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Easy herbs for a beginning gardener

QUESTION: What are some of the easiest herbs to grow in a new herb garden?

Let’s start with five of the most-used culinary herbs in a kitchen garden, as suggested by gardener Sara Plummer, a member of the Nashville Herb Society:

Basil

gb Basil GenoveseNeeds: Warmth, sun, well-drained soil; water regularly.

Varieties: Sweet basil is the most well-known, but there are other varieties with distinctive colors and flavors, including cinnamon, lemon, ‘Spicy Thai,’ ‘Purple Ruffles’ and many more.

Use in: Pasta sauces and salads, with mild cheeses, in rice dishes, and to make pesto.

Note: Basil is very tender and will be killed by cold temperatures, so don’t be in a rush to plant it if the temperature is not consistently warm. Basil is an annual, but if you let it flower and go to seed in the fall, the seeds will drop to the ground and likely will sprout next year when the ground warms.

Chives

gb ChivesNeeds: Moist soil in a sunny location; water regularly.

Varieties: The most common chives have purple globe-shaped flowers, but there are also pink- and white-flowered varieties, and garlic chives.

Use in: Eggs, salads, soups, potatoes, broiled meat or fish.

Note: Clip the long, tubular leaves as needed. Cut chives can last in the fridge about seven days; for longer storage, chop them and store them in the freezer. This hardy perennial grows from bulbs, and may need to be dug up and divided every few years.

Rosemary

gb Rosemary fitcNeeds: Well-drained soil in a sunny location. This is a tender shrub that may be damaged during extreme cold; some varieties are hardier than others (‘Arp’ and ‘Hill Hardy’ are two that do well here).

Use in: Meat, chicken and lamb dishes, fish, casseroles, tomato sauces, egg dishes, vinegars and oils.

Note: Rosemary is evergreen, so you can use fresh leaves all winter if the plant doesn’t succumb to extremely cold weather.

Thyme

gb Thyme motherNeeds: Well-drained soil, but thyme is tolerant of poor soil and dry weather.

Varieties: There are many species and different “flavors.” Popular varieties include ‘Silver Queen,’ lemon thyme, wild creeping thyme, wooly thyme and others.

Use in: Stews, stocks and marinades, stuffing, sauces, herb butters, oils and vinegars.

Note: Some thyme varieties are upright, some have a creeping habit. Trim thyme often to keep it from becoming woody. Harvest the leaves before the plant flowers.

Oregano

gb Oregano GreekNeeds: Well-drained soil in a sunny location.

Varieties: Some species are more flavorful than others, and some are more suited to decorative uses than culinary, so choose carefully. Greek oregano is a good, flavorful choice.

Use in: pizza, meat, tomato dishes, vegetables, oils and vinegars.

Note: Oregano is a perennial plant, but some are more hardy than others. Pick the leaves whenever you want to use them for cooking. They can also be dried or frozen.