From Sicily to Lombardy, (Via Campagna, Umbria, Tuscany and Emilio-Romagna) the variety by region of Italian cuisine and the typical Italian herb garden is astonishing. In fact one of the only unifying factors in all this is that most will have a herb garden, with it’s primary quintet of garlic, oregano, basil, parsley and rosemary. The supporting chorus of rocket, fennel, capsicum, marjoram, thyme, chives, sage and bay are freely used in a multitude of Italian dishes and play differing roles in supporting the principal players.
And guess what. They are all easy to grow. Many, many villas sport a herb garden section as an essential part of their kitchen plant beds.
The Greeks can probably prove priority usage of rosemary, bay, basil and parsley, but the Italians have long since made these their own. Italian cuisine may be famous worldwide, but only the tip of the herb utilisation iceberg is visible. Some of the regions I mentioned in the first paragraph, in spite of sharing borders hundreds of miles long, differ vastly in the style and preferences of their cuisine.
Each region defends the integrity and superiority of their region with true Italian passion. The result is that an Italian herb garden in one region can differ greatly from one in another region.
That said, let us hie back to paragraph one. Our primary quintet of garlic, oregano, basil, parsley and rosemary will serve anyone well as the initial residents in their Italian herb garden.
Garlic grows easily – ask your nurseryman which are the best varieties for local planting.
Oregano seems to enjoy growing on a steep slope where it hangs down a little. Try this with yours.
Basil should be grown in a series of plantings to have fresh leaves all through summer.
Some supposedly hard-to-grow parsley seeds were scattered by a windy day and my garden is now full of parsley plants. It looks wonderful to see their lovely green foliage scattered all over.
Rosemary makes a lovely hedge and is available for lots of harvesting in this form.
Consider also growing a bay tree in your Italian herb garden, both for its beauty and utility, but also as a partial shade-giver to its companion herbs. Just be careful to plant away from any foundations.
The rest of the Italian herb garden residents mentioned can be added later if desired, but this is largely a matter of choice and preferences that have more to do with cuisine bias than anything else.