There are numerous styles of herb gardens to choose from. Formal and circular herb gardens have been features throughout Europe but herbs are also stunning additions to patios and entertainment areas when planted in tubs and planter boxes. Perennial borders filled with perfumed herbs are wonderful when their fragrance is released as they are brushed past and many have such wonderful foliage that they can be incorporated into the landscaping just for their colour.
Selecting and Preparing A Herb Garden Site
Herbs with small, tough leaves such as rosemary, lavender, thyme and santolina cope extremely well in full sun and very free-draining soil and will also manage with strong ocean winds. In fact, these harsh conditions will develop the oils within the leaves and so improve their flavour and aroma. These plants will still do well in a touch of shade or with a little more dampness but will not be as high in oil content.
Herbs with leaves that are larger and lusher such as basil, coriander, parsley and mint have a high water content and need a rich, damp soil that has been built up with compost to a depth of about 30 centimetres. These plants prefer a touch of shade and a little more shelter and will thrive with regular applications of liquid fertiliser.
Choosing and Placing the Herbs
There are hundreds of plants that are considered herbs and choosing them for your garden can be confusing. Consider following these simple steps to get you started:
· Plan and plant perennials such as rosemary, lavender and thyme first so that, as the annuals die down, the garden still has the structure of these established plants.
· Select the herbs that you use the most, possibly basil, parsley and chives, so that you can start harvesting from your garden straight away.
· Plant a border of just one herb variety around the edge of the garden to add a touch of style and to help protect the other plants from insects. Parsley borders in garden beds or large pots are a very big trend in the east. Thyme hedges help to deter various insects from the herb garden and Columnar Basil or lemon grass can be used as a taller hedge of about 1 metre that will deter white fly.
· Some herbs should stay in pots making them ideal features for amongst the herb garden. Most mints are best in large pots as they can be invasive. French Tarragon is also best in a pot as it dies right down in winter and sometimes gets lost or accidentally dug up.
· Once the structure of your herb garden is underway, add herbs that you may not have used before but which suit your cooking or lifestyle. Vietnamese mint and lemon thyme are fantastic for those that love Asian cooking or Pizza Thyme and Rocket for those that do a lot of outdoor cooking. Some of the perfumed herbs such as Corsican mint or Lawn Chamomile will add a touch of romance to the garden.
Fertilising your Herb Garden
Herbs are generally tolerant of most conditions and will provide a good harvest with very little effort but fertilising these plants periodically will definitely produce better results. Manures and composts mixed through the topsoil of the herb garden will provide much needed nutrients and encourage microbial activity. Liquid fertilisers applied once a fortnight to the soft, lush herbs such as basil, parsley and coriander will encourage them to produce more leaves after harvesting. The general rule with these herbs is that the more they are harvested, the more they should be fed. Thin leaved herbs with a high oil content such as rosemary and thyme have a better flavour if they are not overfed, so all that is required is an application of controlled release fertiliser twice a year.
Harvesting and Maintenance
Many people leave their herbs until they have grown to full size before they start harvesting them but herbs will grow stronger and with a better shape if they are continually harvested, even when they are quite small. As the herbs are being harvested they are also being tipped and pruned and this is an ideal way of keeping them compact and full of fresh new growth.