Cool Season Herbs

Herbs are among my favorite plants in the garden. More than just a “pretty face” not only are herbs fragrant and colorful, but they are also useful in so many ways, from culinary seasonings in the kitchen to aromatic decorations throughout the house. As signs of spring begin to emerge in the garden, I look forward to welcoming the return of my perennial herbs and to planting my favorite annual varieties.

While herbs such as basil or dill require warm temperatures to thrive there are a few varieties that can withstand a late frost so I don’t have to wait much longer to plant them.

Nasturtiums: These happy open-faced flowers with big round leaves thrive in cool spring temperatures. Both foliage and blooms have a peppery taste that I enjoy adding to salads and sandwiches. They come in an array of bright colors including these ‘Alaska Mix’ nasturtiums with variegated foliage.

Parsley: I use curly parsley as a garnish and flat leaf parsley in recipes when I want a stronger flavor. Both varieties grow well in loamy garden soil that is rich in nitrogen and in areas that get full sun to part shade. Parsley can even take some snow and cold temperatures if lightly mulched.

Johnny Jump Up: These delightful little flowers are some of the first blooms in my spring garden. Back in the 19th century the juice of the plant was often used as the main ingredient of love potions. While I can’t profess their effectiveness in that way, my other herbs seem to be quite happy to grow next to them.

Bronze Fennel: This tall, graceful plant with beautiful bronze-brown feathery foliage has an intense licorice fragrance and flavor. I enjoy it as an ornamental filler in flower arrangements and for its soft texture in the garden.

Cilantro: The foliage of cilantro is an herb commonly used in Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. The seeds of this plant are called coriander, which is another herb used in cooking. The plant grows best in cool, sunny spring weather. Once soil temperatures get hot, it will bolt and go to seed.

Arugula: Arugula is an herb often mistaken to be lettuce. Its leaves have a peppery mustard flavor with a tangy bite that really spice up salads, soups, vegetables, and meat. Arugula thrives in the spring along with other leafy greens.

Chives and Garlic Chives: Both chives and garlic chives are easy-to-grow perennials that are relatives of onions, garlic, and shallots. They have grass-like foliage that grows about 12-18 inches high. Later in the season the plants display showy flower heads. Whenever I want to use the herbs to enhance the flavor of a meal, I just trim a few leaves with scissors. The plant rebounds quickly so I can harvest more.

German Chamomile: This fast growing annual will reseed itself, so it can become a bit of a nuisance if you don’t want it to spread. However, in the right setting, the way it pops up unexpectedly can be fun. The plant produces cheery little flowers with an apple-like fragrance. You are probably most are familiar with its contribution as a nighttime tea.

Thyme: The pungent scent of thyme comes from the oil in the small oval leaves of this popular herb. It thrives in full sun and dry conditions. There are many wonderful varieties including lemon thyme and others with variegated leaves with either gold or silver highlights.