Wednesday, 15 June 2011

I love herbs!

The completed garden
I love herbs! I've always had a yen to try out my own herbal tonics and creams, etc and, of course, I love using them in cooking - both fresh and dry - and for years have had a pot of two on the windowsill. Unfortunately, these never seem to last too long (I'm not very good with indoor plants!) and so ever since we moved here I've been itching to develop my very own herb garden.

Well, having finally cleared the large brick-built raised beds near the house, I decided that the largest area would make a fantastic space for a herb garden. We already have an enormous lavender bush which we inherited with the house and the pergola area has been underplanted with some herbs in pots for a year now, but I wanted an area dedicated completely to herbs too. I did quite a lot of research into what herbs to grow - I wanted to have a good range of those I use regularly in cooking (basil, mint, rosemary, oregano), along with those that I tend to leave out because we don't need them very often and therefore never get round to buying (parsley, coriander and dill), some I don't use enough (chives, thyme and sage) and some new ones just to experiment with (summer savoury and tarragon). I also looked at various layouts for traditional gardens, but due to the nature of the space, have ended up with a version all my own.

preparing the space
1. Planning the space and preparing the ground. I'm not much of a one for detailed, to-scale plans (even though I have the graph paper, I just get too excited and impatient!) so I sketched out my idea in a notebook. I wanted to take the idea of a herb wheel and apply it to the rectangular space, with the main planting in the wheel bordered by some of the bushier herb varieties. I wanted an actual cartwheel to plant into (it's amazing what you can find on ebay), but when it came to it, couldn't find any big enough for the space, so had to adapt my design based on using two smaller wheels instead - one for herbs with a mainly culinary use and the other for medicinal/home/craft use. The main preparation once the bed was cleared of the old shrubs, involved digging it over, covering it with weed-proof membrane and then placing the wheels.

2. The new layout has three planting areas: the wheels, the curved corner areas and some terracotta pots. Once I'd worked out what herbs I wanted, I ordered some as plants and some as seeds (to keep costs down). We bought two terracotta pots from the garden centre and we inherited a third which came with the garden.

3. Planting up the wheels. Each wheel has twelve spaces between the spokes, so I decided to plant six herbs per wheel, with each herb allotted two spaces. The only exception to this are my chives, where I have one space for common chives and one space for garlic chives. The wheels are planted up as:

Wheel 1: Culinary

  • Chives (common and garlic)
  • Summer savoury
  • French tarragon
  • Coriander
  • Apple mint
  • Oregano

Wheel 2: Medicinal/Household/Craft
  • Chamomile
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Feverfew
  • Hyssop
  • Herb robert

One of my corner borders is a selection of thymes (common, lemon and creeping) and the other is made up from taller herbs (dill, rosemary (two varieties), sage and flat-leaved parsley). Finally, two of the three pots hold goji berry bushes and the third is a sweet bay. Elsewhere in the garden we've lemon balm, lavender (as mentioned), black peppermint and more rosemary, hyssop, tarragon and thyme.

tall herbs in the left corner
thymes in the right corner
4. Finishing touches. The finishing touches included covering the weed-proof membrane with gravel and placing the terracotta pots.

It's so exciting to be able to nip out and pick my own fresh herbs to add to dishes, even at this stage when some of my plants aren't quite ready. We've had mint in a potato salad and with strawberries; coriander in a number of curry dishes, tarragon in a chicken dish and rosemary. I'm in the process of developing a recipe for mint and lemon biscuits (watch this space) and I'm sure the other herbs will come into their own over the next few weeks and months too.

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