An herb garden is simply a place where you plant herbs for personal and culinary use. An herb garden can be an actual garden in the ground, part of a larger culinary or vegetable garden, mixed into a flower bed, or even planted in containers kept inside or on a back deck.
But what is an herb? How are herbs and spices different? Botanists define herbs as plants without woody stems, that is, not trees or shrubs. To a cook, an herb is a plant used for its leaves and stems, as opposed to a spice, which is a flavoring derived from the bark, seeds, or roots of a plant. Parsley is an herb; cinnamon is a spice. Therefore, an herb garden can be defined as a collection of green, non-woody plants used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
There are many different kinds of herbs that can be grown quite easily in an herb garden. The best herbs to choose are those that you frequently cook with or use. For instance, if you love Italian food, you should grow basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage. If you like to drink herbal teas, grow mint and chamomile. Cilantro, chives, and epazote would be great for a Mexican herb garden.
There are many different kinds of herb gardens as well. A container herb garden can involve several herbs planted together in a window box or a collection of individual containers. These may be kept outside on a back deck or patio, or in a sunny kitchen window. A formal herb garden uses large plantings of herbs in geometric designs that are for ornamental purposes as much as for eating. Formal herb gardens are often laid out like a wagon wheel, with a fountain or statue in the middle and different herbs planted in each wedge.
A kitchen garden is a much more unrestrained and useful collection of herbs, named for its traditional location near the back door, close to the kitchen. The kitchen garden might be separate from the larger vegetable garden and could include an herb garden as well as lettuce, onions, and other small plants that could be harvested quickly and easily while cooking. An herb garden is a wonderful addition to any yard, patio, balcony, or fire escape. Even if your herb garden is as small as a couple of containers with a few of your favorite herbs, you will love the versatility of being able to have fresh herbs whenever you want them all season long.