The Herb Garden

It is a pleasure for the housewife to walk out of the kitchen door to pick sprigs of mint and parsley as and when these herbs are required. Herb growing remains as simple as that in some gardens. But for many gardeners there is a special fascination about herbs and the collection increases until part of the garden is devoted exclusively to these plants.

Not all garden herbs are for use in cooking (for culinary purposes); some are used in medicine and others have cosmetic value. Examples are:

Medicinal Herbs

  • Akcost
  • Bistort
  • Catmint
  • Eyebright
  • Feverfew
  • Gentian
  • Horehound
  • Hyssop
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Lady’s Mantle
  • Mandrake
  • Pasque-Flower
  • Rue
  • Sweet Flag
  • Thorn Apple
  • Vervian

Culinary HerbsHerb Garden

  • Angelica
  • Basil
  • Carraway
  • Dill
  • Elecampane
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Lovage
  • Mace
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Nasturtium
  • Parsley
  • Purslane
  • Rampion
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Tree Onion

Cosmetic Herbs

  • Camomile
  • Fennel
  • Lavender
  • Orris
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sweetbriar

Sometimes the groups overlap. Savory may be classed as a culinary herb in ‘mixed herbs’ but it may be considered as a medicinal herb if its value as an aid to digestion is taken into account. Fennel is culinary when used to flavour boiled fish but cosmetic if you use it to rid the face of a few wrinkles. Some herbs do not fit into these three groups. An example is woad at one time used both medicinally and to dye wool.

Some herbs may also be classed as vegetables if grown in the kitchen garden. Horseradish, garlic and tree onion are three examples. Not all herbs are similar to the better known sage, thyme and parsley. The elder is a tree, sweetbriar is a prickly shrub and bergamot (Monarda didyma) is a colourful, popular hardy herbaceous perennial. Herbs differ from vegetables in that a vegetable is eaten as a filling food, while a herb is added to a meal to give flavour. Although many herbs are also attractive flowering plants, herbs are distinct from flowers grown solely for their beauty. They may be equally beautiful but they also have a use either when fresh or dried. A herb may be a weed; wild plants such as the thorn apple, the red field poppy and sweet flag would be included in a fully representative collection of herbs. They are unlikely to feature in a small back garden collection although two other weeds could. These are horseradish and fennel.

Some herbs are propagated from seeds; others from pieces of older plants. Some herbs are permanent (perennial or shrubs), some biennial and some annual. Mint is a perennial, angelica biennial, and summer savory an annual.

Herbs do best in a somewhat sheltered position and in the past, in the gardens of large houses, were invariably bounded by walls or hedges. The site was always a sunny one and, when you plan a small herb garden choose a place as warm and sunny as possible. One right out in the open is better than a site where a wall, tree or tall hedge casts shade.

The fortunate gardener starts off with the well-drained kitchen garden sort of soil in which most herbs thrive. Otherwise both drainage and fertility should be improved to provide the right conditions.

In planning a herb garden, however small or large it may be, reserve one square foot of ground space for each plant. Only when you have grown your own herbs and seen just how little or how much room each plant needs will you know for sure which of them can do with less than a square foot and which needs more. Where possible have your plants so spaced thlt barely an inch or so of soil can be seen between them in high summer. Sweet Basil will not need the complete square loot allotted to it but chives will as will the bushy lemon balm. French and Russian tarragons will need a little more room after a couple of years.

Herbs vary a great deal in height. Bear this in mind in your planting. Fennel, angelica and lovage are tall and are best positioned to the rear of the bed. They can provide an excellent background to lower, bushier plants such as lavender, bergamot, St John’s wort, lady’s maid, old warrior and several of the sages. Near the front of the bed is the correct place for common thyme, lemon thyme, apple mint, white mint, purslane, chives, sorrel and other low growing kinds. The thymes and chives may be planted, if you wish, as a border alongside a garden path adjacent to your herb garden.

The mints never remain where they are planted – if you let them, they will try to take over the whole herb garden. Prevent this by planting them in large flower pots. Sink the pots to their rims in the soil. Cheaper than pots are old pails-plastic or metal. Make some drainage holes in the bottom of pails before planting mint in them.

Pot-Pourri

There are two kinds of pot-pourri – moist and dry. To make a moist pot-pourri take fresh or partially dry petals of such flowers as roses, violets, pinks and lily of the valley. Place the petals in layers in .1 jar after you have mixed them with scented herb leaves. Here you have a wide choice-scented geranium, peppermint, eau-de-Cologne mint, pineapple mint, citrus mint-even fennel or one of the sages if you like them. Cover each layer with ordinary salt. Add, if you wish to experiment, just a little all-spice, a few cloves and some powdered orris root. Some recipes suggest the addition of a little brandy as a preservative. Moist pot-pourris are best kept in special potpourri jars.

A dry pot-pourri is a mixture of dried flower petals and dried herbs. The herbs must be those noted for their aromatic quality and the petals from flowers of fine scent plus, for their colour effect in the mixture, petals from blue larkspurs and delphiniums. Do not try to dry petals of flowers, such as lilies, which although highly scented are far too fleshy for drying well. One part of s.cented leaves mixed with seven parts of flower petals is a favoured recipe. Small amounts of spices and a little grated orange or lemon peel may be mixed in, too. Make sure the peel is quite dry before adding it; after grating it will dry off well in a greenhouse or in a sunny window.

Herbs for a dry pot-pourri (Leaves only-not stalks)

  • lavender*
  • marjoram
  • rosemary*
  • scented geranium
  • southernwood
  • sweet bay
  • verbena

*The dried, rubbed flowers may also be used.

Growing and Using Herbs

The herb garden should never be divorced from the rest of the garden. Trees and shrubs are good links to connect one part of the garden with another part. Visitors to large herb gardens should look for trees and shrubs in the vicinity. Some of them may be ‘herbs’ in their own right having culinary or medicinal properties. Other trees and shrubs near a herb garden may not be ‘herbs’ at all but may be grown for their highly aromatic foliage or flowers.

Examples of suitable trees and shrubs are : Balsam Poplar, Bay, Broom, Buddleia, Californian Laurel, Daphne, Elder, Eucalyptus, Juniper, Magnolia, Mahonia, Mountain Laurel, Myrtle, New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus), Rhododendron, Roses, St John’s Wort ( Hypericum), Hebe (Veronica), Witch Hazel.

Reference has already been made to the planning of a herb garden so that taller growers are planted towards the rear so that they neither hide nor shade shorter kinds. It is, therefore, important to have a knowledge of approximate heights of garden herbs.

The lists here show the majority of plants suited to herb garden growing. The heights are the maximum to which the herbs will grow but the ultimate height depends on several factors-soil, season, site and on the care you give your plants.

It should be noted that not all the plants listed below are described fully in the text. For further information the reader should refer to specialist books on the subject of herbs and their uses.

Very Short or Dwarf Herbs (height up to 1 foot)

  • American Liverwort
  • American Mandrake
  • Bloodroot
  • Catmint
  • Chamomile (Roman Chamomile)
  • Chives
  • Cowslip
  • Garlic
  • Heartsease
  • Indian Ginger
  • Lady’s Mantle
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Lobelia
  • Mandrake
  • Marjoram (French Marjoram
  • Golden Marjoram)
  • Micromeria
  • Mint (most mints)
  • Nasturtium
  • Parsley (except when seeding)
  • Pasque-Flower
  • Pennyroyal
  • Purslane
  • Pinks
  • Pimpernel
  • Sage
  • Samphire
  • Savory (Summer Savory)
  • Scurvy Grass
  • Selfheal
  • Thyme
  • Wall Germander
  • Winter Green
  • Woodruff

Short Growers (from 1 to 2 feet)

  • Arnica
  • Betony (Wood Betony)
  • Bistort
  • Burnet Saxifrage
  • Calamint
  • Chervil
  • Christmas Rose
  • Clary
  • Curry Plant
  • Dill
  • Geranium
  • Good King Henry
  • Henbane
  • Hounds Tongue
  • Lady’s Maid
  • Lavender (dwarf lavenders)
  • Lungwort
  • Marigold
  • Marjoram (French Marjoram)
  • Old Lady
  • Pellitory of the Wall
  • Periwinkle
  • Sage (some sages)
  • Savory (Winter Savory)
  • Skullcap
  • Sorrel
  • Sweet Basil

Semi-Tall Herbs (from 1 ½ feet to 2 ½ feet)

  • Alkanet
  • Anise
  • Borage
  • Burnet Salad
  • Caraway
  • Celandine (Greater Celandine)
  • Coriander
  • Horehound (White Horehound)
  • Hyssop
  • Insect Powder Plant
  • Linseed
  • Marjoram (English Marjoram)
  • Mint (some mints)
  • Old Warrior
  • Orris
  • Poppy (Red Field Poppy)
  • Sage (some sages)
  • Santolina
  • Skirret
  • Vervain
  • Yarrow
  • Yellow Balsam.

Medium Tall Herbs (from 2 feet to 3 feet)

  • Agrimony
  • Alecost
  • Balm of Gilead
  • Bergamot. Camphor Plant
  • Chamomile (German Chamomile)
  • Clary
  • Comfrey (Blue Comfrey)
  • Cotton Lavender
  • Feverfew
  • Grindelia
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Lavender (some Lavenders)
  • Lobelia (Scarlet Lobelia)
  • Melilot
  • Motherwort
  • Old Woman
  • Opium Poppy
  • Rampion
  • Sage (some Sages)
  • Soapwort
  • Solomon’s Seal
  • Sweet Cicely
  • Tarragon (French Tarragon)
  • Thorn Apple
  • Viper’s. Bugloss.

Tall Growers (from 3 feet to 7 feet)

  • Aconite
  • Allspice
  • American Hellebore
  • American Spikenard
  • Angelica
  • Balm (Lemon Balm)
  • Black Cohosh
  • Black Lovage (Alexanders)
  • Caper Spurge
  • Camphor Plant
  • Chicory
  • Dyer’s Green-weed
  • Evening Primrose
  • Fennel
  • Foxglove
  • Fuller’s Teasel
  • Goat’s Rue
  • Gentian
  • Hemlock
  • Hemp
  • Incense Plant
  • Indian Physic
  • Jerusalem Sage
  • Jewel Weed
  • Labrador Tea
  • Lovage
  • Liquorice
  • Marsh Mallow
  • Meadowsweet
  • Mullein
  • Nettle
  • Old Man
  • Opium Poppy
  • Orach
  • Our Lady’s Milk Thistle
  • Poke-root
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary
  • Russian Comfrey
  • Tarragon (Russian Tarragon)
  • Tobacco
  • Tree Onion

Weeds and Garden Herbs

Whereas the gardener usually rids his garden of weeds, the herb gardener often has several in the herb garden. Weed are plants out of place. In the herb garden a weed which has or has had a use in cookery, medicine or a folk craft may be included. Examples are:

  • Good King Henry – at one time widely used as a vegetable;
  • Foxglove – the source of the drug Digitalin;
  • Woad-an ancient dyestuff.

Herbs and Blind People

A herb garden is often laid out with plant labels in Braille so that blind persons may recognize the herbs they smell. Do not be surprised if a blind visitor to your own herb garden is unable to distinguish the aroma of each of your aromatic herbs. Unfortunately, as soon as the juice of a highly aromatic herb like mint, sage or thyme is on the fingers, the aroma will linger for quite a time unless the hands are washed. Do not offer a blind person scented soap if the visitor wishes to wash off a plant aroma so that another may be ‘sampled” for its scent.

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