Herb Hunt

If you’re just starting a balcony garden, Penny Hanselman, proprietor (with husband Mike and daughter Heather) of Blue Heron Herbary on Sauvie Island (27731 NW Reeder Rd, blueheronherbary.com), recommends starting with a simple selection of five classic evergreen herbs—garden thyme, creeping rosemary, ‘Blue Cushion’ lavender, dwarf sage, and winter savory (see “Tend Your Herbs,” next page)—to create a beautiful planter that will provide delectable ingredients and garnishes while decorating your deck through the winter.

To create the planter suggested by Hanselman, you’ll want to buy herb starts in 3- to 4-inch pots instead of starting from seeds. Local farmers markets are the best places to shop for fresh varieties—the Portland Farmers Market (portlandfarmersmarket.org), Hillsdale Farmers Market (hillsdalefarmersmarket.com), and Beaverton Farmers Market (beavertonfarmersmarket.com) all have good selections most of the year.

When selecting plants, look for healthy foliage and avoid brown, wilting, or crunchy leaves. With herbs, scent equals taste, so gently rub the leaves between your fingers and savor the aroma to make sure you are selecting a variety that would complement your cooking. Hanselman’s favorites are variegated lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus ‘Variegatus’), for its heady, lemony scent; and Arp rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’), for its culinary versatility.

Tend your herbs

Penny Hanselman of Blue Heron Herbary says that herbs are quite resilient and can thrive even in poor conditions. Still, here are a few usage and plant-care tips for getting the most out of your pot of herbs.

1. Garden thyme

(Thymus vulgaris): Thyme is great in sauces, soups, and stews, or added to a salad for an unexpected twist. Clip three times over the summer, removing the top 3 to 4 inches.

2. ‘Blue Cushion’ lavender

(Lavandula angustifolia ‘Blue Cushion’): Lavender flowers can be dried for potpourri or chopped finely to add flavor to shortbread or sugar cookies. Cut stems back when the flowers die.

3. Winter savory

(Satureja montana): With its distinct, piquant scent, savory is a great addition to your culinary tool kit, especially when sprinkled over fresh green beans. Trim the plant to keep it bushy.

4. Creeping rosemary

(Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostrates’): This staple will dress up your vegetables or lamb, and its stalks work quite well as kabob sticks. Shape it a little, but don’t clip it back very much.

5. Dwarf sage

(Salvia officinalis): With its robust flavor, a little fresh sage will add color and flavor to both your balcony and your turkey dishes. Prune as needed to keep the plant compact.