In this part of the series I am going to address the structuring and preparing of a proper growing site. After you have decided on the kind of garden you will develop, where you will place it and what herbs you want to grow in it, you will have to move onto this stage. This is where you actually start to do some work. You will not only structure the actual garden space but you will also learn how to prepare the soil. So get out the rakes and spades. It’s time to dig in!
The hard work of soil preparation is the first stage of developing the chosen site for a healthy Herb garden. A good seed bed will be finely crumbled and free of stones and debris. Break up all hard clods of dirt or remove the ones that will not crumble. Rake out all debris on the surface so that the ground is smooth and clear. You should do this throughout the area, not just the small space where you plan to plant the herbs. This way, wandering roots will find sustenance and nutrients where ever they travel. Also, this prevents the crumby soil with weed seeds from tumbling into your bed and destroying all your hard work. And, indeed, this is hard work. But boy is it worth it!
If you are growing herbs in a small bed in a backyard garden with small or easier structured borders, all you will need to dig and till the soil are hand tools. A hand held spade or shovel and spading fork are all that you will need to make a nice garden. You may also find need for a hand trowel, a hand fork, a rake, a dutch hoe or a tined cultivator. Over time, you will find uses for all of these small tools. A larger garden over a larger space or an area that requires a lot of digging and clearing, you may want to use a rotary tiller. The only disadvantage to rotary tilling is that as you till you leave the plants ground back into the soil, which can spread weed seeds. Hand tilling is better if you have a large number of weeds, so that you may remove debris as you go.
Shallow cultivation is all you will need. Very few gardens require double digging or layered planting. Tilling down about an inch from the surface is ideal for planting most herb seeds, which like to be close to the surface and generally have shallow roots. Never till the soil when it is wet or you will damage the structure. Over tilling is more of a problem than not tilling at all so be sparing in your efforts.
For those of you who are building large Herb or Vegetable beds over a larger amount of space and may be planting taller plants that generate deep spreading roots, you may wish to double dig your garden. Double digging is also a good idea where gardens have been grown in the past and a lot of deep roots and lower lying debris remain in the soil. Also, double digging is a good idea if you wish to replace most of or all of your soil. This is especially called for in sandy regions or in areas where the existing soil is mostly clay.
To double dig a garden, you remove the entire topsoil area from the garden and set it aside in a pile. Digging up about a foot is preferred to give depth to the soil surface. If the soil is very poor in your area, you may also dig out another 1/2 foot of soil from the bed and discard it. Replace that layer with store bought manure, soil and peat humus or your own homemade compost if you have some, to enrich the bed with nutrients and minerals. Be sure to stir in the new soil with the old soil so that the mix is not so heavy that it burns the seeds. Once you have tilled in the new soil, if you choose to do so, then replace the upper layer with the top soil you set aside. Be sure to till it and mix it well as you add it back in. The surface should be aerated, crumbly and clean looking. Water the bed heavily and allow to dry back out before planting.
Overall, recreating a plants preferred habitat is an ideal way to ensure success with any Herb.
If you are starting the garden with a bed of light sandy soil, the best herbs to grow in that medium are:
Alkanet, Arnica, Broom, Chervil, Coriander, Dianthus, Fennel, Hound’s Tougne, Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Marjoram, Artemisia, Savory, Tarragon, Wormwood, Anise, Borage, Centaury, Chives, Cumin, Evening Primrose, Foxglove, Hyssop, Lemon Balm, Alfalfa, Sweet Clover, Rosemary, Southernwood and Thyme.
If you are starting a garden with a bed of heavy, chalky soil, the best herbs to grow in that medium are:
Calamint, Chickweed, Cowslip, Elder, Juniper, Lemon Balm, Lugwort, Mignonette, Pasque Flower, Rosemary, Sage, Solomon’s Seal, Wormwood, Centaury, Chicory, Dianthus, Hounds’ Tougne, Lavender, Lily of the Valley, Marjoram, Mullein, Periwinkle, Roses, Salad Burnet, Thyme and Yarrow.
In designing the garden, you choose to create raised bed, then you should be prepared to design and build large borders. Pathways are also key to the overall design of a raised bed. Creating pathways will require clearing debris, measuring the overall width and length of the sides of the garden plots and choosing a medium such as tile, cement or mowed grass.
Raised beds require some design and preparation that can be daunting. Choose the area for the garden and carefully plot out where you will plant the herbs and where you will design the pathways. Keep the garden uniform, in either a square, rectangle or circle to make the borders easier to define. Once you have decided on the size and shape, you must lay out where you wish to plant the herbs. This is best done in the corners of the square or rectangle, with the herbs accessible both from outside pathways and from inside paths. Four small squares inside the Perimeters of a larger square is the simplest. Lay out the pathways between the squares, going north and south as well as east and west. This allows for the simple use of square tiles in standard sizes. You may border the outer edges of the garden squares with railroad ties, plastic fences or pre-fab plastic borders. A simple square cross pattern of pathways between 4 outer squares is the most common first design. Later on, you can add the interest of circles, crosses and triangles.
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: