There’s no doubt about it. Modern methods of cultivation and livestock rearing have given us bigger and better-shaped vegetables and better-looking meat, but what’s happened to the taste?
So what do you do when you want to try and get a bit more taste back into your food? Do what our ancestors have been doing for hundreds of years by making regular use of herbs for cooking. The right choice of herbs can make the blandest of dishes tempting and exciting – even more so when they are fresh from your own herb garden.
The Cook’s Herb Garden Plan
This article is about the first step in developing your own cook’s herb garden – creating a plan. Once created your herb garden will provide you with an easily accessible supply of all the herbs you want in generous quantities. Don’t worry if you have never grown herbs before. It’s really not difficult providing you develop a plan in the way I have described below.
I don’t intend to tell you everything about herb gardening in this article, but if you follow the steps I have suggested you’ll have a good design and plan that will lay a foundation for cultivating all the plants you need.
Four Steps to Create Your Herb Garden Plan
1. Choose Your Herbs
The first thing you need to do is decide which herbs you want to grow. If you don’t spend some time thinking about this you’ll end up growing some you don’t need, and leave out some of the others that are essentials for your cooking.
There are 100’s of herbs to choose from that you could include in your plan. Some thrive in sunny spots and well-drained soil and others prefer shade and damp conditions. A good rule is to choose a sunny spot. However, you need to know about the ideal conditions for each of your chosen herbs so that you can position them correctly in the garden you’ll develop once you have produced your plan.
Start choosing your herbs by writing down a list of the ones that you are familiar with or that are commonly used in cooking. In your list write the names first, but leave space to also write down the type (annual or perennial), the best position (sunny, shade) and best soil conditions (well-drained, moist etc). Also leave space to include the height that each plant will grow to.
Now extend your list with other herbs. Consider choosing from the following herbs that are frequently used in cooking – sage, tarragon, marjoram, basil, lemon thyme, fennel, chives, parsley, rosemary, bay, garlic, mint and thyme.
You’ll need to do some research to complete your list, but this is a very important step in developing your plan. When your list is finished it should include the names of twelve or so herbs and the additional information I described above.
2. Choose Location & Decide on a Herb Garden Design
Ideally your herb garden should be near the kitchen so that it’s easy to harvest the herbs fresh when you need them. A good size for the garden is 4ft x 6ft. This should enable you to plant all the herbs on your list, including a couple of bushy perennials. Try and choose a spot which is south facing. If some of the herbs you have chosen need a shady spot plan to use the larger plants such as bay, tarragon, and rosemary to shade them.
The simplest herb garden design to choose is a rectangle, but also think about other designs such as the “island” and the raised bed. Or think about creating a long herb garden boarder (good if you have a sunny wall in your garden). Choosing your design can be lots of fun. Here again, try and do some research on different designs in your local library or on the internet.
3. Check Soil Conditions
After you have chosen a position for your herb garden you must check on the soil conditions. Although some herbs prefer other conditions, a rich, well-dug, well drained soil is ideal. You may need to dig in plenty of organic matter to enrich your soil, but make sure that it doesn’t contain any weeds, especially perennial ones. If it does, you’ll risk pulling up your herbs when you try to remove the weeds once they begin to grow again.
4. Draw Out Your Herb Garden Design
Now you have chosen your plants and your herb garden design, draw a diagram of your garden on paper (graph paper if you have any). Draw it out to scale. Make one foot of the garden equivalent to two inches on your paper.
Now use some different colored paper to cut out rough circles to represent your herbs when they are fully grown. These circles should have a diameter equivalent to the height each plant will eventually grow (use the same scale of one foot to two inches). You may want to grow more than one of some types of herbs (e.g. sage and basil), so allow space for these as well. You should only need one each of the larger herbs such as rosemary and bay.
Put the cut circles onto your scaled paper diagram and move them around until you have good positions for all your herbs. Some people also take into account the color of the flowers that the plants will produce, but I suggest you avoid this complication. Once you have gone through one growing season you can easily move your herbs for the following year (but don’t keep moving the perennial herbs).
When you have created your herb garden design, you’ll know exactly where to plant your herbs. A good tip is to use some colored sand to create full-size circles on the ground in positions exactly corresponding to those in your herb garden design. This will make sure you plant your herbs in exactly the right spots with the right amount of space around them to allow for growth. Don’t forget to try and take into account the needs of the herbs that want a little more shade.
Your plan will enable you create an attractive herb garden that contains all the plants you need for your cooking. After your first year herb gardening you will probably want to change some of the annual herbs you chose in your original plan. That’s quite OK, that’s all part of the fun of growing herbs. You may also want to enhance the appearance of your herb garden with statues or ornaments so that you end up with a garden of herbs which looks good, smells good and improves your cooking!