5 Herb Container Garden Favorites

http://www.motherearthliving.com/Wiser-Living/5-herb-container-garden-favorites.aspx

00 Gina HeadshotIt has been a very busy spring and summer for me so far, but I finally carved time out of my schedule to visit Sunrise Garden Center, a local nursery in Lawrence, Kansas, that offers a large selection of specialty plants (including an endless supply of herbs).

Last year I completely rebooted my backyard patio by planting an abundance of herbs in containers, placing them high enough so as to keep them away from wayward rabbits and my hyperactive dog. I loved growing these herbs just outside my back door, and near my kitchen, for easy harvesting. (I always prefer adding fresh herbs over dried to my cooking.) So I was ecstatic to see a couple of my favorite perennials make a triumphant comeback this year. However, I miss many of the annuals from last year's garden, so I found myself back at the nursery to stock up on more herbs than I will know what to do with. So here you go: my five favorite container herbs for 2012.

Herb Container Garden 5-31-2012
You can grow nearly any herb in a container. Pick your favorites and get growing!
Photo by Brebca/Fotolia
 

5. Parsley. Many savory recipes call for a sprig of parsley. (Especially one of my all-time favorites from Cooking Light, Cider-Glazed Chicken with Browned Butter-Pecan Rice.) So it just made sense to add this popular garnish to my container garden. This Mediterranean biennial did not grow back after the winter, so I bought a couple curly-leafed varieties at the nursery and replanted them. This herb is easy to grow and especially useful.

4. Lemon Balm. What is there not to love about this European perennial? It's ridiculously easy to grow, attracts pollinators and emits an intoxicating lemony smell. Harvest it for delicious bedtime teas or grow it simply for its lovely aroma. I love showing it off to friends and family members. They're always amazed by how fragrant it is. This shade-loving herb can be particularly invasive, so it makes a great plant for pots. And if your lemon balm is like mine, it will come back year after year.

3. Basil. This herb is a favorite of many, and with good reason. Its flavor complements most any summer dishes, but it especially pairs well with Italian fare. Although there is an abundance of unique basil varieties—more than 60—I am sticking with the traditional 'Genovese' basil. I grew this half-hardy annual in my container garden last year, and enjoyed having it close by for fresh flavor. This year I bought basil at the nursery to plant again, and I am eager to try my favorite basil dish: Cut puff pastries (like the Pepperidge Farm brand that you can find in the frozen food aisle at your local grocery store) into little squares, drizzle with olive oil, garnish with goat cheese, sliced tomato and basil, and bake for 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Instant appetizer for large parties!

2. Peppermint. Similarly as invasive as lemon balm, peppermint will take over any garden it can. This perennial returned to my backyard with a vengeance, but I didn't mind. Summer mojitos, here I come. You can also harvest peppermint for tea, salads, fruit salsas and desserts. (Think homemade peppermint patties.) Or, just enjoy sitting outdoors as its fragrant leaves enhance your aroma.

1. Cilantro. This herb is an annual that didn't return in my back garden this year, and I have to say, my feelings are a little hurt. Especially when I list cilantro as my No. 1 container herb. But I'm willing to forgive and forget, as there is nothing I love more than Taco Tuesdays. Fresh cilantro, especially in the summertime, is the greatest thing in the world. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, but I tend to cook Mexican dishes more often during this time of the year than most, and I am a nut for cilantro flavor. (I'm not one of those people who "claim" it tastes horrible.) Whether it be fish tacos, burritos, quesadillas or salsa, I can't get enough of cilantro flavor. Although this plant isn't the easiest herb to grow, as it has never seemed to flourish in my garden quite as well as peppermint or lemon balm, I love its flavor too much to care.

So what about you? What are your favorite herbs to grow this year? Leave me a comment and let me know!