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Herbs in a Small Garden
Many of the designs of our modern herb gardens are variations and sometimes copies of the traditional herb gardens of antiquity. However, it isn't necessary to have an elaborate plan or a traditional design in order to enjoy the many pleasures of herb gardening.
A simple row of fragrant herbs along a garden walk or a few varieties planted in between the rows of a vegetable garden can prove to be a really satisfactory beginning. If the herbs are grown in rows in the vegetable garden, very little space is required. Generally speaking, only a few feet of the annuals and but five or six plants of the selected perennials will supply generously the needs of the average family.
The design and plan of your herb garden, like that of any other garden, can be one of personal preference according to the space you may have to devote to the planting. If the garden space is limited, a small plot not more than 4 feet square can be a source of unpretentious enjoyment. An oblong or an irregularly shaped garden space not more than a few feet wide and approximately 6 feet long will be large enough to grow a sufficient supply of savory herbs for the entire family to enjoy.
In other words, an herb garden may be planted in practically any part of the available space where there is well-drained soil. The selected group of herbs may be planted to harmonize with any of the surrounding landscape, and one need not necessarily follow a traditional design. If desired, the herb bed may be raised somewhat above the level of the surroundings by filling in the bed with extra soil. The edges and border of the design may be kept neat and firm very easily by sinking a metal or wooden boundary into the ground about 2 inches deep. It is best to keep the perennials separate from the other herbs so they will not be disturbed by the planting of the annuals.
DIVERSITY OF DESIGN
Designs in triangles, ovals, and circles lend themselves to herb planting if one prefers them to the squares and oblongs. The planning of the design can give as much pleasure as the charting of a flower garden. In many instances the herb garden is infinitely more simple. The various degrees of the colors of the herb foliage can be used to create a design within a design. The gray-greens, the blue-greens, the deep greens, the purple-greens, and the light greens may be planted in such a way as to create exquisite contrasts. For example, the vivid deep green foliage of the humble yet beautiful curly parsley makes a perfect border for a gray-green center of rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme.
There are several beautifully designed herb gardens in our parks and botanical gardens. Sketches of two such modern designs are included in this book. As an example of what an herb garden can be without benefit of a design, I have sketched the herb garden which I knew as a child. It had no formal planning, but the herbs which grew in that simple oblong space were a source of constant and fragrant delight. It amply supplied aromatic culinary herbs for our family and for several neighbors. Like the herb gardens in colonial times, it was as near the kitchen door as it was possible to have it. Anyone could run out to pinch off a sprig of thyme or a few leaves of rosemary and chervil to add to the deliciousness of a marvelous roast or a tasty, savory stuffing.
If there is no available separate space in your garden for herbs only, it still will be possible for you to grow a few of them. A small border of the shorter, bushy herbs may be planted along a pathway or against a background of shrubs where there is a sunny exposure. The herbs will add not only fragrance but real beauty to the surroundings. Or a few plants may be tucked into an extra crevice in the rock garden or used as a border for an already thriving flower bed.
Naturally, the herbs chosen for a rock garden will include the shorter spreading herbs such as camomile, winter savory, and a variety or two of the trailing thymes. All these require little care and will thrive in the cracks and crevices and gaily add their charm to the colorful combination of the other plants. As an easy reference to assist you in choosing various herbs adapted for planting in particular places in the garden, the herbs have each been classified and assembled into such lists at the end of this chapter.
ADAPTABILITY OF HERBS
A great variety of the fragrant herbs will grow in practically all garden soils which are suitable for growing vegetables. In fact, many of them will thrive better in a poorer soil which is well drained. When the soil is too rich, the growth is apt to result in a heavy, luxuriant foliage rather than developing foliage filled with volatile oil which gives the richer, more aromatic flavor. Since most of the savory herbs will grow under a wide range of different climates and soil conditions, cultivating suggestions are given in the later chapters of this volume under each specific herb. The spices adaptable to cultivation in our hemisphere are also included.
The seed and young seedlings of the many fragrant herbs may be obtained from a goodly number of established herb gardens, local seedsmen, and nurseries all over the country. See also the listing at the back of this book: Where Fragrant Herb Plants and Seed May Be Purchased. Once your own garden is started, it is quite simple to enlarge it as you wish. Since many of the herbs are perennials, you will have root divisions not only for yourself but for all your friends and neighbors as well.
SUGGESTIONS FOR A FIRST HERB GARDEN
Among the especially delightful and useful herbs which may be selected as starters in a small garden are sweet basil, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, sweet marjoram, one or two of the scented mints, parsley, lemon verbena, rose geranium, sage, summer savory, tarragon, and thyme.
Herb gardens, like other gardens, reflect the taste and personality of the owner and the gardener, and no two gardens can ever be quite alike. Since any or all of the annuals, biennials, and perennials on the following lists are readily and easily grown, one's own choice may be made from among those herbs whose colors and fragrances are personal favorites. It is much more exciting to have complete success with but five or six herbs at first. Then as one learns what satisfactory and fascinating little plants they can be, additional varieties may be added to the garden without difficulty and with genuine enthusiasm.
PLANT DISEASES — NOT FREQUENT
The majority of the popular culinary herbs are free from troublesome plant diseases, especially when they are grown in small quantities, under the right conditions, and are never overcrowded. Should rust occasionally turn the leaves of the mints, tarragon, or thyme, this is readily counteracted by spraying them with sulphur and burning all the old stems and plants. Rust rarely attacks sweet marjoram, summer savory, sage, or rosemary, and never troubles chives, dill, chervil, parsley, water cress, or the sweet basils. In fact, disease is unusual with most of the culinary herbs, and this is another reason they can be so satisfactory for the gardener.
In certain regions and under unusually dry weather conditions, sage may be attacked by a small mite or lace bug. However, the disease seldom causes serious damage and a spray of yellow soap suds will control it. The culinary herbs require a minimum of watching and are usually healthy. Should a serious disease attack any of the plants, it is best to treat them as recommended by the county agent or the state agricultural experiment station, since local climate and soil conditions differ. If you are fortunate enough to be near a local herb gardener, he or she will gladly share and exchange herb-growing experiences with you. In herb gardening in the Pacific Northwest, I remember having no trouble whatsoever with plant diseases.
HERBS EASILY GROWN IN A SMALL GARDEN
Basil, Purple Chervil
Basil, Sweet Dill
Fennel, Sweet Savory, Summer
Angelica Caraway Parsley
Parsley, when kept from seeding Thyme, Lemon
SELECTING CULINARY HERBS FOR INDIVIDUAL GARDENS
Foliage colors for creating designs — dominant shades
Lavender, French Rosemary
Lavender, Spike Sage
DEEP GREEN FOLIAGE
LIGHT GREEN FOLIAGE
Basil, Purple Mint, Orange
Blossom colors for grouping — dominant shades
PALE TO DEEP BLUE
Corn Salad Rosemary
MAUVE TO PURPLE
Lavender, Spike Thyme, Woolly
PALE TO DEEP PINK
Hyssop, Pink Savory, Winter
YELLOWS TO ORANGE
For planting in shady or partially shady places
Parsley (Perennial when kept from seeding)
For planting in sunny places
Camomile, German Orégano
Burnet, Garden Parsley
Camomile, Roman Rosemary
For attracting honeybees
Bergamot, Red Marjoram,
Fennel, Sweet Savory, Winter
As hedges and back borders
Angelica Hyssop Rosemary
Bergamot Lovage Sage, Pineapple
Costmary Oregano Tansy
As edges and low borders
Basil, Dwarf Chives
Parsley, Curly Thyme,
In rock gardens
Balm, Bee Borage
Lavender, English Thyme, Wild
As ground carpets
Camomile, Roman Thyme, Wild
SECTION OF HERB GARDEN OF THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDENS PLANTED BY THE NEW YORK UNIT OF THE HERB SOCIETY OF AMERICA
1. Rosmarinus officinalis
2. Nepeta Mussinii
3. Teucrium marum
4. Lavandula officinalis "Munstead"
5. Satureia montana
6. Comptonia peregrina
7. Inula Helenium
8. Myrrhis odorata
9. Viola odorata
10. Primula veris
11. Marrubium candidissimum
12. Salvia pratensis
13. Salvia pratensis
14. Cassia marilandica
15. Monarda didyma
16. Digitalis ambigua
17. Monarda didyma
18. Monarda didyma (red)
19. Campanula rapunculoides
20. Sanguisorba minor
21. Thymus vulgaris
22. Stachys officinalis
23. Salvia officinalis
24. Chrysanthemum Parthenium
25. Hyssopus officinalis (pink)
26. Lavandula o. "Munstead"
27. Allium Moly
28. Artemisia albula "Silver King"
29. Artemisia Abrotanum
30. Rosmarinus officinalis
31. Origanum dictamnus
32. Sanguisorba canadensis
33. Dianthus "Old Spice"
34. Dictamnus albus
35. Hyssopus officinalis (pink)
36. Lavendula o. "Munstead"
37. Crocus sativus
38. Thymus vulgaris
39. Hyssopus officinalis (blue)
40. Rosa "Kazanlik" (Rosa damascena trigintipetalia)
41. Rumex scutatus
42. Allium flavum
43. Thymus vulgaris
44. Hyssopus officinalis (white)
45. Angelica Archangelica
46. Salvia officinalis
47. Iris Germanica florentina
48. Artemisia Purshiana
49. Micromeria rupestris
49. Lavandula officinalis
50. Fragaria vesca alba
51. Santolina Chamaecyparissus
52. Thymus vulgarisCHAPTER 2
Herbs Indoors in a Window Box
Several of the savory herbs may be easily grown indoors, either during the winter months or all year, so that one may have the pleasure of using fresh herbs at all times.
Since the annuals mature their seed and then die at the end of the growing season, it is best to plan to have new seedlings in the fall ready to bring indoors. The seed should be planted outdoors sufficiently early in the autumn so the tiny seedlings will be ready for indoor transplanting just before the frost.
The perennials will give the best results if the window-box plants are started from root cuttings or divisions rather than attempting to bring the old plants indoors. If there is no outdoor garden and you are starting your window box from scratch, the seedlings may be purchased from an herb garden or local nursery.
The herb window box is a lovely thing, and it doesn't necessarily have to stand along the kitchen window sill either. Undoubtedly there will be a rose geranium or two and perhaps some sweet marjoram and thyme with the ever-popular parsley, chives, and mints. These decorative herbs will add attractiveness and fragrant aroma to any room in the house.
Standard window boxes which can be kept well drained are the best. However, if boxes with such drainage structure are not procurable, any window box with a thick layer of rocks and stones placed on the bottom will be all right. Then the surplus moisture will lie below the soil. The box should be placed in a sunny window where the temperature can be kept even and where the box can be turned occasionally so that both sides get plenty of sun.
If one prefers only a pot or two of herbs, the 4-inch pots are the best size. Place them on trays at least 2 or 3 inches deep with a layer of stones or broken pot pieces spread thickly along the bottom of the trays. This allows for good drainage. Water should be kept in the trays at all times, but it should not touch the pots. The plants should be watered frequently from the top and then soaked about every ten days by letting the pots stand in water for an hour or more.
By following the general rules of caring for the average house plant, many varieties of herbs may be successfully grown indoors. Simply give them plenty of light, moisture, and fresh air which is neither too hot nor too dry.
Prepared potting soil may be purchased. If so, have a goodly portion of sand mixed with it, otherwise it will be too rich for most herbs. When regular loam is used, mix three parts of it with one part sand and one part fertilizer.
Several of the tall herbs listed, such as dill, fennel, and rosemary, become dwarfed when planted indoors in window boxes and pots; and they make beautiful house plants.
Excerpted from Growing and Using Herbs and Spices by Milo Miloradovich. Copyright © 1980 The Estate of Milo Miloradovich. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted May 20, 2013