Savory Summer Herbs

It’s easy to grow herbs that taste great in home-cooked dishes and look attractive in your garden.

By Jan Wiese-Fales | Photos By NSphotostudio

Sweet basil and dill are annuals you can plant from seed and gather as you harvest mealtime vegetables this summer. Chives, oregano, rosemary and thyme, to name a few, are easy perennials that do better set out as plants. Tucked into established beds or grown in containers, you can harvest from these perennials throughout the growing season.

Here are some easy-to-grow favorites.

Herbs For Your Garden

Sweet basil boasts more than 40 edible varieties. Favorites include sweet-flavored Italian large-leaf basil, diminutive spicy bush basil—perfect for pots or edging beds—and fetching purple-leaved varieties such as Red Rubin. Plants range in height from 8 to 30 inches, and their crinkled leaves are as pretty as they are tasty. Pinch back the tips of basil branches, and remove blooms as they appear, in order to make your plants fuller and keep them in production. Basil can be dried easily for winter use.

Dill grows from 2 to 5 feet in height. Its edible, feathery foliage, called dill weed, is best eaten fresh. Umbrella-shaped yellow blooms mature to produce savory dill seed. Long Island Mammoth is a vigorous heirloom, and Bouquet is a versatile favorite. Dukat and Fernleaf are shorter varieties. At 18 inches, the latter is a perfect choice for your container garden.

Chives, hardy in zones 3–9, are a taste of spring. The 12- to 18-inch hollow shoots of this mild-flavored onion relative are best used fresh. Later in the spring, its edible purple blooms are beautiful in salads and as a garnish. Grown from bulbs, you can divide chive clumps every three to four years in early spring. You also can grow them on a very sunny windowsill for year-round enjoyment.

Oregano is a sprawling plant with smallish fuzzy leaves. Delicious fresh or dried, it grows to 12 inches and is harvested by pinching off sets of leaves a few inches down the stem to encourage side shoots for additional harvests. Of several available varieties, Greek oregano is the original and most flavorful. Hardy in zones 5-12, oregano prefers good drainage.

Rosemary is a 10- to 70-inch-tall evergreen shrub with narrow, leathery, heavily scented leaves. An especially attractive choice for containers, there are several varieties with growth habits ranging from upright to trailing. Fresh or dried, rosemary is harvested by pinching off branch tips. Hardy in zones 8-11, you can overwinter it in a window with six to eight hours of sunlight, or under lights. Rosemary prefers good drainage and air circulation.

Thyme is a tough perennial with stiff woody stems and small leaves. Growing from 4 to 8 inches tall, often with a trailing habit, many varieties make attractive ground covers. Lemon thyme, with its variegated leaves and citrusy flavor, is a standout. Harvest thyme before it begins to bloom by holding stem ends up in a bunch and snipping them off to use fresh or dried. Hardy in zones 2–9, thyme thrives in gritty soil and is drought-tolerant once established.