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Growing tips from a gardening master

Whether you’re new to gardening or want to add something fresh to an established plot, herbs are a great complement to any garden.

Planter boxes can be filled with a variety of herbs to grow for delicious ingredients.

They’re easy to plant and grow and culinary herbs provide cooking creativity for all your summer meals and drinks. Any plant used in cooking for flavouring is a culinary herb. These aromatic plants are mostly disease and insect resistant and can be used fresh, dried or from frozen.

“One of the best things about fresh herbs is going out, grabbing one and smelling it. It’s marvelous,” says Oshawa gardener Elaine Davidson.

Davidson is a member of the Durham Master Gardeners, a volunteer organization that provides gardening advice and tips to the public. The group meets on the last Thursday of every month from September to June, except for the month of December, at Parkwood Estate & Gardens in downtown Oshawa. Members also put on classes, workshops and presentations. Davidson recently discussed herbs with a group at a local Oshawa library.

Here are some of her top choices of culinary herbs she recommends you plant this season:

1. Rosemary – Davidson says this tender perennial is a must for your garden. “I couldn’t make a soup, stew, casserole, pretty much anything without a little rosemary,” she says. You can even eat the little purple flowers that pop up as the plant grows.

Rosemary is a popular choice for cooks and green thumbs alike.

2. Lovage – One of Davidson’s favourites, lovage smells and tastes like celery. You can use all its parts and it grows to between seven or eight feet tall. Lovage lasts about 5-10 years and grows well with almost all plants in full sun. “My grandkids love using (the hollow stems) as straws,” says Davidson.

3. Chives – This plant is a great substitute for onion or garlic. Davidson says to wait until the end of cooking to add to a dishes like salads, omelets, fish or potatoes. If you cut the chives down before the flowers appear it will keep growing, she suggests. Bring it inside for the winter and it will last through the cold season.

4. Mint – This breath-freshener is an invasive plant that will spread easily so Davidson recommends to grow it in a pot. This green herb with pointed leaves likes full sun but tolerates the shade. Try apple, chocolate, ginger, pineapple, lime or orange with teas, sauces or vegetables. “I always have English mint because I’m English and roast beef without it just isn’t right,” says Davidson.

5. Basil – With so many varieties to choose from, Davidson suggests mammoth basil. It’s a great alternative to bread or lettuce for use in a wrap. Another choice is lemon basil, which can be used to give drinks a pleasant zest. A great addition to Italian and Greek cooking, basil blends well with tomato dishes and grows well near tomatoes, beans and cabbages. Davidson recommends waiting to plant basil until June in full sun as the fickle plant doesn’t enjoy cold weather.

There are many different varieties of basil available to gardeners these days.

Now is a great time to head to your local greenhouse and choose some culinary herbs to spice up your garden and your meals. Whether grown in pots, barrels, the ground or even shoe bags hung up and filled with soil, get creative and enjoy!

To learn more about the Master Gardeners visit their website.

Story by Kyla Morgan. Images by Amanda Allison

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