[Herbalist] Beginning an herb garden

Heather Lea Merenda fiamettatt at earthlink.net
Sun Feb 22 10:31:02 PST 2004

Sunset has a great starter book on herbs, even garden plans, but it depends
on if you want culinary herbs, tea herbs, dyeing herbs, etc., and if you
want more formal gardens, or kitchen garden or cottage style garden.   The
Sunset Herbs has descriptions of the standard herbs and what they need to
grow (temp, soil, etc.) and a little history and use.  If you are looking
for medieval references, I don't know of any that are good beginner books,
but I am no expert on these references and others on this list I'm sure will
have recommendations.  I find the Brother Cadfael book a good reference for
knowing what was in period, but is a secondary source.

Be careful of the mints (catnip included) as they will completely take over
an herb garden.  Best to keep mints in pots intermingled thorughout the
garden so they don't crowd out everything else.  I really like sages, they
are pretty, have a lot of variety and are very useful.  Thymes have a lot of
variety as well, but need pretty well drained conditions to thrive, so you
might have to amend small areas to improve the drainage.  Basil is good and
comes in a lot of green and purple varieties, and are good for cooking, but
is annual so you have to constantly sow to have enough to cook with.
Parsely is easy to grow and useful in cooking.  I've not had  a lot of luck,
but bergamot is a beautiful herb, mostly for tea, that might grow well
there.  Lemon balm is good for tea as well (it's a mint variety, so keep in
a pot). Roman chamomile can grow as a lawn that smells like apples when you
walk on it (German chamomile is most often sold, so get the roman variety
from Richters or Nichols, don't even bother with a local nursery) and makes
a great tea.   French marigolds and calendula make nice additions to herb

We also have been given the gardener challenge of heavy clay soil.  Clay
will kill any plant through drowning from too wet roots or too hard during
dry times. Unless there is a good selection of native herbs (which there
might be, check with a native plant society, or field guide to medicinal
plants in your area) that has evolved in the local condition and soil, you
will probably have to amend your planting beds for the herbs to survive.
I've risen to the occaision three ways.  Firstly, my husbands made raised
beds for me, and we purchased good planting soil to fill them (6 cubic yards
worth). Second, I started a lot of herb in containers.  Containers are great
because you can move them if there isn't enough light  certain times of
year, move them indoors during cold weather, etc.  Drawback in hot dry
climates is that they need daily (sometimes twice a day) watering during
warm weather.  We don't hardly any rain in the summer here.  The third thing
that I'm trying now is digging out about a foot of clay in small planting
areas (husband put flagstone walkways throughout the back yard, the planting
areas between), then getting Claybuster and some sand and amending the small
areas.  It takes five years of active management to convert clay into loam,
but we're giving it a try.

I love herbs - they are beautiful and useful!  I've had good luck and bad
luck with growing conditions.    A local nursery (not the Home Depot kind)
will have good advice on your climate zone and what will grow, and what will
grow with extra care.

Good luck!

on 2/16/04 6:44 AM, Diane at scadians3 at yahoo.com wrote:

Hello All,
Thanks for the web Richters web site, I have spent the last 2 hours reading

Can someone please recommend a book on how to start and maintain an herb
garden?  Is there such a one?  I have wanted to grow herbs for years and now
have the space.  I live in the foothills of Tenneesse where the soil is
rather heavy and clay like.  Mints grow real well here.  I am ready to do
more! Any comments will be most appreciated, thank you.


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