Italy is said to have some of the best cuisine in the world and, at the heart of that cuisine are their famous herbs. Growing your own organic Italian herb garden is sure to be rewarding and delicious. Whether indoors or outdoors, as additions to your vegetable garden or on their own, Italian herbs are a delight to both grow and eat.
You may already be familiar with a number of Italian herbs. There is a good chance that you have some Italian herbs growing in your garden and an even better chance that there are some in your kitchen. Basil, fennel, rosemary, oregano, and parsley are all household names in Italy and around the world.
How to Plant and Grow Fresh Basil in your own Herb Garden
Basil may be the most well known Italian herb. Basil is an annual warm-season herb that is sensitive to cold weather. While you may be familiar with dried basil, enthusiasts will tell you that nothing compares to a few fresh basil leaves. Basil is relatively easy to grow and makes a great addition to your vegetable garden. Grow basil next to your peppers or tomatoes, basil is said to improve the flavour of its neighbouring plants. Basil is also said to repel flies and mosquitoes!
When planting basil, pick a site with full sun. Basil prefers warm to hot weather and a pH of 5.5-7.0. Basil can be planted in pots as well as directly in the ground; requires low watering and should be propagated by seed. Basil’s most common enemies are the Japanese beetle, slugs and snails. Start seeds inside and transplant when a few inches tall.
To avoid an infestation of slugs and snails, line your garden with copper strips or wire mesh. The charge that builds up on the copper surface, repels both pests away from your garden as they are unable to move across it.
Basil must be pinched back as it begins to flower as once it flowers it loses flavour. Pruning back the flowers will also encourage it to grow bushier. Leaves should be cut in the morning after the dew has dried. Do not wash basil leaves, as they will lose their flavour.
Tips for Growing Fennel in your Herb Garden
Fennel has a wide range of uses. You may be most familiar with fennel seeds, used in Italian sausage or chewed with candy after an Indian meal. Fennel stalks are also edible, though not commonly eaten in the United States. Fennel has long been believed to have numerous medicinal benefits, namely digestive, and is often made into herbal teas and tinctures.
Fennel is a perennial, but should be divided and re-planted every few years as the plants tend to lose flavour as they mature. They are propagated from seed and enjoy full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Fennel plants require light but even watering and have an enemy in the Carrot Rust Fly, which can be avoided by planting in a windy location.
A Dash of Parsley is Always a Good Idea!
Parsley is relatively difficult to grow and known for its long germination time. Before planting parsley, soak the seeds for two days, changing the water after one day, refrigerate them and pour boiling water over the soil plug. Why all of this work? Parsley seeds contain a chemical, which prevents germination, and this process works to get rid of it.
Though parsley is technically a perennial, it usually goes to seed in its second year and so is grown as an annual. Because parsley is difficult to transplant, it should be sown directly into the ground or into large, well-drained pots.
Parsley should be planted in full sun or partial shade. If growing in a vegetable garden, plant near asparagus, corn, peppers and tomatoes. Make sure that the soil is nematode free, as these are common pests where parsley is grown. If you do have a nematode problem, try introducing ladybugs and predatory nematodes into your garden.
Now Let’s Add a Dash of Oregano to your Herb Garden
If you are planning on growing oregano, talk to some local farmers. It is easy to start an oregano plant from a cutting of an existing one. Choose an existing plant with strong flavour to guarantee the quality of your own crop. Oregano is decorative as well as delicious, sprouting lovely little purple flowers at maturity.
Oregano should not be harvested until it has flowered, as this is when its flavour is the strongest. Oregano prefers full sun and matures best in hot weather. Oregano is a perennial and can spread very far; you may want to take this into consideration when determining whether to plant in pots or in the garden.
Everyone’s Favorite: Rosemary
Rosemary is a tough evergreen perennial, which can grow into a large shrub. Though it is sturdy and does well in many climates, rosemary is very sensitive to frost. Rosemary does well in the ground or in pots and grows pretty little blue flowers which, can be used in salads or as a garnish. Rosemary makes an excellent hedge and is great for attracting bees.
Italian herbs make excellent compliments to your existing vegetable or flower garden. The fragrance of these potent herbs will make you feel like you are taking a trip to the Mediterranean every time you stroll through your own garden. Growing these herbs locally and organically is one of the best decisions you have made all year.