HERBS ARE ENTICING AT EVERY STAGE OF THEIR LIVES.
Why plant a garden? Why bother with the time and expense of growing your own herbs? Now that it’s autumn and the garden has relaxed its demands, let’s just chat about this hobby and what we gain from it.
• Flavor. The most obvious benefit of an herb garden is to have a constant supply of the freshest herbs you can find anywhere, whenever you need them. And when the growing season winds down, you turn that last harvest into a stockpile of dried herbs that will have more taste than anything you can buy in a bottle at the grocery store. When you think of how much flavor herbs add to every meal you prepare (and the price of fresh herbs in the grocery store these days), that’s reason enough to grow your own.
• Beauty. A bountiful herb garden rewards the gardener throughout the seasons with color, texture, and sometimes breathtaking beauty. Herbs are enticing at every stage of their lives, from the fresh green of new growth in the spring and the explosion of flowering through the summer to the relaxed sprawl of autumn. Compared to tidy petunias and many other bedding plants, herbs are interesting and evocative, even if you never harvest a single leaf.
• Fragrance. When the sun warms the leaves, it releases the volatile oils that are the herbs’ source of flavor and fragrance, perfuming the air. Fragrances are often directly linked to memories, so you can sit in the sun in your garden, breathe deep, and be transported—to your grandmother’s lap or the fields of Provence, or anywhere else that fragrance memory takes you.
For the crafter, being able to capture and preserve those fragrances is a wonderful bonus; opening a container of potpourri in midwinter will bring back the summer. And every cook knows that fragrance is also a major component of taste. The heat of the stovetop releases the herbal scents the same way the sun does on a warm day in the garden. The aroma of that simmering spaghetti sauce will make you salivate.
• Health. Any garden can give you a good workout. The joy of gardening is not so much in the end product (after all, it’s never finished), but in the process. Weeding, digging, and hauling compost will get your muscles working almost as well as an aerobics class. In an herb garden, there’s the added benefit of being able to harvest medicinal herbs that can handle many of the bruises, headaches, and sniffles of everyday life.
• Creativity. You start with bare earth, and you create a garden that reflects your values and style, your desires and needs. It happens only because of you. The satisfaction and pride you gain in the privacy of your garden, you take out into the world. And if you’re growing useful plants that you can harvest for some purpose, you tap another kind of creativity that’s equally satisfying.
• Connections to the world. Ah, this is a touchy-feely benefit that can creep up on you over time. When you watch the bees busily working your lambs’-ears and agastaches, you’re not as prone to reach for a bee-killing pesticide for your neighboring tomatoes. When you grow basil and oregano for your dinner table, you don’t want chemical residues on your leaves, or for that matter, in your groundwater. You feel more connected to the earth, to preserving the goodness, appreciating nature’s bounty, and protecting your corner of the world.
And with herbs, the connections go back in time thousands of years. Monks in medieval times were growing and using the same plants you have in your backyard. Renaissance poets sang the glories of the same lavender you admire in flower. Shakespeare wrote of what these plants meant in his time and culture. The Bible is replete with references to plants that played some small part in ritual and worship.
What more can you ask of one little garden?
Kathleen Halloran, former editor of The Herb Companion, is a freelance writer and editor living in Las Vegas. She is a longtime herb gardener.