Herb Garden 101

OK, so I've been asked if maybe I'd like to put up some posts about herb gardening.

I will start by saying, I have no qualifications, and there is no reason at all why I should be telling you about growing herbs. Other than that I've grown a few.

I thought I'd go at it one topic at a time, and see how far we get.

So I'm going to make a start with what kind of herb garden do you want?

There are probably a million computations, but I reckon there are four basic reasons for having a herb garden, and four types of herb garden, and then you can combine bits to get where you want to be.

The types I'm going with are
  • Culinary
  • Medicinal
  • Natural Dyes
  • Contemplative

Assuming you have a fairly adaptable site - you start from here. In fairness, I've got to say that culinary herbs, or at least some of them, tend to be mediterranean, and therefore need some sun and some good drainage, so if you're in deep shade and there's nothing you can do about that, you may need to think round your situation.

Culinary Herb Garden

Well, here's the simplest one.

Culinary herbs are, as I say, more often from the Mediterranean, and want some sun, and richer soil than most herbs. So a line of pots on your window sill is not as daft as it might seem.

Do you cook, and if so, do you want to use fresh cut herbs from your garden? Will you make herb vinegars, or oils? Which herbs do you like? That might seem a dim question but honestly, some of them are pretty strong flavoured, and people either love them or loathe them. Dill, or fennel, for example.

Some culinary herbs: Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, obviously. Basil, oregano, marjoram, dill, fennel, coriander (called cilantro when it's leaves) bay leaves, chives, and garlic chives ... it goes on and on. There are a lot of culinary herbs.

Medicinal Herbs

Now, the first thing about medicinal herbs is all the warning stuff. You're not supposed to use this stuff if you're sick. You're supposed to consult your GP. I very often go with the herbs, but then, that's me.

So if you're wanting a medicinal herb garden, you are going to need to be careful about labelling, and make sure you learn as much as you can about every herb, and be sure you know you've got the right thing!

You also want to be growing them as naturally 'wild-like' as possible, and of course to be sure they're not getting polluted in any way.

Aloe Vera's a great medicinal herb to grow on your windowsill, but if you're looking to plant up a full on garden, you'll be thinking about: fever-few, chamomile, mint, comfrey, valerian, st john's wort, dandelion, garlic ... ooh, you could go wild out there!

Natural Dyes

I've grown some dye plants, but never enough, and it's something I really want to expand into. Dying wool, or other natural fibres, with your own plant material is fantastically absorbing (ha!) and although a lot of the plants tend to grow wild, they probably won't conveniently grow wild where and when you want them - so why not plant a dyers' garden?

You'll be looking at: Chamomile, coreopsis, weld, tansy, dyers' greenweed, madder, woad ... don't they all sound fantastically ancient? These are wild flowers, plants that grow largely on poor ground, so don't go beefing up your soil yet.


I'm counting in this one, all kinds of herb gardens for contemplation, meditation - all things metaphysical in fact -and leaving the interpretation up to you.
Scented herbs like lavender will probably feature, and you may choose other herbs that mean something to you.

Aloe, Coriander, Cumin, Mint, Garlic, Hyssop, Mustard, Rose, Rue, and Wormwood, for example, are all found in the Bible.

So that's a bit about choosing what kind of herb garden you want. You're probably going to want to mix it up a bit - but know what you want out of your herb garden before you even measure up.

If I can stick with it, we'll look at site, soil and planning sometime soon.


Ellen said...

Herbs are my favorite thing to grow, since they seem to do well for me, unlike, well, anything else. I love sage, mint, lemon balm, lemon thyme, common thyme, rosemary, and basil particularly. I blogged about lemon thyme last spring, in fact.

Jennifer said...

I've never heard of most of the dyeing herbs - they do sound ancient!

How do you use chamomile for dyeing?

This year I'm expanding my herb garden even more than last! My husband will probably shake his head at me. :)

Jackie said...

Hi Jennifer -
Dyers Chamomile - Anthemis Tinctoria - is different than the lawn kind and the tea kind.
I seem to remember it's the flowers, and they give a rich deep yellow, though I am open to correction by the more recent dyers out there!

Catherine said...

My window sill is calling out for a little greenery...you may just have inspired me!! Cx

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