Herbs and spices have been cultivated for thousands of years for use in food, medicines, fragrances and clothing, and even for agricultural purposes. Early American settlers brought herbs to their new homeland, and herbs consisting of native and non-native species were an essential part of their gardens. Although the need for freshly grown herbs and spices have waned in modern times with the advent of grocery stores and supermarkets, gardeners now are rediscovering the pleasure of growing many of these plants at home.
When planning an herb and spice garden, consider a sunny location that is close to the kitchen. Herbs and spices that are easily accessible will be more frequently used. An herb and spice garden should receive at least six to eight hours of sunlight each day and should be planted in well-drained, moderately fertile soil. Herbs and spices that are planted in hot, sunny locations will thrive and produce higher levels of the fragrant oils that give them their unique flavor and smell.
A wide variety of herb and spice plant seeds, as well as young transplants, are available at local nurseries and garden centers during the warm growing season. Select seeds or plants that will be used frequently. Beginners often select sweet basil, rosemary, mint and parsley as plants for their first gardens because they are easy to grow. Also select plants that will grow within the confines of the selected garden space. Herb and spices can be grown as landscape border plants, in rock or container gardens or as a formal garden of their own.
Prepare the planting area by removing any rocks, debris or unwanted vegetation. Adding compost prior to planting will improve the quality of the soil. Sow seeds directly in soil in early spring according to the directions on the package. Young herb transplants should not be planted until the danger of frost has passed. Dig holes for transplants twice as large as the root ball, place in the hole and then cover the plants with soil up to their original planting depth.
Make sure the herb and spice plants are properly spaced to accommodate future growth. Adding a layer of organic mulch around transplants, or seedlings after they emerge, will help the soil retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing. Mint should be planted in a separate or contained area, otherwise, once it becomes established, it can quickly overrun other plants.
Caring for the Garden
Herb and spice gardens need approximately 1 inch of rain or irrigation water per week to grow properly, so regular watering is essential, particularly during periods of drought. Soil that is highly fertilized usually produces leafy herb plants, but poorly flavored leaves, so do not over-fertilize. Fresh leaves can be cut from plants as soon as they are large enough to maintain their growth. Seeds, such as coriander and fennel, can be used for cooking or dried and used for planting next year's garden.