Seeds or Plants?

We’re fans of starting plants from seed, in part because growing from seed is one of the miracles of gardening. Every seed is a plant-in-waiting, a tiny package of roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and more seeds. Although they aren’t foolproof, seeds want to sprout and grow.

Starting from seed isn’t required, however. Don’t feel like a second-class gardener if you decide to begin with plants grown by someone else. Most garden centers offer the basic culinary herbs basil, thyme, cilantro, chive, oregano, parsley, dill, mint, rosemary, and sage— and perhaps a modest selection of less popular plants. We can’t debate the fact that buying plants is simpler, it saves you time, and the plants reach harvest stage sooner.

There is one plant you cannot grow from seed  tarragon. It rarely sets seed; all plants are propagated from stem cuttings or root divisions. Caveat emptor (buyer beware): French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) has the herbal flavor you want, while Russian tarragon (A. dracunculus var. indora formerly A. dracunculoides) has more medicinal uses.

It’s Seed Time

For us, each garden season includes the past and the future. We always purchase herbs we’ve grown before — herbs that we know we like and that will thrive in our gardens. Seed for ‘Sweet Genovese’ basil is an annual purchase, as is seed for broadleaf (Italian) parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. latifolium). But we also try new things each year — a new cultivar or an herb we haven’t grown before.

Planning your seed purchases

No one has time or room to grow everything, so ask yourself the following questions in order to rein in your purchases:

✓ Will I use it?

You can grow herbs for their own sake — with no thought of using them — but if you’re the practical sort, be realistic about what herbs you’ll use.

✓ Will it grow in my garden?

Every herb has peculiar needs. Basil will be a bust if your garden is a large pot on a cool, shady patio; angelica won’t survive in southern Florida’s heat. Be sure to check our plant encyclopedia in the appendix to see whether you have the conditions necessary for the herbs you’d like to grow.

✓ Is it too much trouble?

The majority of herbs are like good friends: cooperative, undemanding, tolerant, even forgiving. But all herbs require some care. Marsh mallow requires lots of moisture — do you have time for watering? Do you have time to start chive seeds in January so that you’ll have plants in June?

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