Fragrant, flavourful and fun to grow, culinary herbs should be on every gardener’s planting list. Fast-growing annual herbs, which grow to maturity in one season, are easy to start from inexpensive seed, or you can use purchased seedlings. Whether you plant them in containers or garden beds, these six easy annual herbs are sure to please.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
There is no reason to hurry to plant basil, which needs warmth and sunshine to flourish. The little seeds sprout quickly under warm conditions, so you can start them on your deck or patio in late spring. Meanwhile, you might buy a few basil seedlings to get a head start on the season. When shopping, look for containers that hold several plants. Gently repot them into individual containers, and then give the plants time to grow vigorous new roots before setting them out in the garden once the weather has warmed up.
Basil comes in many types and colours, but the most popular culinary types are Genovese basils. Try two or three varieties each season to sample different flavours and leaf types.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
The fastest annual herb to grow from seed sown directly in the garden, borage produces beautiful starry blossoms that attract bumblebees and other pollinators. Very young leaves are edible, with a subtle cucumber flavour, but older leaves have numerous soft spines. The large plants can become leggy, but pruned branches make a good addition to the compost pile. While borage is famous for reseeding heavily, unwanted seedlings are easy to recognise, and easily pulled out.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
If you like coriander (not everyone does), get into the habit of sowing a few pinches of seeds every few weeks. Coriander tends to bolt quicky when days are getting longer in spring, but this is a good thing. If you let a few early plants bloom and set seeds, you can eat the flowers and green seed pods as herbs, followed by a good crop of coriander seeds. Pile the expired plants where you want cilantro to grow next year, and the crop will plant itself.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Sniffing the fresh green apple scent of crushed chamomile blossoms should be among every gardener’s summer pleasures. The tiny seeds are willing germinators, even when direct-sown into cold spring soil. Chamomile seedlings are distinctive with their plump, ferny, finely cut leaves that grow into a tiny rosette. Should you want to correct spacing of direct-sown chamomile, carefully lift plants from below with a spoon, and move them to their new location. If you have grown chamomile in recent years, look for volunteer seedlings among early spring weeds, and transplant them to a more promising spot.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Planning to make pickles this year? Dill needs a head start to provide flavourful flower heads for pickling season. Go ahead and start some dill seed indoors so the seedlings can be set out around your last frost date, or about the time you plant your cucumbers. I like to plant more dill in midsummer for use in the kitchen until freezing weather stops its growth. After all, garden potatoes and beans go great with fresh chopped dill.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
You will use more parsley than any other herb, so it’s best to handle parsley as a cool-season annual (parsley is actually a hardy biennial). Start with a fresh packet of seed, because older parsley seeds tend to be erratic sprouters. Sow some seeds now for growing under lights, and set the plants out a few weeks before your last frost date. Start more parsley seeds in midsummer to grow in the autumn.
You can buy parsley seedlings in the interest of convenience, but disregard the myth that parsley seedlings are difficult to transplant, because they are really quite tough. Take care to minimise root disturbance when potting parsley seedlings into larger containers, keep them moist, and you should not lose a one.