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Originally published May 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 10, 2005 at 1:47 PM

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Easy-to-grow herbs for any size garden

Useful and decorative herbs need nothing more than sunshine, water and good soil, for they're the most undemanding of plants. You can grow a...

Special to The Seattle Times

Useful and decorative herbs need nothing more than sunshine, water and good soil, for they're the most undemanding of plants. You can grow a variety of pretty kitchen herbs in a window box, outside your back door or tucked into containers.

Rosemary, lavender and thyme are highly aromatic, and they grow lustily enough to snip leaves for a tomato sauce or flowers to garnish a salad without harming the plant.

Pineapple mint is a refreshing garnish for iced tea, and sage is a showy plant and a savory addition to soups and stews.

Nurseries are full of healthy herbs this time of year, or grow your own from seed (which will take a few weeks longer to harvest).

I'm making a new garden of raised beds, all of which are trimmed in herbs and strawberries, a tasty combination for any large container.

Provide good soil (name-brand potting mix from a bag is just fine), sun for more than half the day and a shot of diluted liquid organic fertilizer every few weeks, and your herbs will thrive until frost.

A key to bushy herbs ideal for cooking is to keep them clipped back to prevent flowering.

No herb garden, no matter how tiny, should be without the following easy-to-grow herbs. Some are perennials and others are annuals. Perennials die down in the winter, but grow and bloom again every year; annuals are seasonal, surviving only until the first frost


ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS

Dill, left, such as this 'Fernleaf,' has a distinctive flavor that accents many food dishes.

Mints: You can recognize the various kinds of mint, because all have square stems. Never let any mint loose in a garden, for they're prodigious spreaders. Plant them in a pot, water regularly and clip back often. Use the leaves in iced tea or tabouleh, or pulverize a handful with olive oil, garlic and walnuts for a refreshingly different pesto. Perennial.

Basil: This heat-lover has a distinctive spicy aroma and handsome leaves. Plant it in a warm spot outdoors in June after the nights have reliably warmed up to 50 degrees, and keep it clipped so it stays full and fluffy. Whether sweet basil, lettuce-leaf with wavy edges or dark opal, basil is the quintessential summer herb in sauces and pesto. Annual.

Chives: Plant a tiny hedge of spiky chives all in a row, or fill out a pot with these tidy herbs. If you don't care about harvesting, let them bloom with lilac pompom flowers. Snip chives into bits to toss into salads or stir into mashed potatoes or omelets. Perennial.

Dill: Feathery dill is striking in borders, and its distinctive flavor accents fish dishes, cooked carrots and soups. Perennial.

Oregano and marjoram: These herbs are so similar, there's no need to worry about the differences between them. Both have rounded leaves and come in varieties with crinkled or variegated foliage that livens up the garden. The pungent flavor is perfect for sprinkling on pizzas or pasta. Perennial.

Valerie Easton also answers questions in Wednesday's Plant Talk on the back of Northwest Life. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.

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