I have been growing herbs since 1984. The 18-foot round aboveground swimming pool had outlived its usefulness so my husband, Jim, decided to put a fish pond in its place. He excavated the compacted earth and spread it all around the rest of the yard. He made a liner from the old pool liner and carried stones to the area. He then decided that this was all a mistake. Coincidentally, we had visited a local library and there on the cover of a magazine was a picture of an eighteen-foot round herb garden divided into quadrants by stones. The die was cast. We bought a load of topsoil and I began to grow herbs.
What is an herb anyway? Don't confuse herb with the herbaceous. Herbs are any plants that people use, so in the broadest sense even an apple tree could be considered an herb. Some people say that we use the leaves of some plants and these are called herbs. But this would exclude garlic which is a highly regarded herb. Herbaceous is described as when a plant dies down to the earth at the end of the growing season and may not resume growth the following year. Thus some herbs such as lovage are herbaceous. Others such as chives are not.
Have you considered growing herbs? You don't have to have a separate garden just for them. This is a twentieth century notion. Historically herbs have been grown close to the house for the convenience of the family cook. For that reason the most traditional herb gardens are culinary. Why grow herbs? They are beautiful, historical, medicinal, fragrant and/or edible. They attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Think about herbal wreaths and teas. Think about stepping outside the door and cutting fresh herbs like parsley, coriander and sage.
March is a great time to consider where the garden site will be for your new herb garden. Think small, but remember that enthusiasm often leads to bigger gardens. The garden site for your herb garden should have good drainage and receive a least four to six hours of direct sunlight during the growing season. If your soil is heavy and full of clay, be sure to add organic matter to increase the friability of the soil. This is especially important for the establishment of seedlings and the young plants which will be planted in your new herb garden. You may wish to make a plan for the herb garden. Only you can decide how much time and space you wish to devote to this project.
Next month I'll discuss tools for your herb garden, as well as cultivation, weeding, fertilization, propagation, watering, pruning, harvesting, and use of herbs.