Herb gardens have long been favorites of cooks and home gardeners. The herb family’s sweet aromas, flavor, and healing properties have been used in cooking, cosmetics, and medicine for centuries. There is always room to add herbs to your garden, even in a small apartment balcony space. Fresh herbs lend flavor to cooking, ornamental interest, and fragrance to your garden. When gloomy winter weather arrives, many herbs will still thrive on a sunny interior windowsill. Most herbs can be grown from seed, but buying young plants from Fleet Farm's garden center will guarantee an immediate supply of fresh herbs. When planting seeds, start them indoors in early spring so they can be transplanted outdoors when temperatures warm.

Choosing the right location

In your garden or raised bed, choose an area that receives plenty of sun, with well-drained soil. To avoid powdery mildew on susceptible plants, make sure to allow for plenty of air circulation. If you don’t have room to mix herbs in with your vegetables, or if sunny areas are limited, most herbs grow exceptionally well when planted in containers. Make sure your planting container has plenty of drainage holes. Be creative—herbs can be planted in a pot, balcony planter, wooden box or large bucket. Consider a burlap growing bag for your garden. The compact size allows you to move the herbs to sunniest spot in your yard. After selecting your container, fill it with a soil mix formulated for container vegetables.

If you don’t want to wait until next summer to get your herb garden started, parsley and basil will grow well on an inside windowsill when adequate light and water are supplied. Fleet Farm has dozens seeds, containers and soil mixes to get your herb garden up and growing.

Different herb varieties

If you’re just getting started experimenting with herbs, choose some options that you’ll use most frequently. 

  • Basil comes in many varieties, from basic sweet Basil to purple ruffled varieties, lemon and Asian flavors. Use it for cooking and toss the fresh-cut leaves into your salad. Basil pairs especially well with fresh tomatoes. Simply toss chopped tomatoes, basil, and olive oil together with a little salt and you’ll have an easy, fresh pasta sauce. Basil loves the hot weather, so when early autumn nights get chilly, cover the plants or bring them inside. 
  • Chives are versatile and add flavor to everything from salads to meat dishes. 
  • Curly parsley adds interest when planted into a flower garden, and makes a great garnish, while the flat leaf Italian parsley is widely used for flavoring soups and salads. 
  • Rosemary is excellent for flavoring grilled fish and chicken. The leafy, woody stalks impart remarkable flavor when chicken or meat is placed on top of them before grilling. 
  • Oregano is widely used in Italian cooking, and Sage is fragrant and attractive in the garden, and is used extensively with poultry dishes. 

In this area chives, sage and oregano may be able to overwinter in the garden if they are mulched to protect them from the cold winters. Basil, parsley and rosemary will do best when treated as annuals. Plants may be brought inside to extend the growing period.

When it’s time to expand your herb garden, here are interesting herbs to explore. 

  • The mint family features many variations—spearmint, peppermint, lemon and even chocolate flavors. Be warned: mint will take over your garden quickly, so always plant it in a container or a pot buried in the ground to prevent the roots from spreading everywhere. 
  • Thyme is fragrant and good for soups and sauces. Some legends say that fairies make their home in thyme, so be sure to add some to your own fairy garden. 
  • Dill grows quite tall and reseeds itself easily. It is used in pickling and the airy leaves add flavor to pasta salads, vegetable dips and summer dishes. 
  • French tarragon has a sweet, anise-like taste used in French cooking. 
  • Lemon grass is used extensively in Asian cooking, and should be used as a flavoring in dishes only, because the stalk is very tough and hard to eat. 
  • Marjoram is often used with oregano in Italian dishes. It has a sweet spicy flavor, and can be used fresh in salads. 
  • Garlic chives differ from regular chives. They spread more aggressively in the garden and their flat leaves have a subtle garlic flavor. 
  • Summer savory, with its peppery flavor, is good in dishes with beans and lentils. Harvest it before flowers form. Winter savory has a stronger flavor than the summer variety and is a good addition to stews and soups. 

Fennel, like dill, grows very tall, and has a unique licorice scent and flavor. The leaves and stems can be used in salads, the seeds in pickling, and the bulb cooked like a root vegetable.


Lavender has become very popular as a fragrant herb used in potpourri, soap and aromatherapy. Adding a few sprigs of lavender to a jar of sugar gives it a delicate flavor that’s great for sprinkling on sugar cookies or to sweeten tea. Scented geraniums are delightful aromatic plants that come in many varieties, and are also great for potpourri and aromatherapy. Anise hyssop grows very tall and is very attractive to pollinators. The dried leaves can be used to make tea.

Using herbs

When harvesting fresh herbs, try to cut them in the morning while they’re still dew-covered. Basil and parsley can be cut and set in a glass of water and placed in the refrigerator, and will stay fresh for several days. Other herbs can be stored in the refrigerator after being wrapped in a moist towel. Place herbs inside a plastic bag, and store for up to 3 days.

Make your own flavored vinegars by placing sprigs of herbs (oregano, tarragon or basil) in a clean bottle. Add white wine vinegar that has been brought to a simmer. Cool and store it, covered, in a cool dry place. Use to marinate meat or as a salad dressing.

To dry herbs, gather the herbs in small bundles, securing the ends with a twist tie or rubber band. Hang upside down in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area. The microwave can dry herbs placed on a single layer of paper towel. Begin drying on high temperature for 2-3 minutes. If herbs are still not dry, heat in 20-second intervals, repeating until they are dry and brittle.

Freeze your herbs by spreading them out on a cookie sheet and freezing until solid. Remove them and place in freezer bags for later use. Basil does not freeze well unless being blanched prior to freezing. Basil made into pesto can be frozen in ice-cube trays and then placed in freezer bags to be added to soups and sauces when needed.