YOU MAY have vegetables all planted and coming up, you may even have finished mulching, still your garden won't be complete without planting some fresh herbs. Picked along with your produce, they will complement the flavors of summer. Dried or added to foods you're putting up for the winter, herbs add a special zest. Most will grow in poor to average soil, so they won't rob your main crops of nutrients and they will help keep pests away.
Herbs can be started from seed indoors long before your garden is ready for planting. In the fall, they can be brought indoors after frosts kills other produce. But for best flavor and the healthiest plants, they should be grown out of doors or in a cold frame. Most herbs can be dried successfully and easily at home. If it's leaves you're after, pick them for drying just before plants bloom (aromatic oils are strongest then). For seeds, wait until heads form and begin to darken. Many hardy herbs like chives can be chopped and frozen -- their flavor will be similar to fresh, although they will be limp and useful only in cooked dishes.
Consider sun-loving annual herbs to work into odd corners of the garden, in between rows of vegetables and flowers or in patio pots. Licorice-flavored anise needs to be planted where it will grow (take special care in thinning), and is useful in drinks and desserts despite it fragility.
Basil is hard to start outdoors in the hot sun, but you can usually buy plants when you pick out tomato seedlings. Cut leaves all summer, remove them from the bottom up, and add to tomato or eggplant dishes, grind into pesto or drop into vinegar or oil for flavorful salads.
Borage will attract pollinating bees to your garden: Use its flowers in drinks or salads, and tender new leaves for their mild cucumber flavor.
Grow coriander for its leaves and seeds, important in every cuisine from Chinese to Mexican, but be sure to dry them completely after they turn brown, or seeds will will taste bitter.
Dill may help you trap green tomato worms and it is delicious in pickles, tossed in salads or cooked with cabbage. To keep it all summer long, pick from the top and don't allow seed heads to form until you're ready to dry them.
Sweet marjoram is slow to germinate so plant with one last row of radishes -- you'll love its flavor with fall game and pork dishes.
Mustard is raised by potato farmers to drive eel worms away, but backyard gardeners can grind its seeds for home-made mustard or toss into pickles, saving the greens for cooking or salad-making.
Fast growing summer savory is wonderful with fresh beans or mixed in fines herbes.
Parsley will grow any place, but planted in a sunny, protected spot it will greet you as you begin gardening next spring, and may provide you with iron-rich greens all winter long. Dry it in a warm (180 degree) oven the second year before it goes to seed.
Other biennials that rate a little permanence include caraway for its seeds and chervil, a delicate herb that is nice in soups or fines herbs.
Perennial herbs may need more specialized treatment than annuals. Many will grow in shady spots where nothing else flourishes. Mint will discourage aphids and ants but grows like a weed.
Bergamot (alias beebalm) is another perennial that's apt to take over if you don't watch out. It will provide summer color, however, and its lemony flavor is nice in drinks.
Lovage tolerates shade better than many herbs and its leaves add celery flavor to a multitude of dishes.
Important in teas, stuffing and pot-pourri, balm loves rich shaded soil.
Catnip will grow almost anywhere and is as repulsive to insects as it is attractive to cats.
Horseradish tolerates hot weather here in a semi-shaded spot -- plant it where you can easily dig the edible root.
Sun-loving perennials are as numerous as shade-lovers and even more important from a cooking standpoint. Rosemary will grow into a shrub in light soil with winter protection. Toss sprigs into the fire as you're grilling meats or add to marinades.
The poultry herbs, thyme and sage grow best in well-drained limed soil.
Tarragon will tolerate the cold as long as its roots aren't waterlogged.
The traditional Lenten herb, tansey is difficult to start from seed, but may be worth buying a plant to discourage flying insects.
Burney is delicious in salads, cream cheese dishes or chopped with chervil and chives in green mayonnaise for fish. FLOSSIE WILLIAMSON'S HERB PUNCH (4 servings) 1 generous cup chopped orange mint 1/2 cup bergamont (beebalm), flowers and leaves 1 tablespoon honey or sugar 1/2 cup spearmint 1/2 lemon, juice and grated rind 1 quart boiling water
Put all the ingredients into a teapot, enamel or Pyrex container. Add boiling water and let steep 15 minutes. Strain, cool and refrigerate. (This also makes a delicious hot tea.)