Put Herbs to Work in Your Garden

Growing herbs makes sense in so many ways.  They smell good, taste (possibly) even better, are incredibly easy to grow, and although a herb garden may be a relatively small landscaping addition, studies have shown that well maintained and landscaped gardens can increase your home’s value considerably.

Herbs can be grown in gardens, pots, tubs, in full shade or sun so are easy plants for any conditions.  It is simply a matter of choosing the right ones for your situation and needs.

Many, such as rosemary, lavender, thyme, lemon grass and wormwood, require very little water. 

In fact, they not only thrive in dry conditions but are more effective and stronger when their essential oils are not diluted by over-watering.

Lemon grass is a fragrant alternative to other decorative grasses which have become popular with landscapers in the past few years.  It grows in clumps so will not spread too far, but is easy to propagate and just needs regular clipping to flourish (pop the clippings into a pot of hot water for a refreshing tea). 

Unlike many other plants, the foliage of herbs is always fragrant. Who can walk past a row of lavender bushes along a path without touching them to release the perfume? Other herbs that can be grown as aromatic shrubs or small trees include the ever-popular rosemary or the pungent lemon verbena, both of which can be used in teas and cooking. 

For visual contrast in the garden, try planting a few silver-leaved wormwood or southernwood bushes.  These plants are drought-resistant and require very little attention, except for regular pruning to make them flourish. When it is time to trim them, dry the leaves well and place them (with some of your lavender) in bags in drawers or cupboards to keep away moths. 

If you want to grow herbs for cooking, eating or drinking, there are a few easy essentials, such as mint, parsley, basil, chives and thyme. These will grow happily in the garden or pots on a balcony – the main thing is to have them in easy reach of the kitchen. 

Some, such as parsley or the mint family, prefer shade and lots of water, while others thrive in hot, dry conditions.  It is best to experiment – the plants will soon let you know if they are not happy where you’ve put them.

Other culinary herbs such as coriander are notoriously difficult to grow consistently and tend to `go to seed’ quickly. To grow these successfully, try putting them in a place where they can drop their seeds and grow again – after a while you will find you have a constant supply.

Many nurseries now stock perennial strains of the more popular annuals like basil and coriander.  They tend to be hardier, woody shrubs but will grow all year round as long as the flowers are cut back when they appear.

For those more serious gardeners amongst us, herbs are often used as `companion’ plants, as their essential oils repel insects and encourage growth in certain plants. 

Basil grown amongst tomatoes makes them healthy and increases yield; pyrethrum, garlic and chives defend roses from aphids; marigolds are said to kill root nematodes in the soil.

Fennel, pennyroyal and chamomile can all be used to deter flies, mosquitoes and ants.
   
Whether you just have a few culinary herbs near the kitchen window, some shrubs near the front door for perfume, or decide to cultivate a traditional herb garden, you’ll find they are relatively low maintenance. Most require little more than to be used constantly, as they will all flourish when cut back.

Remember when you cut them back, that most of your herbs can be dried for use in fragrant sachets, teas, or as seasonings year round. Hang them up or place them on paper in a warm dry room out of the sun and wind until they are brittle and completely dry.  Then put them into bags to hang in your closets, or store them in airtight jars until you are ready to use them in the kitchen.