Last spring we planted our kitchen herb garden. That’s not to say that it was the first time we grew herbs; it was just the first time that we realized the traditional wisdom of having your herbs right outside your kitchen door.
Herbs were not high on the list of “must have” plants when we built our house in 2007. We spent the first year power gardening, trying to overcome the myriad of growth in a former pasture in order to establish a fruit orchard and raised beds for vegetables and fruits. While we introduced a few plants – oregano, lavender, sorrel – in 2008, there was no master plan. In the spring of 2009 moved the original population and some new herbs – basil, lovage, salad burnet and horseradish – into a raised bed. By the height of summer, we realized that having the herbs 100 feet downhill from the house was not the ideal setup. While we could leisurely wander through the beds collecting ingredients for dinner, it was quite another thing to realize that we needed some herbs for our lunchtime staple of salad. It was not a simply a quick dash to gather the necessary ingredients, especially in the heat and humidity of mid-day in summer! It was too late to do anything about it, so we tried to anticipate our daily needs and collect them before we headed for the house.
So, last spring we identified the perfect spot for our herb garden – just outside the kitchen door, in full sun and close to an outdoor tap and garden hose. The only problem was that there was already a garden in that location. So we dug up and relocated the mostly native flowering plants to a garden by the roadside. We also dug in a liberal amount of compost to improve the mixture of clay and gravel that was there (the garden is right beside our unpaved driveway). We then rescued the herbs from their exile in the distant beds. Finally, we could just pop outside to clip a few sprigs of lemon balm for a zing in a salad or chives for a delicate onion flavour or basil to adorn a pizza. Forget the 100 mile diet – this was the 10 foot diet!
Although we had focussed so much on the new herb garden, we soon discovered that not all of our herbs needed to move. For example, we grow calendula (Calendula officinalis), also known as pot marigold, as a salad ingredient – the yellow petals brighten up all the greens – but we left most of the plants in the main garden to harvest throughout the end of the summer for olive-oil and calendula skin lotion. Similarly, we have one mint plant (well constrained in a buried pot) in the herb garden to freshen up iced or hot tea, but an entire bed of chocolate mint from which we harvest two crops to dry leaves as a most delicious tea. We have a few Egyptian onions in the herb garden, but left our main crop of onions in the main garden. Likewise, we keep a few beets in the herb garden, from which we continually harvest the new leaves to add to salads as greens, but the main crop is down in its own bed in the main garden. Indeed, some plants did not move at all. My garlic, most of which I sell at the local farmers market, stayed put, as did our lone horseradish plant – there’s no way to move such a monster, nor would I dare introduce it to the confines of the herb garden (it is well constrained in its own section of a raised bed).
We thoroughly enjoyed the herb garden last year, but realize it will change again this year with the addition of medicinal herbs. It just goes to prove that the garden is always talking to you – you just have to listen.