It might have been twenty years ago that a friend gave me a small rooted cutting of Laurus nobilis (Sweet Bay), and told me that he did not know if it was winter hardy, but wanted me to try it. Thinking that it would be short-lived, I planted it in our garden. If I was fortunate it might become a small shrub. Little did I know that it would thrive in our garden and become a robust tree of probably about 30-40 feet tall. It is not where I would ever have intentionally planted a tree of that size, but my wife never lacks for bay leaves!
For most home gardeners, growing herbs is an integral part of the overall garden experience. Many of the herbs we grow are for the summer season, but it is surprising how many can be treated as year-round plants. Most are also well suited for container gardening and are not only culinary but can also be quite decorative. Consider Blood Veined Sorrel. The red veins in the leaves make this a superb foliage plant for a container on a deck or patio and as a bonus, the leaves are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked in soups.
There are many herbs to choose from and I always like to have some sage and parsley. Both of these herbs will often overwinter here and both grow well in a container. For a pop of color and diverse foliage, try golden sage and mix it with parsley. Another winter hardy herb is thyme and it is available in a wide range of foliage colors. In my garden, I have a large pot that was planted with lemon thyme last spring and it provided beautiful foliage all summer. This pot is in an open area and so had no protection from the snow and frost of this past winter and the lemon thyme is now trailing over the side of the pot and looks great.
When deciding what herbs to buy, consider which ones you are most likely to use. Each summer, we have several pots of culinary herbs on our deck and it is easy to access from the kitchen. Each year, I like to experiment with some that I have not grown before and it seems that each year the herb assortment at Wilco gets better. I think beginning gardeners are realizing how easy some herbs are to grow and even with limited space such as a balcony or small patio, with adequate sunlight, herbs can be grown.
I have seen some small potted herb planters for sale and these would make a great host/hostess gift. Usually, these containers are planted to look good at the moment, and they do look good, but remember the plants are going to grow and may soon outgrow the planter. Most herbs are easy to transplant and so they would be easy to move into the ground or into a larger container. Generally, most herbs need full sun to do their best.
Basil is probably the most popular of all herbs for home gardens and in our garden, we would not be without a large pot of sweet basil. Every year the choices of basil increases and there are many different leaf forms and colors as well as flavors. Basil often tends to flower and I cut the flowers off to encourage the plant to continue to produce leaves. Basil needs warm weather and April is too early to set out plants. Often gardeners get the urge to plant basil before the weather is reliably warm and with cold nights, it will often die or be in a distressed condition. I usually consider mid to late May as the earliest time to plant basil outside.
Check out the herb selection at Wilco, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you will find. I recently visited the Canby store and they had an excellent assortment to chose from. If you are new to herb gardening, pick out several you would use and gradually increase your palette.