I started my journey to become a gardener by growing herbs. It was so much fun, and saved me so much money, that even before I even knew the term “homesteader” I became self-sufficient at growing herbs.
I grew so many, everywhere I could, that I cut them for bouquets, gave divisions to friends, and used them to make infusions and teas. Those early beginnings seem like such a long time ago. Yet, my enthusiasm for herbs has never waned. And it has led to a love for so many other aromatic, edible, and beautiful plants that now grow in my garden.
Herbs also dominate my early spring landscape, greening and growing earlier than so many other cultivated plants.
If you’re trying to figure out where to start your journey as a gardener or becoming more self-sufficient at home, I highly recommend starting with herbs. Even all these years later, herbs still hold me in their thrall.
Lavender, thyme, and rosemary provide evergreen interest all over my landscape.
French culinary mint and spearmint grow as lawn substitutes along paths and under trees.
Oregano grows on slopes under apple trees protecting the soil from erosion. The leaves of apple blossoms fall on these blankets of green like pink confetti. It looks like nature is having a grand celebration.
Sometimes these mint family plants are so prolific that I mow them with a weed whacker and revel in their incredible scent. My dogs also roll and play around in them, mingling those lovely aromas with all the other not-so-pleasant things they get into!
Yarrow, a natural bandage for small cuts and good for teas and bouquets, lines my wild paths in early spring.
Lambsears stand out in still empty beds, beckoning me to come touch their incredibly soft leaves.
Comfrey comes up under my trees where it acts as weed-controlling ground cover. I also give some to the goats, use it as a bone injury compress, and apply as green manure on vegetable beds.
Once you’ve grown a few herbs, it’s an easy transition to add in some spices for early spring excitement too. Summer started caraway is already sending up flower heads.
Garlic stands in rows of individually planted cloves, bordered by cold-hardy, edible violas.
I also plant entire heads of garlic that come up as a cluster of plants with far more impact. In good soil, they still have surprisingly large heads at harvest. They look stunning next to my water-redirecting knee wall of concrete blocks overflowing with early flowering perennial phlox.
Horseradish too comes up early. Sometimes the plants even flower. The young leaves are edible, then in late fall or winter when the leaves die the roots are harvestable.
The saffron greens grow through winter, almost to summer to recharge the corms. They aren’t so lovely on their own, so I intermix them with shallow-rooted weedy cover crops like deadnettle and hairy vetch in their own heather-lined bed. I periodically use scissors to cut back the cover crops so the saffron leaves get plenty of sunlight.
Weed-Resistant and Useful!
Besides their culinary or medicinal uses, these durable, easy to grow herbs, offer great opportunities for late winter and early spring interest in the garden. They fill in and stand out before other plants get going.
Plus, they outcompete early weeds. Their extensive root systems give them a competitive advantage even if weeds do get in. Some of these herbs and spices provide ground cover to protect soil life and reduce weeds. Others have large leaves that shade the soil and stop weed seeds from germinating.
Others offer soil benefits. Horseradish encourages bacteria over fungal development which can move acidic soil in the alkaline direction. Dry-loving lavender, rosemary, and thyme support mycorrhizal development making soil more water-retentive and drought-resistant. Lambsears and comfrey make great green manure to lay under other plants and prevent weeds.
Yarrow and mint roots and rhizomes wick excess early spring rains away from rot prone tree and shrub roots. They also moderate soil temperature, keeping it more stable, so fruit trees don’t get stressed by the ups and downs of temperature swings in early spring.
These herbs and spices are also known for growing a bit like weeds. So, you will need to find good uses for them if they begin to expand where you don’t want them to grow. But with so many culinary, medicinal, and bouquet or gift-making options, that’s won’t be hard to do!