In recent years, garden centers have been offering plants in ever-larger containers - with proportionate price increases. The upscaling of plants has been in response to consumer demand for immediate gratification. Which is fine when you need only one plant. But if you want multiples of one variety, or you want something unusual, you are better off starting from seed.
For example, I want to plant 30 lavender and 30 rosemary plants. (I have a grand vision for my sunniest garden!) At a conservative $5 per plant at the garden center, that could cost $300. For the price of a single plant, I can purchase a pack of seeds that will give me all the plants I want.
Many people shy away from growing woody herbs and perennials from seed, assuming they are more difficult than annuals. In truth, most just require more time, planning and patience. The week after Christmas is the time to get started.
Lavender is one of the slowest plants you can grow from seed. Germination can take three weeks, and to get a plant that fills a 4-inch pot takes 20 weeks. For me, that means starting lavender seeds right around Christmas.
Rosemary is a bit quicker, but not much. Germination can take two weeks, and crop time for a 4-inch pot is 15 weeks. Thyme takes less than a week to germinate but it’s so small that a decent-sized plant can take 15 weeks from seeding.
In winter, though, I have all the time I need. Starting seeds is one of my favorite indoor activities when it’s too cold to be outdoors. So growing my own herb plants from seeds is a rewarding way to spend the cold months. I also happen to have had great results from Franchi's herb varieties and consider the results to be well worth the extra effort.
Franchi’s English Lavender, Lavanda vera, performs much better in my heavy soil than newer cultivars. It doesn’t die over the winter and after I cut it back in spring, it’s as fresh and vigorous as an expensive new plant. Rosemary isn’t perennial in my climate, so I have to start it every year, and I prefer Franchi's heirloom variety for its strong flavor, which holds up fresh or dried. My Oregano plants that I started from seed 10 years ago and moved three times are still going strong. My seed-grown Thyme of Provence returns along a rock edging year after year and flowers prettily in late spring.
For those who have never grown the perennial herbs, I have a few words of advice about getting started. First, the seeds are tiny, like grains of sand, so be careful when opening the packet (Franchi’s herb seeds are double bagged, with a small foil-lined bag inside the big outer packet.) Use a growing mix identified for seed starting; the fine texture will not bury the seeds too deeply. Also buy a small bag of vermiculite to sprinkle on top of the seeds that require light to germinate. Those include Dill, Lavender, Rosemary, Summer Savory, and Thyme. Vermiculite helps retain moisture around the seeds while still allowing light to reach the seeds. Cover the seed tray with a plastic dome to hold in humidity, and don’t let the soil dry out.
Most herbs require a germination temperature of 70-75 degrees, so you may need a heat mat to get them up and going. After the seeds germinate, you can grow them cooler, 50-60 degrees.
For more details about starting these and other herbs, see our Herb Growing Guide.