Part One Of The Series
This is part one of a lengthy series I plan to post here on the art of growing your own herbs. From planning and designing the garden, to providing the best environment, to harvesting your lode, this series will lead you through it.
There are a lot of rewards for growing your own herbs. One is that you always have a ready supply of fresh, healthy plants. Even better, you control their environment so you know what chemicals and fertilizers have been used, if any, and what their dangers are. There is no travel time from your own garden, making the herbs as fresh as they could ever be. You clean them yourself, picking through them carefully, ensuring that you get the best part of the plant rather than the high ratio of stems and debris you get when you buy shaker or bottled herbs.
So here is the first increment in my series. In part one, I am going to show you first of all of the matters that must be considered in choosing a proper site for your garden. This must be done first, of course, or you will never be successful in the project. If your yard does not offer the right kind of conditions for a proper garden, adjustments must be made or you will have a failure. The work you do up front will be rewarded a hundred times over during the coming seasons as you harvest gorgeous herbs year round.
Before you design your garden, consider how much time and effort you are willing to put into your Herb Garden and how much maintenance any garden design is likely to require. Don’t be too ambitious or it will become a chore rather than a pleasure when you end up forcing yourself to tend to it for many more hours than you would like. Be careful about choosing the location and size based upon accessibility and available time. If you are new to Gardening, start with a small square near the house or a few large containers with a limited variety of Herbs. Take your time. As your enthusiasm and knowledge grows, so can your garden.
The ideal site for any Garden is quiet and sunny with protective and safe surroundings. Sunny sites with not too much wind or the possibility of flooding are ideal for most Herbs. Think of it as a peaceful retreat. A place where you will spend a lot of quiet time. An idyllic garden such as this may seem difficult to create but it is not.
In choosing the site for your Herb Garden, you should first consider its intended use. A culinary Garden should be close to the kitchen. A medicinal Garden should be close to an outside door, preferrably a bath or laundry room. A scented Herb Garden should be placed downwind from your home so that the wind will carry the wonderful aromas through open windows on breezy days. A general usage Herb Garden can be placed anywhere.
Herbs should always be grown in areas with paths or where paths can be designed for easy access. It is a horrible feeling to have to step on plants to reach other plants. When it rains, you can rush along a path, clip the Herbs you need and dash back to safety. Part of the Garden, at least, should have a southernly aspect as the majority of Herbs require full sunlight. Tender herbs such as Tarragon, Southernwood or Rosemary grow tall and require some shelter from high winds. Plan the garden so that these types of Herbs are centralized among taller, less fragile Herbs or along outer walls where winds will not reach them.
Many aromatic Herbs in southern climates require light, well-drained soil. A gently sloping site is ideal, particularly in areas where there is a lot of rainfall. In areas rife with heavy clay or in city gardens with sour soil, it may be worth building raised beds and filling these beds with fresh soil and compost. Some herbs, such as Mints, prefer shade and moist soil; many medicinal Herbs prefer shady spots. Investigate the needs of each Herb you choose to grow for special preferences such as these.
Remember that every form of Gardening is artificial and depends for its success on matching as far as possible the natural environments of plants grown in the wild. Herbs that you will put in your garden will be cultivated in one place, while they originally came from all corners of the world and diverse environments. Always find out where your Herbs normally grow in the wild… it might be a sun baked rocky hillside or a waterlogged rain forest. A particular Herb may thrive in a hot desert or in a frozen tundra. In choosing your site, try to identify the warmest sheltered parts of your yard, the areas with the best drainage, the deepest shade, the brightest sun. Identify any corners where frost lingers longer, open spaces where the Sun falls first in the morning and remains longest through the day, areas where the sun arrives and leaves early. Allocate your Herbs to these spots according to their needs.
If you are planning a Herb Garden, seperate from other gardens or growing spaces in your yard, or as the sole garden in your yard, assess carefully its’ position at all times of the day.. and also the year. Consider all of the cultural aspects, including soil, temperature, sunlight, shade, insects, animals, access to pathways, etc… and then choose the plants that are most likely to succeed under these natural conditions.
Remember when planning your beds that Herbs are not all the same but are plants with very different life cycles. Annuals and biennials live and die within the year and must be replanted or propogated every 12 months or less. Some Herbs germinate and harvest more than once within a single season and must be harvested and resown several times a year. This will help determine where they should be grown in relation to perennial Herbs that remain year after year. They will shed and leave open areas in the garden throughout the season and planning should be done as to how to fill those areas. Annuals and Bienniels grow, flower, harvest and die in one year. Some Perennials take years to fully develop. Some Perennials get old after several years and must be harvested or propogated for full harvest in years to come. You need to provide safe and healthy space for Perennials where they do not need to be moved for the years of their growth. You also need to provide easy access to Annuals and Biennials which will be blooming and shedding rapidly throughout the year and must be harvested and resown at least once. Therefor, it makes sense to place Annuals and Biennials along outer pathways and Perennials in towards the center of the Garden, with the tallest herbs in the middle, where they are sheltered from the destructive wind.
For most Herb Gardens, aim for a site where at least 3/4 of the space is in the sun for the most of the day. As many aromatic and culinary Herbs are Mediterranean in origin they are used to heat and sand. A slope that faces the sun for up to six hours a day is ideal. The slope provides drainage so the plants don’t get too wet. Note in the garden site where the shadows fall and water collects. In the shady spots, plant Herbs like Rue, Tarragon, Mint or Sage. Where water collects, fill those areas with stones or rocks to promote drainage. In shady, quiet spots where you might like to place a bench or chair, consider planting tall Herbs such as Rosemary or Sweet Bay nearby for the wind protection afforded by the seating area. A wall around the Garden is also a great idea, as is a screen. A screen is recommended if you choose to grow climbing Herbs such as Ivy or Soapwort.
Perennials provide the framework of any Herb Garden. They are the permanent, year round crops that maintain continuity from year to year, providing a harvest when other Herbs are in decline. Design your garden site around the kinds of Perennials you would like to grow.
Size of a garden varies widely. Some herbs are low-growing but tend to spread out, becoming even ground cover or a kind of mat. Herbs that do this are Mint and Thyme. They make wonderful “lawns” of a sort and can even be mowed. The scents they release when mowed make your garden a slice of Heaven. Their sheddings make great compost for the rest of the lawn. Other Perennials are tall and dominating, some of them even becoming small trees. Herbs like this are Rosemary, Savory, Bay and Fennel. Rosemary can be like a small tree with thick stems and long rising fingers that reach up to 4 feet. Remember these qualities when deciding what Herbs to grow and where. Ultimate height and spread should always be taken into consideration when choosing the spots in your site for various herbs. Consider also a plants’ tolerance for pruning and clipping. Rosemary, for instance, does not mind being cut to the ground. It comes back rapidly. But Tarragon cut to the ground may take months to grow back to a bushy height. Size plants in accordance with their impact on the overall garden design. Plants that are harvested quickly close to the pathways, tall plants toward the center with plants that like to be clipped on the outside of the center area. Make sure that all areas of the garden, even the taller center plants are reachable from outside pathways. This will make cutting and harvesting much easier and take less toll on your back.
Growing Herbs in containers is always a solution where space becomes limited or climate conditions force the overwintering of plants indoors. Container Herbs are also a solution where the garden has grown to a size that is no longer manageable or plants have become inaccessible from pathways. This is not a poor substitute for ground planting but can be a great addition to an existing Herb Garden, expanding your harvest beyond the limitations of ground space.
This should give you a general idea of whether you are able and willing to do the work necessary to create a prolific herb garden. If you decide that this project is something you have the time, money and energy to persue, check back here often for updates on putting your new garden together. To continue to part two of this series, please go to Growing a Gorgeous Herb Garden
UPDATE MARCH 2012:
NOW AVAILABLE!Harmony Green has gathered all of the posts on Herb Gardening and on harvesting and using Herbs and created a single eBook. How To Create a Gorgeous Herb Garden is now available and has everything you need to both create a gorgeous garden this year and to harvest and use the herbs year round. From articles on choosing the proper site to tending the garden to harvesting, the book also outlines uses for herbs from medicinals to massage oils as well as for cooking and cleaning. Learn to create bee and butterfly gardens, learn the secrets to growing herbs indooors, see how easy it is to propagate herbs of all kinds and create a productive potted or container garden on your patio among many other things. This book has it all. In PDF format, this book can be read on any e-reader or on your desktop. Purchase and upload it here for only $6.99: