It’s thyme to think about herb gardens

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Inter-planting herbs with annuals adds a touch of colour and interest through the winter months when the rest of the garden is relatively dormant and with the many types of herbs available from local nurseries in cell packs or if grown oneself from seed it can be a rewarding experience both visually and culinary.

The first documented account of herbs was around 2000 BC which described tried and tested medicinal uses and included many herbs that are used today, including bay tree, thyme, caraway and coriander.

The ancient Egyptians imported herbs, spices etc from India and Babylon learning how to use them as passed down by their suppliers, such herbs as anise, caraway, fenugreek, thyme and saffron were in demand for food, medicines, cosmetics, perfumes as well as dyes and disinfectants, not to mention the highly skilled art of embalming! The apothecary’s workshop was a place of industry dispensing mixes and concoctions for various and all ailments.

There is nothing like the sweet smell of success, especially in the garden and for a change consider mixing herbs in the flower garden or simply as an herb garden either in the ground or in containers. Groups of containers with a mix of herbs, some upright others cascading over the sides certainly make a statement and will last in the right location for six months or more. Herbs are interesting in their many uses from functional/medicinal to aesthetic. They have many attributes that add to interest in the garden including fragrance, leaf shape and colour, flower and usage of the various parts of the plant.

Climate is a problem with growing herbs with heat and dry conditions being of concern. Otherwise they are undemanding; October through to April has more of a temperature conducive range for successful growth, though wind is not always compatible with good growth. For variety, consider growing a wide range of plants mixed in with annuals or shrubs or both. For specific culinary needs, create an herb garden, and contingent on the quantity of plants used, create a formal herb garden. Even a containerised collection of plants will brighten and enhance any location. For those with small properties or simply a patio, the square-foot method of growing can be used on a reduced scale.

Herbs can be grown from seed at home and grown on or from nurseries in cell packs, the latter being advisable if space is limited and only a few plants are needed to fill the space. If they are to be used for culinary purposes, then a selection of the mostly used herbs should be prioritised. For aesthetics, grow a mix that offers culinary, visual and sensory pleasure.

The following list of herbs is a sampling with a wide range of uses and interest but is only limited to what space you have and what you need.

Basil (Ocimum sp): Sweet basil up to 2 ft in height and bush basil six inches in height, well known for their strong flavour. Often used with eggs, mushroom, tomatoes and in pasta dishes. For colour contrast there is a bronze leaved variety.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus sp): A fragrant addition to any pot or garden and much used in cooking there is an upright form up to three feet and a prostrate or hanging species the latter used as a ground cover in beds or as a cascading plant in containers.

Chives (Allium sp): not only a useful herb but also a good contrast plant in the herb garden or container, would not recommend for use in shrub garden unless in very small amounts. Have attractive small purple leaves which are best removed to enhance leaf flavour.

Parsley (Petroselinum sp): curly leafed grown more for decoration and French for flavor are staples in any herb garden or grown in a container.

Yarrow (Achillea sp): More of an interest plant for its use in flower arranging and beauty in the garden; with its whitish pink flowers and fern like foliage making a good contrast with neighbouring plantings.

Borage (Borage sp): attains a height up to 2 ft, has white, blue or pink flowers add a touch of colour during the cooler less active months in the garden; best grown in small groups as use is limited.

Coriander (coriandrum sp) Up to two feet in height has parsley like foliage and dainty white, pink flowers used widely in curry.

Marjoram (Origanum sp): sweet marjoram, dittany or hop marjoram and wild marjoram; dittany is an ingredient in vermouth, basically cooking herbs they are small in size and ideal for pot culture.

To add interest with foliage, consider:

Anis (Pimpinella anisum): sweet-tasting, sweet-smelling Anis has been grown for its licorice flavour. With umbels of white flowers and two forms of foliage the upper form being fine cut and feathery. It is an annual attaining a height of 18-24 inches.

Nigella sativa (Fennel flower or Love in a mist); has finely cut foliage and blue or white flowers with seeds smelling of pepper and nutmeg.

Lavender, English, fringed and French with heavily scented foliage with a green and grey or simply grey foliage and purple flowers is a staple of many gardens; the fringed type having feathery like foliage.

Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus): has arrowhead shaped foliage and several culinary uses including leaves as a substitute for spinach and young shoots can be cut and eaten like asparagus.

Woodruff (Asparula odorata): A low growing plant to 6-8 inches with foliage formed in whorls along the branches.

Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a musky smelling herb with attractive blue-green foliage and yellow flowers which are a good contrast when used in the herb garden.

The Allium family includes chives, leeks, garlic, onion and shallots with needle like foliage and globular flower heads not only a good culinary subject but also an interesting contrast to the garden.

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Published Nov 2, 2012 at 8:39 am (Updated Nov 2, 2012 at 8:39 am)

It’s thyme to think about herb gardens

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