By: Amy Grant
Do you love to cook French cuisine and long to have the fresh herbs on hand to create a Provencal masterpiece? Growing French herb plants in a true French herb garden design or “jardin potager” is really quite simple.
The first things you will want to do are to look at a list and obtain the most common herb varieties necessary for replicating French dishes. Some “must-have” French herb plants include:
Bay leaf is also a nice addition to the French herb garden.
Most of these herbs are native to the Mediterranean and are used in combinations to create three classic herb blends. It is a good idea to grow each combination of herbs in a group so they can easily be picked together for the blend.
The potager, or kitchen garden, dates back to medieval times when nuns and monks grew combinations of herbs, flowers, and vegetables outside of the cooking area for use in foods or as medicine. Often these gardens were placed in geometric configuration and separated by color or shape. During the Renaissance, borders and the placement of decorative items, such as urns and fountains, were added to beautify the French herb garden.
You may choose a classic French herb design that is geometric, as in a spiral; or since French herbs are fairly hearty, they can be grown in a window box or large pot on the veranda. Any of these will require a location with six to eight hours of sun per day and well-draining potting media. Ideally, situate the French herb garden near the kitchen or house for ease of use when cooking your French magnum opus.
Because some herbs are perennial and some annual, mixing them together will add interest and keep the garden producing throughout various seasons. Basil and summer savory will die off with a frost. Rosemary is only hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6 or higher. Parsley is a biennial, which dies after two years and yet it reseeds itself so readily that you will no doubt have an eternal supply.
Low growing herbs such as tarragon, thyme, summer savory, and marjoram should be planted at the forefront of the garden so they do not get shaded from the sun. Lavender, rosemary, and winter savory are dense in growth and will do well as border plants. You will want to do a little individual research on each herb, as they all have slightly different requirements.
Dig the soil down 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20.5 cm.) and amend with compost or peat moss, or in beds with light soil. The goal here is to create well-draining soil. Water as the soil becomes dried out a few inches (7.5 to 12.5 cm.) away from the plant to encourage the roots to search for water.
Pinch flowers back on the French herb plants to encourage vigor, except the chive and lavender which can remain in bloom. Intersperse some annual color if you like within your French garden or embellish with a statue, benches, or another yard decor. Other natural touches, such as finial shrubs or low boxwood hedges, add additional beauty and bring attention to the garden.
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Read more about General Herb Care
Last Updated: January 22, 2020 By Virginia
Having access to fresh herbs can transform an ordinary meal into something special
Having your own culinary herb garden is something every home cook or chef should include in their bag of tricks.
Almost anyone can learn to chop vegetables, saute a few onions or roast a turkey. However, mastering the art of using herbs to bring out the best flavor of the food is what transforms the ordinary meal into something to be remembered.
By having fresh herbs nearby, it becomes much easier to experiment and start creating new and flavorful dishes your family is sure to appreciate. And once you master a few of the basics, it’s a fairly easy process.
Setting up an herb garden is an ideal way to start experimenting with the many uses of herbs. Herbs are one of the easiest plants to grow and should have a place in any home cook’s garden. Explore the many types and ways to grow and cook with culinary herbs on our site.
Although they’re loved by seasoned gardeners too, Hollie Newton – author of How to Grow – says herbs are a “beginner gardener’s dream, because they’re pretty much the easiest thing to grow.”
It’s better for your bank balance and the environment too. Growing your own parsley, rosemary or mint will mean you’ll no longer have to buy those cellophane-wrapped fresh herbs from the supermarket, that tend to go bad after a few days causing wastage.
According to Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturist at the RHS, herbs are also great if you’re short on space. “You can easily grow them on a sunny window sill or on a balcony,” he says.
But the ease and simplicity of growing herbs isn’t the only reason to get started. “As we’re all becoming more aware of the environment and where our food comes from, there’s something so interesting, satisfying and reassuring about cooking something you have grown,” says Barter.
For Newton, growing herbs – among other plants – also works wonders for her mental wellbeing. “I love gardening because you can’t rush it – it takes its own time, and there’s something really soothing about that in this world of speed and smartphones,” she says. “Watching something grow from nothing is really magical.”
You can try any you like! “I’d start with the dependable, everyday-cooking herbs, like basil, sage, coriander, mint and rosemary,” Newton suggests. “But you can try out so many interesting varieties. I am currently growing Moroccan mint outside my back door, and lemon thyme which works amazingly with chicken. I also love growing chives, because the flowers are edible and they look great in salads.”
Seeds and plants have become increasingly more straight forward to get hold of over the course of the pandemic, as many garden centres and retailers have pivoted online to keep up with demand, although there are some ways to find herbs in person, too.
“You can buy pots of rosemary or basil from the supermarket, and transfer them into a different pot or bed at home, so you can nurture them and keep them growing,” he recommends. “You can also buy big bags of coriander seeds from some shops and sow those – these can take around six weeks to grow but they still work really well.”
“If you start growing them in spring, they will grow well throughout the summer," says says Guy Barter. "Herbs like thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage and oregano are pretty hardy and will keep all winter.”
Alongside your seeds or plants, you will also need pots – but according to Barter, these don’t have to be anything fancy. “You can either use smaller pots to separate them, or one bigger, longer, pot,” he says.
“But if you don’t have anything to hand, you can even use containers from the supermarket with holes in the bottom to ensure they have good drainage,” adds Barter.
Then, you’ll need to fill them with potting compost – although both Newton and Barter agree that if you can’t get hold of any, some soil from the garden will work just fine.
“You don’t need any other specialised equipment, except maybe a trowel would come in handy,” says Barter. Just grab a watering can or spray bottle and you're all set.
If you have a plant, simply put it into a pot, and surround it with soil or potting compost. “If you’re using a bigger pot outside, I recommend placing some gravel or stones at the bottom to aid drainage, before filling with good quality peat-free compost,” says Newton.
If you’re using seeds, Barter recommends sowing about one dessert-spoon full into the soil before covering it up. Then give everything a good water, and get ready to watch them grow!
“By and large, all herbs need the same treatment – which is moderate and regular watering. You shouldn't saturate the soil too much the top of the soil should be dry before you water them again,” says Barter. “And plenty of sunlight! Chives and mint prefer a cooler, wetter environment so you could move them somewhere shady and reserve the best light for your rosemary and thyme.”
“It’s best to harvest your herbs in the early morning, when the essential oils are at their most abundant,” recommends Newton. “Try not to pick all of your herb’s big tasty leaves right away, as they are like the herb’s power station. Take a mixture of small, new leaves, and big older ones when you go picking. You’ll find you have a healthier, happier, far more leafy plant for longer.”
As long as you tend to them, many of your herbs will continue growing for months to come. But you can also make new herbs from your old plants, by doing cuttings.
“With herbs like rosemary or thyme, you can take a tip of 3-4 inches long, remove the leaves on the lower half and then put it in a pot of compost. Cover it with a plastic bag to stop it drying out, and then the following spring, you will have roots that you can use to start growing again,” Barter explains. “If you stop tending to them, you can let them run to seed, and then store the seeds away to reuse them next year.”
And remember, if any of your herbs die, don’t beat yourself up over it. “If you haven’t done it before, it can be a learning experience,” suggests Barter. “If you accidentally kill it, don’t worry. You can keep trying again.”
For more information about how you can get involved with gardening, visit rhs.org.uk.
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Submitted by zeeshan on October 31, 2020 - 11:29am
good knowledge about herbs
i have written an article about herbs health benefits.please visit it too
Submitted by Tina on January 18, 2016 - 10:18am
it is so small and if you try to enlarge it, the image becomes blurry.
Submitted by m.art on August 18, 2014 - 9:51am
hey there im trying to propagate rosemary in water. but the tips of the leave s leep on curling up and going black, then i got this reply from another herb site
"Sorry for the delay in response. You cannot root rosemary in water, as the oxygen content is too high. The only herb that roots well in water is mint. Rosemary cuttings have to be rooted in a special cutting medium with sand, perlite, and peat moss. They have to be kept misted in indirect sun to root properly. It is not an herb that roots easily"
which is correct thanks
Submitted by Alli Ann on January 11, 2015 - 4:25pm
Every June (in zone 5 Illinois) I root Rosemary in water. Cut some 8" branches- strip 3" of leaves and put in a container of 3" deep rainwater. Leave in dappled sunlight (under a tree). In a few weeks they will have plenty of roots. Remember to change the rainwater so that you don't grow mosquitoes.
I have also grow them in soil. Again cut some 8" branches- strip 3" of leaves -then sprinkle with rooting powder. Poke 3" holes with a pencil -in your potting soil in the container of your choice. Important - Carefully place the rosemary cutting in the hole then push the soil from the side to secure the cutting. The idea is to not rub off the rooting powder.
I am not sure why your cuttings turn black - it has happened to me a few times. I would guess it was too humid or too cold. Please try again this summer!
Submitted by V on April 17, 2016 - 12:53pm
I know for a fact you CAN root Rosemary in water because I've done it. Are you cutting off a big enough piece?
Submitted by SuzyC-in-Colorado on August 8, 2014 - 12:56pm
Thank you so much.. I noticed that within a few minutes of my last post, the concern I had was addressed and fixed.. Very helpful knowing the dates.. Blessing to everyone at Almanac.com and all other farmers & gardeners. I will get the hang of this gardening, I promise..lol
Moving from Zone 9b to Zone 5 has been a blessing as I have always wanted to garden and the hot sun, very little rain and dry winds in the Desert of California doesn't allow for much gardening.. We have so many plans for the second half of our lives together.. It is wonderful to have a site like Old Farmers Almanac to fall back on for good advice.. My Dad & grandparents read your book like a bible and I look forward to ordering and receiving my hard copy.. Thanks again Almanac Team
Submitted by SuzyC-in-Colorado on August 8, 2014 - 12:36pm
As a new gardener it would be helpful to know when these comments are posted. Maybe I missed something.. Sorry, but it is hard to know if I am reading a new comment or one that is years old.. also, some comments say plant now, but when is now without knowing when they left this much needed advice.. is there a way to change the layout here to include when comments are posted.. thanks. Oh, and it is the beginning of August 2014.. Again, thanks
Submitted by Mary Raynor on August 6, 2014 - 7:30pm
I was told when I lived in N.Y. to plant garlic in Sept and to harvest following July. It worked for me got beautiful clumps and they were very tasty.Hope this helps, I now live in N.C. and have been learning a whole new time zone( no fun). But, I've gotten tons of zucchini,tomatoes,peppers,broccoli,and cabbage. the worst problem is weather and bugs,uggg!! But, after a long season I am now getting ready for my fall crop, which will include garlic,lol. Dont give up hope, just do what you can, a little everyday.My weeds are never ending but, I do what I can and just enjoy my daily harvest. Next year I ve learned to put my weed cloth on top after planting as well as underneath, hopefully that will help, and weed preventitive too,lol.Have fun people
Submitted by Mary Raynor on August 6, 2014 - 7:35pm
Also, wanted to say, I used cooking garlic from the little red box,lol. I used 2 cloves and seperated them, I think I had 22 cloves. They all came out around the same size, average.Hope this helps.
Submitted by diana in n.c. on December 30, 2012 - 4:37pm
my dad buys garlic in the grocery store then separates the bulb. he then plants the
garlic along side of the green onions.when the leaves start to turn yellow he then hangs in the barn in a cool place then we have garlic for the whole year.,
Submitted by Melos Antropon on April 13, 2010 - 11:46pm
As mentioned, knowing where you are would help to give a more accurate answer. Garlic is easy to grow acceptably, a little harder to grow spectacularly. But you can do it. This is a down-and-dirty (read: "short") compendium of advice.
- The most commonly grown garlic - and the longest keeper - is a softneck called "White Silverskin". But there are many others, all with different plusses and negatives.
- Plant only the 6-8 large outer cloves of your seed garlic. Big cloves - big bulbs. Small inner cloves - small bulbs. If you get a good crop, save the largest bulbs for your next year seed (selective breeding!)
- In the northern tier of the USA, it's best to plant garlic after the first fall frost - it will winter over, and the end result is bigger bulbs next summer. But you can plant it in early spring and get a good crop - just somewhat smaller bulbs.
- Garlic doesn't need a ton of fertilizer, but it DOES need loose, well drained soil with a goodly amount of organic matter. It grows best in full sun. It's ready to harvest when about half of the leaves have yellowed (mid/late summer). Let it air dry out of the sun for 2-4 weeks, and (if it's Silverskin) it will keep virtually a year if stored in a cool, dry place. Good luck!
Submitted by willowoaks on February 24, 2010 - 10:09am
I am wanting to move a herb bed that is hard for me to get water to. It contains herbs such as rosemary, lavender and oregano. Can I safely move them?
Submitted by ssunshine33 on February 17, 2010 - 12:40pm
looking for information on growing garlic and the only thing found is it is great to grow near roses. I really need to know planting times and such.
Submitted by willowoaks on February 24, 2010 - 10:14am
I have started several clumps of garlic. I don't know what area you are in but I live in TN. I have never give it much thought about what time of year I put mine in the ground, they seem to grow pretty prolific. Be careful not to let it take over a small area. Needs room to grow. I do think that early spring or fall would be the best time to plant them even though I have planted some in the middle of summer and they lived.
Submitted by Paul Belliveau on June 29, 2012 - 9:59am
Not long after we wrote this blog:
Submitted by Jenjo74 on September 5, 2011 - 6:00pm
Need more info on planting garlic! Me too!
Submitted by hillbillyroots on September 17, 2012 - 11:04am
Now is the time to plant garlic, which will be harvested next fall