Why Create an Italian Herb Garden?
Many of our best-known recipes in Europe and the West are of Italian origin and make a lot of use of herbs which have been cultivated in Italian herb gardens for generations (many of them going back to the time of the Romans). It’s really not surprising that many enthusiastic herbs gardeners create their herb gardens using an Italian herb garden theme.
If you decide to create an Italian herb garden there is a huge range of options for design, layout, and content. There are many things you can achieve with the Italian herb garden and the sky the limit. However, you don’t have to go that far. You can easily create a small Italian-themed herb garden in a small section of your garden, or in pots or containers, or even indoors.
Choose the Herbs for Your Italian Herb Garden
Italian food is known for its blend of robust spices that create strongly flavored meats and sauces perfect for pairing with pasta and cheese.
While pasta, tomatoes, and cheese are all essential components of Italian cooking, if you don’t have the proper blend of spices you won’t have proper Italian food, therefore, the best way for getting high quality, fresh spices for all your cooking needs is to grow your own Italian herb garden.
For a comprehensive array of Italian herbs, you should plan on growing garlic, basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley and fennel since all of these herbs are relatively easy to grow either in pots or outdoors and you’ll get lots of pleasure from creating an Italian corner in your backyard.
Italian herbs are best grown indoors if the winters are very cold as they were originally grown in the warm Mediterranean climate and therefore they will not survive the frost and snow that come with most northern winters.
For example, rosemary is a perennial evergreen shrub, but a few hard touches of frost will kill it, therefore, you should either plan to keep your garden indoors all year round or repot your plants in the fall.
Most Italian herbs will thrive in the hot and dry climate that comes with central heating although parsley is the biggest exception plan to keep your parsley in a porch area or next to a window. Once you start harvesting from your Italian herb garden you’ll find that each herb has a distinct aroma and use.
Some of the most famous and tastiest herbs in the world originated from Italy, and many of the tastiest Italian dishes are as tasty as they are in large part because of the herbs used in making them.
Basil is a well-known herb found in most Italian herb gardens and it’s used in many Italian recipes. Basil not only adds flavor to many familiar Italian recipes, but it is also a very useful herb plant in the garden alongside other plants.
Basil is also a tangy, light herb that can be eaten raw on salads or pureed with pine nuts and olive oil to make pesto. Most tomato-based Italian dishes are peppered with basil and it is also supposed to be a good digestive aid. You can never grow too much basil in your Italian herb garden for the reason that it attracts bees while it deters fruit-flies and house-flies.
For example, by planting basil next to your peppers and tomatoes you will actually improve their flavor. Also, basil repels flies and mosquitoes.
Rosemary, like basil, is good for your garden. It grows into a large shrub sprouting pretty blue flowers early in the year. These flowers attract bees into the garden. It looks deceptively tough as a shrub, but be careful. It is very sensitive to frost.
Rosemary is found in every Italian herb garden and it turns to a very attractive border when made into a well-trimmed hedge. The warm and resinous scent makes it one of the most pungent Italian herbs although it’s not too overpowering.
Its name comes from the latin ros marinus which means ‘due of the sea’, perhaps because this shrubby aromatic plant grows well near the Mediterranean sea which is why rosemary prefers a warm climate and it should be planted in a sheltered position to protect it from the cold winter.
Parsley can take a long time to germinate and doesn’t do well in overly warm climates and that’s why an English folklore tale says that parsley seeds go seven times to the Devil and back before germinating and assert that only witches can grow it.
Parsley does require rich soil however once you do get it going it is a relatively low maintenance herb to cultivate in your Italian herb garden. Italian parsley has large, flat leaves and is typically added to the pot while the food is cooking, while the ‘curly leaves’ variety is used as an attractive garnish. Parsley is also an after-dinner breath freshener and digestive aid.
Parsley is not an easy herb plant to grow but with a little effort and skill its a very worthy plant for your Italian herb garden. It’s not only useful in Italian dishes but also in many other types of cuisine.
Many years ago before the invention of breath mints, people used to eat fresh, raw parsley after a meal to eradicate the more unpleasant breath smells resulting from a good meal (have you ever got close to someone after they have eaten food with lots of garlic in it?)
Because of this, the tradition that developed was to serve parsley on a small dish at the end of the meal. In fact, this tradition is still alive today although you may not be aware of it. When did you last enjoy a meal with parsley used as a garnish alongside it?
Oregano is not only a herb with lots of flavors, but it is also very decorative. When fully mature it sprouts pretty little purple flowers. Oregano should not be harvested until after it has flowered because this is when the plant has its most intense flavor.
Fennel is famous for the flavors it gives to Italian sausage. Lots of people overlook the fact that the fennel plant loses its flavor as it matures. To avoid this it should be divided and replanted every few years.
Fennel is classified as an herb and a vegetable. Its sharp sweet-flavored seeds are found in many Italian sausage preparations and other ethnic foods. Its taste is reminiscent of licorice.
Garlic is almost certainly the most widely-used herb in Italian cooking. No Italian herb garden would be complete without garlic. Garlic isn’t difficult to grow. The garlic cloves can be planted in just about any garden, and require very little attention. They’ll thrive, and when mature they can be used immediately or stored for later use. If you want to store them for long periods, freeze or pickle them.
Sage is used in many different Italian meat dishes and salads. The new shoots of the plant contain the most flavor, so trim your sage plants regularly so that they don’t get too woody. The trimming will encourage new shoots to grow. The best time to harvest sage is after it blooms.
Thyme has a light spicy flavor that pairs well with other herbs. It brings out the flavors in meats and stews but does not overpower them. You’ll find thyme in many Italian recipes as it makes a delectable stuffing for chicken, goose, and turkey. Thyme dislikes wet feet, therefore, a raised bed or a rockery will help keep this ground-sprawling herb dry and happy.
Plan the Development of Your Italian Herb Garden
The examples above are the most familiar Italian herbs, but there are lots of different herbs that can be included in an Italian herb garden. However, don’t get too carried away. It’s very important to select the herbs that are best for your garden. This involves researching the growing conditions for each plant and deciding whether or not you can achieve them.
When you have a list of the herbs you want to grow to start planning how you can use your herbs to produce different design layouts (i.e landscaping). Also, a big part of creating your Italian herb garden will be arranging your herbs according to the aromas that they produce; you want to be able to sit in your garden and close your eyes and imagine you are sitting on an Italian hillside.
Do You Want to Grow a Healthy, Productive Italian Herb Garden?
Italian cuisine is enjoyed all over the world. The distinctive array of herbs that tradition has mixed for flavoring has gendered the unique blend that Italian meals are always a pleasure to the pallet.
Adding Italian herbs plants in the vicinity of an already existing vegetable garden adds flavor to them, especially tomatoes and peppers. You will also enjoy the unmistakable scent of the Mediterranean anytime you stroll by that area.
To achieve this authentic Mediterranean taste to your meals, you first need to know which herbs to add when cooking Italian. Although the necessary herbs can be bought at your local store, they can be grown in your very own Italian herb garden, preferably near your kitchen area or directly in the kitchen itself in a small interior garden.
Better known herbs such as basil, fennel, rosemary, oregano, and parsley are commonly found in kitchens all over the world. Some might even be already growing in your garden.
The use of these herbs in Italian cooking is due specifically to the abundance of them growing naturally in this specific weather condition so that the transition easily found its way in Italian kitchens. Pasta, pizza, bruschetta, salad, soups, veal, and chicken are among the meals that come to life with the addition of these herbs.
Growing these herbs in your garden to accompany your cooking will ask for a bit of planning. Plants need to be planted with some specific care and some accommodations must be taken into consideration.
Make plants accessible
An important point to consider is to make these plants accessible. Remember, when you are cooking or preparing a meal, you will certainly prefer being able to collect the needed leaves at arms reach, or at least an easily accessible area of your garden at near proximity of the kitchen.
Also, the nearer the plant are for you to gather from to flavor your food, the more likely you are to take care of their growing needs. The more tendering to give to your plants, the healthier they will grow. Having them at a nearby location also surrounds you with their distinct aromas.
Soil is one of the important factors
Another factor that will deeply influence the quality of growth of your Italian herb garden is the soil that is to be used. A loose soil that is low in nutrients and lime is ideal and you should definitively avoid hard-packed soil. It is equally important that the soil retains a proper amount of water after it has rained or after watering your garden.
Water must not log into this soil under any circumstance. This can be accomplished with a proper balance of soil, gravel, and sand. This will result in healthier, happier plants.
The best surface to grow the herbs
The best surface to grow the herbs is on level ground. In a depression, water will collect in a pool and drown the plant or rot the roots. On a slope will cause the protective topsoil to eventually wash away. To assure the right amount of water, a leveled ground is the way to go, it will also contribute to the height of the growing plants.
Italian herbs are attracted to hot and dry climates. Of course, not watering the plants is not an option to achieve this type of weather. It might be a good idea to plant these herbs near other plants that tend to absorb moisture or use box hedges can also contribute at reducing moisture out of the air and can also provide shade when needed. The rule of thumb is to carefully read the instructions on the seeds envelope.
At the same time, verify the height that each plant can achieve during growth to properly plan your planting arrangement.
The amount of sun and root structure of the different herbs you will be growing are other factors to keep in mind Hedges might cause partial shade during the latter part of the sunlit hours and shorter plants, that required maximum sunlight, might suffer if not placed accordingly.
Also, avoid planting too many shrubs to closely for they will be competing for the water in the ground which might starve other herbs of that same water and the nutrients that they need to grow strong.
If you take into consideration the sunlight, the watering, and wind conditions along with these tips, you can give your plants everything they need to grow well and healthy without sacrificing other plants.
Your Italian herb garden will be filled with the fragrance of these potent herbs, it will be the place to which you turn for your culinary needs while your kitchen will be full of savory aromas and delicious food.
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