Building a Herb Garden
Herbs are easy to grow and require little maintenance so if you fancy having your own store of delicious fresh herbs, why not build a herb garden?
Herbs have been grown for their culinary and medicinal uses for thousands of years. It is a tradition that has been passed down through the generations. If you have a herb garden you will be carrying on the traditions of our ancestors.
Where Should you Site your Herb Garden? Your herb garden should ideally be placed in the sunniest part of your garden. Many herbs enjoy some shade, especially during the middle of the day, so bear this in mind. It’s also a good idea to site the plot in a sheltered spot, where the herbs won’t be damaged by excessive wind, rain or frost. In front of a south-facing wall is ideal. Most of the common herbs such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, sage, winter savoury and marjoram are native to the Mediterranean. Try to give them as similar conditions in your garden as possible.
Choose a spot where you can enjoy the herbs – where you can sit and take in their wonderful scents on a hot summer’s day. You might also want to place your herb garden near the back door or the kitchen. This will make them within easy reach when you want to add a handful of chives to a potato salad, or rosemary to a roast lamb joint.
If you have clay soil (dark, sticky and easily waterlogged), you should try and break it up before planting. Roughly dig over the soil in the autumn and leave the large clods of soil exposed over the winter months. The rain will expand the clods and the frosts will then shatter them into smaller, more manageable pieces. In early spring add plenty of well-rotted animal manure or home made compost. This will help separate the soil particles and improve drainage. It will also improve the fertility of the soil, ensuring your herbs will grow well. If you have sandy soil (light and free-draining) then add well-rotted manure or compost in spring. This will help bind the soil particles together and retain water so the herbs don’t dry out in hot weather.
Planning your PlotBefore you start, decide which herbs you would like to grow. There’s no point in growing coriander, for example, if you don’t like it. You should take into account the eventual size of your plants. If you buy perennial herbs from garden centres the labels on the pots should tell you how tall and wide your plant will get. Seed packets should give you the same information. This will give you a good idea of how much space you will need.
Growing Herbs in ContainersIf you are short of space, herbs grow well in containers. Use decent multi-purpose compost, and make sure the containers have good drainage, such as stones or gravel at the bottom. Containers are prone to drying out quickly, so ensure they are well watered during the summer months. If you are growing your herbs in terracotta pots, you should line them with plastic bags to help prevent water from evaporating from the walls of the pot. Most herbs grow well in pots – why not try a selection of parsley, thyme, chives, sage, basil, coriander, tarragon, and lavender? It looks effective and is handy if placed outside the kitchen door or on the balcony. You could even grow herbs in a hanging basket. The best ones to try include: parsley, chives, thyme, coriander and basil. It’s best to avoid adding mint, as it is a rampant grower and can take over. This should have a pot to itself.
Designing your PlotTraditional herb gardens have consisted of small beds arranged in a formal and geometric arrangement, such as in a square or diamond shape. Today's herb garden tends to feature a central focal point, around which the rest of the herbs are planted. The focal point could be a statue or birdbath, or a larger plant, such as a bay tree. You may want to incorporate a seating area into your herb garden or build paths running through it so you can take in the wonderful smells the plants emit in summer. Alternatively, you could plant a raised bed with your favourite herbs within easy reach of your kitchen – it’s entirely up to you.
No matter how much space you have, there’s always room for a herb garden. A single pot of rosemary or mint will smell sweet in the summer and provide you with plenty of culinary opportunities, but if you have the room, why not cram in as many herbs as you can?