Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.


Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.

An Herb Gardener's Diary - Part Three

by Sandra Bowens

No doubt, the best part of growing herbs is cooking with them.  I have said it before and I'll say it again, it is such a delight to dash out to the garden with a pair of scissors and clip a few herbs for a dish you are in the process of preparing.




The herb seeds planted first in the wrong dirt and then transplanted into potting soil have just never taken off.  The dill finally did just die but the parsley, sage and thyme hung in there barely.  Each time I consider uprooting them and reusing the pot, they begin to show promise.  I did get one small trimming from the sage and it appears to have begun growing again.  Perhaps the cooler weather of fall will help them get going for real.


I have recently planted another pot full of the onion set, this time in the good soil mix, and they have grown more in two weeks than the others did in months.


The jalapeno plants are continuing to produce.  Although the first peppers were large and quite hot, later fruits have been smaller and of better flavor with less heat.  Seems to me, each time I take a few for harvest, it sprouts a few more.  I have heard this is true for many vegetables--harvest frequently for better production.


That basil plant I thought might be waning in the last diary entry continues to thrive.  I just keep pinching off the pretty white flower buds and it grows well.


Fun with Plants


Having a lot of different herbs has led to some great new taste sensations.  I have never had the opportunity to combine so many fresh herbs at one time.  Check out the minestrone soup and the yogurt cheese recipes in An Herbal Potluck for two such fresh-snipped combos.  For another potluck, I whipped up a batch of herbed biscuits containing minced basil, oregano, chives and lemon thyme that were as pretty as they were tasty.


A few of the herbs I have are not suitable for culinary purposes but I like them for their flowers.  The Balloon Flower plant puts out a bud shaped like an inflating yellowish balloon before opening into a gorgeous blue star shaped flower.  I didn't even know this plant was considered an herb until I spied it listed in a catalog.


The Echinaccea plant has only given me one of the familiar purple coneflowers so far but it looks like another is on the way.  My friend gave me a bush of False Indigo with lush foliage that produces occasional strands of lavender flowers.


To Feed or Not to Feed


When I embarked on the whole herb growing adventure, I decided not to use fertilizer on my plants.  This decision was based on a Master Gardener telling me that fertilizers diminished the production of essential oils. I would just give them tender loving care with plenty of sunshine.


And then I learned that with container plants it is important to periodically replace minerals that might wash away with frequent waterings.  My droopy, pale jalapeno plants could attest to this.  Once I started feeding them you could see a timeline of vigorous green leaves at the top of a yellow-green plant.


I did choose to use an organic seaweed based fertilizer.  Park Seed sent me a free package of "Sea Magic" with my order at the beginning of the season so I mixed up a batch and gave it a try.  After seeing such dramatic results with the pepper plants, I now water the brown mixture into the soil and mist over each plant's leaves twice a month.


The Wildlife Community


One of the most interesting and fun parts of my patio container garden has come from something I neither planted nor tend to.  Lizards!  This little community of reptiles provides hours of entertainment.  I find them in all different sizes lounging around on the plants.  Some are so tiny they appear to have been just hatched while the big ones strut around puffing out their red throats hoping to attract a mate.  They dive from plant to plant and startle me at least once a day.


Caterpillars are the dark side of my garden's living creatures.  Tent caterpillars, in particular, are devastating if you don't catch them in time.  My little marjoram plant is (was) an excellent example.  One day I inspected it, pleased with how well it was growing and the next day, it was nothing but bare sticks with a couple of caterpillars attached.


In general, the bugs don't bother the herbs.  The slugs of spring seemed much more interested than the pests of summer have been.  One great way to check for insect problems is to look up the plant from underneath.  They seem to inhabit the underside of leaves first.  Try to catch them before they do too much damage and be sure to isolate a plant if you discover an infestation.


Continuing Education


Faithful readers of this website and its newsletter are probably getting the idea that I do love books.  The library is a great place to start, of course, but my local repository is somewhat dated. My personal library has grown this summer.


A copy of the Texas Bug Book: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, by C. Malcolm Beck and John Howard Garrett has given me a great education on which bugs I want in my garden and how to get rid of the ones I don't want.  For instance, one of the creepy crawly things I had been disposing of turned out to be ladybug larva.  You definitely want ladybugs around!  I have also learned how helpful wasps can be since they often dine on the bad bugs.


McGee & Stuckey's The Bountiful Container is a useful reference for growing vegetables, herbs and edible flowers in pots.  They provide the information about container growing that is often so different from traditional in-the-ground gardening.


Another wonderful learning experience can be had just by wandering around garden centers.  I went to one this summer that covered more than five acres.  It seemed like a botanical garden.  They carried herbs I had never even seen in person before, like catnip and bergamot, in various stages of growth and groupings.  This garden center, McLendons's in Bogalusa, Louisiana, also had a library corner where you could make yourself comfortable and do some research.




I have learned a good bit about container gardening this year. As usual, I pass a few tips on to you.


1.  Combine fresh herbs with dried herbs to enhance your cooking.


2.  Some herb plants are fun even if you can't cook with them.


3.  Make sure the advice you follow is for the type of planting you have done--container care is much different from in-the-ground gardening.


4.  Look for large plant nurseries and garden centers where you can not only buy plants but also learn about them by asking questions and looking around.


Fall Planting


I have been working up plans for my fall garden.  Wish me luck.



 A handy and highly-recommended  reference for growing herbs, vegetables and edible flowers on your deck or patio. See's  review of this book.

Use flowering herbs to punch up landscape design. This guide covers 700 plants from 80 families.

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