Herbs In Your Lovely Garden
Having a number of gardens at our house, I’m especially enjoying this spring season, in experimenting with growing herbs for food and beauty. As most people know, anyone interested in cooking and with even a little plot of land to use, out to have a garden of fresh herbs. The difference in taste between fresh basil, thyme, or mint and their dry-as-dust counterparts found in the supermarkets is considerable.
This year’s herb garden is on a front patio and is completely container grown. I’m going for an old world look with lots of terra-cotta and ceramic pots, mosaics, iron wrought, a water feature — designing a sanctuary in this very secluded part of my front yard — a place to dream and write, under the shady of gigantic oak trees that are laden with Spanish moss. My biggest challenges right now are squirrels who are having fun while I’m not looking — they are digging up my plants, then there is the raccoon who thinks it’s a hoot to explore the contents of anything new, and enough oak tree pollen to fill our backyard swimming pool. Outwitting mother nature, is all part of gardening and heightens the thrill of what actually thrives and what needs a lot of help.
Now, even the busiest person, or those with nothing more than an apartment balcony, can successfully grow herbs. It more than compensates for the little time and effort that an herb garden requires. To begin with, an herb bed need not be large (or even a bed). An area measuring only four by eight feet is sufficient for all the herbs most often used in the kitchen — which includes parsley, mint, thyme, bay leaf, fennel, chives, basil, dill, marjoram, and tarragon.
Herbs are not too fussy about the kind of earth they grow in. Any patch of sunny, well-drained, friable soil, that is not too rich in fertilizer works well. Sow the seeds thinly, cover with a light scattering of earth, and in two or three months you can begin your harvesting.
Most herbs require little watering since many of them are native to hot, dry climates. Mint, however, is an exception and does best in moist places. Also, when the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them out to make space for growth. Keep beds weed free and water when the soil seems dry.
Fresh herbs are best, but dried herbs, when correctly prepared, are excellent too. The time for harvesting your herbs is just before the plants have begun to bloom, when the concentration of oil is the highest in the leaves. A sunny day is always best for this, and the stems should not be picked until the dew is off the leaves. Then pick the plants, spread them loosely on trays or wire mesh (or hang them in small bunches) in a warm, dry place indoors out of the sun. After three of four days, when the leaves have become crackly dry, strip them from the stems, reduce them to a powder or to small particles, and store them in airtight containers.
In addition to being useful in the kitchen, herbs also lend a kind of old work charm to any garden. However, they must be used imaginatively, since a plot of nothing but herbs presents a rather uniformly gray appearance. Traditionally, herbs are planted in small individual beds surrounded by other flowers, or separated by attractive walks of brick or paving stone.
Plan the layout of the beds so the herbs can be easily picked. Or grow them in containers as I do. Herbs are also used as decorative border plants; basil, dwarf lavender, thyme, rosemary, and germander in particular. The medieval “knot” gardens, which were made up of carefully trimmed herbs to simulate a border of loosely knotted rope, are also worth trying.
If You’d Like To Know More About Herbs