Lydia is a student of herbalism and alternative healing modalities. She is a DIY enthusiast who is passionate about sustainable living.
Would you like to start an herb garden, but don't know where to begin? After all, fresh herbs are much tastier than dried ones. Buying herbs at the grocery store can rapidly get expensive. They spoil quickly. An herb garden can provide you with more than just a tasty ingredient for cooking. You will also get a medicine cabinet full of herbal remedies and can make your own herbal teas.
Creating a garden isn't that hard provided you have a bit of space. Even if you don't have a yard you could seek out a plot in a community garden or create a container garden on your balcony.
Choose Your Location
Most herbs prefer plenty of sunlight. Many of the herbs we use in cooking originated from the Mediterranean. Make sure the spot you select gets at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. The soil in the garden should also be well-drained. Ideally, you should pick somewhere sunny and sheltered. Beside a wall or hedge is a good spot. Planting it close to the kitchen will also make it easier for you to use the herbs.
Perparing the Soil
You will want to start your garden in the springtime. You can test the drainage of the soil by digging a hole about 12 inches deep and filling it with water. Let the water sit overnight and saturate the soil. Fill it up with water again. Test it each hour to see how much it is draining. It should be draining about 2 inches of water each hour.
Loamy and sandy soil works best for herbs. Sometimes sandy soil drains a little too fast. If this is the case, you can add more organic material to slow down the process. Clay soil doesn't drain well. If your soil has high clay content there are ways to correct it. You can add pine bark or pea gravel to the soil to help the water run through faster.
Test the PH
You can test the PH of the soil if you like. You will want a PH level between 6 and 7. All you need to do is buy a PH testing kit and follow the instructions.
If the PH reading was too low you can add lime to your soil. Don't use too much lime and applying it with too heavy a hand can be difficult to fix. Wait a few days for the soil to absorb the lime before you begin putting in any plants.
If the PH was too high you can add more organic matter. Herbs need neutral soil. Bone meal adds trace elements. Compost nourishes the herbs. It also helps them with drainage. Steer clear of using manure in your herb garden. It is high in nitrogen. This may help the herbs grow faster, but it also decreases their flavor.
Creating a Garden Design
It is up to you to design your garden however you would like it. You could pick between a formal or informal design. Formal gardens are sketched out on graph paper beforehand. Informal gardens still require planning. Some herbs grow faster than others. Oregano and mint grow fast. Make sure they don't choke out slower-growing herbs like thyme.
Statues are another great way to beautify the space. Staircases and patios can be used to create levels. Climbing herbs can be grown on trellises.
Combining an Herb and Vegetable Garden
Mixing herb gardening with vegetable gardening is another approach. It is certainly a practical way to get the most use out of your space. You can select flowering companion plants. Marigolds provide a beautiful aesthetic quality while also repelling garden pests.
There are many herbs and vegetables that make great companion plants. Basil and tomato is a winning combination.
Checkerboard Parterre is a design utilizing pavers and plants. It makes plants easily accessible and keeps the weeds in check. It contains, and controls herbs while eliminating excessive moisture. You can cover a larger and flat area with a checkerboard parterre. This can be part of a formal garden design, but not difficult to create. The pavers need to be square, but you can choose any design you like. Measuring is important and the garden needs to be staked out. Simply lay down the pavers in a checkerboard pattern alternating between paver and soil.
A container garden is the easiest garden to create. It can also be the most practical. You can easily move your plants around to give them optimal sunlight. It is incredibly easy to make them attractive and decorative. You can use many different types of containers. Cement pots, troughs, hanging baskets, and terracotta pots all work nicely. You might have something sitting around that you can creatively use as a container. Many items can be quickly transformed by drilling drainage in the bottom. Plastic pots may not be as charming, but they will do in a pinch if you have them hanging around.
The ideal container should be at least 15 cm deep and have proper drainage. Many herbs can be put in the same pot together. Make sure they have similar watering needs and don't put invasive herbs. Thyme, marjoram, sage, parsley, and chives work well together.
Which Herbs to Select?
So many choices! You can start off by asking yourself a few questions. What are your personal needs? What do you commonly use in your cooking?
It is also good to be mindful of how the herbs you select will grow. For instance, oregano and mint are invasive, but also extremely versatile. You may wish to grow them in a container so they don't take over the whole garden. Rosemary and lavender can grow quite large. These are things to take into account.
Ideal plants for a medicinal garden could include lemon balm, thyme, sage, feverfew, chamomile, and peppermint.
Gardening in the Springtime
First, you will want to clean up your garden. Cut back, pull off, and break away any remaining stalks of thyme, chamomile, lemon grass, and sage, as soon as spring arrives. Divide mint, oregano, chives, and violets in the spring. Mint and strawberries are heavy feeders, so give them compost. Avoid using manure or fertilizers that are not organic so your herbs will have better flavor. Herbs should be well-watered, but don't give them too much. Water once a week. That should be sufficient.
Attending to Your Garden in the Summer
Summer is when you will get the most out of the garden. Use your herbs as much as you can. Frequently harvesting them will keep your plants pruned while encouraging healthy growth.
Rain can cause disease in some Mediterranean herbs. They are most comfortable in arid conditions. Treat mildew with vine sulfur. A strong infusion of feverfew, marigold, or chili can eliminate many garden pests. Mix it up with a few drops of liquid soap.
Rapidly growing annuals like coriander need to be planted weekly. Basil's flowering tips should be pruned in order to prevent the plant from going to seed.
Summer is a good time to make potpourri from any herbs that flower.
Herbs in require watering and feeding. If they are undernourished they become stressed and subject to insect infestation.
Autumn is Harvest Season
Autumn can be a busy time. It is time to harvest, dry, collect seeds, and use whatever your has been produced. Keep your annual herbs cut back as long as you can. This allows you to get the most out of them.
When plants go to seed you can collect them in brown paper bags. Allow them to dry completely. Store them in airtight containers. Collect perennial seeds once the flowers have faded.
Seeds of anise, dill, coriander, fennel, and caraway can be used in cooking over the winter.
Winter is Downtime
Winter is the time when the herb garden is at rest. You won't be doing much over the cold months. Not if you live in an incredibly cold climate like I do. Tender perennials should be covered in order to protect them over the winter.
Enjoy Your Herbs!
Enjoy your herbs and try to get as much out of them as you can. Stuck for ideas as to how to use them? Invest in an herb book explaining different ways to make use of them. Hopefully, this article has given you enough information to get inspired and get started.