varieties of mint that you could easily plant a mint garden with no other plants at all. At last count, there were an estimated 6,000 varieties – and growing, since the plant cross-pollinates so easily. It’s also the most pernicious spreader of all the herbs. One plant will take over an entire garden within two seasons if it’s not contained. Mint likes rich soil and light shade, but will grow in almost any conditions. It also makes a great, easy to maintain house plant.

Some favorite mint varieties for tea are:
Peppermint – of course! Peppermint is the most popular of all the mints, with its sharp, spicy, cooling tastes.
Spearmint – the mint of mint juleps. Spearmint grows readily in any climate.
Apple mint – a hint of fruity flavor underlying the cool, fresh taste of mint
Chocolate mint – yes, chocolate! This one is far better with dessert than as a tea. Crush the leaves and whirl in a blender with vanilla ice cream for an incredible treat.

Herbs for a Spaghetti Garden

One of the more popular types of kitchen gardens is a spaghetti garden. Oregano, basil, garlic, bay and parsley are such easy to grow plants that it’s a pity for anyone to use dried and bottled herbs if they have a sunny patch of ground or a window-box. A few square feet of garden space can easily yield all the herbs that you’ll need for delicious Italian meals. They’re even easy enough to grow in a sunny window for year round use.

Bay Laurel

Bay leaves add a piquant hint of spice to stews, soups and especially spaghetti sauce. The bay laurel is a small tree that grows slowly – about a foot per year – making it eminently suitable for growing in a container. Unless you live in a mild climate zone (where the temperatures don’t drop below 25 degrees in the winter), you’ll do best to keep the tree in a pot and bring it indoors during the winter.


Basil is an annual, but it seeds itself so easily that I’ve never had to buy another after planting my first year. There are many varieties of basil, but all grow fast and require frequent pinching back to keep them from growing leggy and tall. To harvest: when the plants have reached about 6-8 inches tall, you can begin harvesting. Simply use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off the top 1/3 of the plant, just above a leaf intersection. Be sure to pinch off any flower buds before they go to seed. Six to eight plants will provide enough basil to make pesto for the entire neighborhood.


Garlic is possibly the easiest plant in the world to grow. Simply break apart a clove of garlic (yes, right from the grocery store!), and plant the cloves about 4 inches apart, 2-4 inches deep in light soil. Water lightly, and watch them grow. Harvest when tips of leaves turn brown – do NOT let them flower. To harvest: dig up the bulbs, and use them. In the interests of keeping a fresh supply going, plant one or two cloves from each bulb!


Parsley is easily the most used herb in the world. It comes in both flat (Italian) and curly varieties, and complements the flavor of everything from delicate sauces to hearty stews. It’s often used as a garnish on plates, or chopped and added to soups, dressings and salads. It adds vitamins and color, and subtly brings out the flavor of other ingredients in the meal. The parsley plant is a biennial, flowering in its second season. It prefers a little shade on a hot sunny day, and should be kept well watered to avoid wilting and drying. To harvest: pinch back woody older stems all the way to the base, allowing new leaves and branches to grow.


A perennial ground cover plant, oregano is a prolific grower that can send out shoots that grow up to six feet in a single season. If encouraged with pruning and bunching, oregano can grow into a small border plant. It prefers light, thin soil and lots of sun, so keep it on the south side of your garden. Harvesting can start when the plants reach 4-5 inches. Simply pinch back as you would basil. The young leaves are the most flavorful part of the plant, and are actually considerably stronger dried than fresh. To dry, lay the harvested leaves out on newspaper or drying screens in the sun until the leaves crumble easily. Dried oregano will retain its flavor for months.

Savory Soups and Salads Flower Garden

When I was growing up, one of the most special treats of early summer was my grandmother’s fried squash blossoms. Dipped in egg and flower, then fried in olive oil with garlic, the blossoms have a sweet, nutty flavor that is like nothing else in this world. Other garden flowers that are delicious in soups and salads include:

Borage – Like the leaves, borage flowers are delicious in salads and cold soups. They have a cool, cucumber like taste that translates well from flower garden to kitchen table.

Carnations – The flavor is as spicy as the scent. Carefully separate the petals from the bitter white of the flower’s base and sprinkle in salads for a surprising touch of color and spice.

Daylilies – Like squash blossoms, day lilies have a mildly sweet, nutty flavor that many people think varies by color. Dredged in flour and dipped in egg, fried daylilies are a succulent vegetable.