Lifestyle » Vol. 33

When planting, think herbs and zones

By Bernard Whitmore

northeast-growing-zones-2When I think garden, I think tomatoes ~ lots of them ~ in all shapes, sizes and hues. They’re the hottest action in my garden, requiring soil preparation, acquisition of seedlings and planting. Daily watering leads to explosive growth that seems to increase with each attempt at staking. The fruit of this labor defines summer itself: perfectly ripe fruit plucked right off the vine, still warm from the sun.

A more contemplative pursuit is the herb garden, an area I desperately need to improve this year. My herb plants tend to be scattered in haphazard pots and corners ~ all woefully unkempt.

In a fateful turn, I met Dr. Guy Esposito at this year’s wine exposition. An orthopedic surgeon by profession, he’s head of the kitchen garden for the PBS series, Ciao Italia, the first Italian and longest-running cooking show on television. His wife, Mary Ann Esposito, is the show’s host. They’re a delightful couple from New Hampshire who are devoted to promoting happiness and good living. Guy offered this advice for growing herbs from his encyclopedic knowledge of gardening:

“The reason I grow an herb garden is that it adds to the kitchen repertoire. Many of the herbs have scents that are pleasant to have in the house. Mary Ann will run out for some herbs when she’s cooking, and we pick a bouquet of basil to have in the kitchen for the fragrance.

“Outside the kitchen door is our herb garden. Anyone can make their own if they have a space of, roughly, 4 by 8 feet. Put in one of each of these plants: mint (peppermint and spearmint), sage, tarragon, thyme, rosemary and sorrel. Unfortunately, sorrel is often overlooked, but it has a lemony flavor that’s great in salads. And then add four basil and four flat-leaf parsley plants.

“There’s also a type of arugula called sylvatica that is perennial and forms a bush 10 inches in diameter. You can pick it all summer long. Try to find it from online catalog houses… and don’t forget chives!

“The plants should be spaced a foot apart in two or three staggered rows; basil and parsley can be closer. Mint is the ‘problem child’ because it’s very invasive, so plant it in pots sunk to about 2 inches from the soil line to keep its runners from spreading. And the rosemary should be in a pot, so that it can be brought indoors for the winter ~ it won’t survive outside.

“Soil preparation is important to a successful garden, and mulching properly helps to keep it moist and control weeds. In fact, you can see detailed advice in my video series The Vegetable Garden Doctor on But when you plant your herbs, work in some slow-release fertilizer. Then, once they’re growing, don’t be afraid to give them an occasional shot of liquid fertilizer.”

When purchasing perennial plants, ask for their zone number. Central Massachusetts is in Zone 5. Any plant with a zone greater than that, if left outside, will probably not survive winter. However, many of these plants may survive, and possibly thrive, during the winter months if brought into the house.

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