Growing them for fragrance, beauty, and culinary use. Whether you grow herbs in a high maintenance formal pattern, such as the knot garden shown, or in an informal kitchen-door patch, pick a spot with full sun and light soil that’s a bit on the dry side.
Begin with a scale drawing; allot a specific space to each herb, choosing neighbors according to size, color, texture, and growing needs. Then dig or rototill the soil to a depth of 9 inches, working in compost or well-rotted manure and a balanced fertilizer . Use string or small stones to mark out the boundaries of your plan on the soil.
Sow the seeds of annuals such as sweet basil and summer savory in early spring; or start them indoors in late winter and transplant after the danger of frost is past. Buy healthy young perennials from a nursery, herb dealer, or garden center; or take cuttings and divisions from friends’ gardens.
The mints, the balms, oregano, and tarragon are easy to propagate by division when spring growth is beginning. (To keep mints and balms from taking over the whole garden, isolate their beds by inserting boards, tiles, or metal dividers at least 6 inches into the soil.) Such bushy perennials as thyme, sage, lavender, rosemary, and bay can be propagated by layering or by taking cuttings about midsummer. Just let dill, fennel, and parsley go to seed.
Add a little fertilizer after each major harvest. Water sparingly. In future years, weed out any herbs that appear in the wrong beds. Start new perennials from cuttings or divisions when old ones begin to look scraggly.
You can also grow herbs in pots, tubs, or planters on a patio, balcony, or windowsill that gets at least 5 hours of direct sun a day. The easiest are basil, rosemary, chives, and bay. (In all but the mildest climates, bay and rosemary must winter indoors anyway.) The shade-loving chervil and sweet cicely thrive with less light; parsley and mint can also be grown in part shade. To bring chives, mint, and tarragon indoors, pot them well before frost and sink the pots in the soil for 3 to 6 weeks while the roots become reestablished.
Feed potted herbs lightly every 2 weeks. Water when the soil feels dry.