From basil to tarragon, how to make your herb garden work

Ask any seasoned vegetable garden pressed for time and space to name a group of plants that combine impressive productivity and general utility with ease of cultivation and you can be sure that culinary herbs will come out on top. from their list. Parsley, sage, cilantro, mint, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, chives, chervil, savory, dill, fennel, lemon verbena and marjoram: all will grow very well in a pot or planter with a minimum of fuss, saving you the hassle, the inconvenience and expense of having to buy them in a supermarket.

Plus, there’s that great peace of mind that comes from knowing that your homemade herbs will be grown organically, chemical-free, eco-friendly, and full of freshness and flavor.

A red Admiral butterfly basks on the edible flowers of garlic chives. Photography: Richard Johnston

May is a great time of year to create this type of miniature herb patch, as both hardy and long-lived perennial and biennial types as well as short-lived and frost-resistant annual types are available. for purchase as affordable seedlings from good garden centers. Some can also be easily grown from seed. But first some tips to get the best results.

Generally, culinary herbs can be roughly divided into three categories based on the growing conditions they require. Some, like rosemary, thyme, and oregano / marjoram, are sun lovers who generally need a very bright, warm, sheltered position and neutral to alkaline draining soil (not the same as the dry bone) to thrive. Basil is particularly difficult in this regard, so it should be grown indoors in a warm, very bright and draft-free room. These kinds of intense light and high heat conditions also help sun-loving herbs to fully develop the complex flavors and aromas that are such an important part of their culinary charm.

But other popular herbs – for example mint, parsley, cilantro, chervil, and woodruff – are happier in light shade and in a cooler, more moisture-retaining growing medium where their roots do not dry out. And then there are the intermediates such as chives, French tarragon, bay leaf, sage, summer savory, and dill which will grow very well in light shade or full sun as long as you give them. a soil retaining moisture but draining freely. .

For this reason, it makes perfect sense to create two small patches of herbs, one in the sunniest and most sheltered spot in the garden (usually a window sill or an outdoor patio facing south or west) and the other in an area where the plants will be in light shade or dappled shade. Of course, you don’t need to have a dedicated patch of herbs – many will quite happily grow in the flower border or vegetable patch – but it does make harvesting much easier. For the same reason, your herbs should be grown in an easily accessible location, ideally near the house, as no one really wants to walk the entire length of the garden in wet weather just to pick parsley.

Culture centre

Also be careful when it comes to creating the ideal growing medium. If you are growing herbs in containers, be sure to use a John Innes soil-based compost rather than peat moss and add plenty of coarse horticultural gravel (available at most good garden centers) for types who like the soil. heat to further improve drainage and prevent their sensitive root systems from water damage.

Keep in mind that sun-loving, matting thyme hates cramped growing conditions, so it’s best to give them their own home. Ideally, grow them in their own unglazed terracotta pots or in old, shallow stone tubs, as these types of naturally porous / breathable materials provide the extra summer warmth and acute drainage they need. Likewise, tall grasses with deep roots such as fennel, dill, lovage, sweet cicely, and lemon verbena are not suitable for shallow planters and should instead be planted in the ground or in large, deep pots for prosper. Other culinary herbs – for example mint and lemon balm – are also best grown in containers due to their invasive tendencies when dropped in the garden.

As mentioned earlier, this is a great time to grow herbs from seed, especially fast growing annuals and biennials such as chervil, parsley, cilantro (sow directly to prevent bolting) and dill (also better to sow directly). But most longer-lived perennials or shrubs (e.g. rosemary, thyme, sage, lemon verbena, and sweet cicely) are more easily purchased as young plants or raised from cuttings. or divisions as they can be slow and unreliable when it comes to germination.

Harvesting coriander seeds.  Photography: Richard Johnston

Harvesting coriander seeds. Photography: Richard Johnston

Recommended Irish organic seed suppliers include Cork-based organic seed grower Brown Envelope Seeds (www.brunenvelopeeds.com), The Herb Garden based in Dublin (theherbgarden.ie) and Galway-based Seedaholic (addicted to seeds.com), while specialist online suppliers of organically grown herbaceous plants include the West Cork-based Peppermint Farm (Peppermintfarm.com).

Whatever herbs you are looking for, all will benefit from regular light picking as well as a liquid algae feed every fortnight during the growing season to keep them healthy. When it comes to harvesting, do your best to pick evenly from each plant and avoid cutting old wood when it comes to evergreen shrubs. But give shrub and perennial species a general spring cleaning by trimming dead stems.

After that, it’s all about savoring the pleasure and abundance of having your own herbs on tap. Prepare mint mojitos. Cicely sweet shortbread. Sorbets and puddings flavored with lemon verbena. Savor the taste of roasted potatoes sprinkled with local rosemary, chervil butter and curries soaked in the flavors of local basil and cilantro. All from a few planters and pots. What more could you ask for?

This week in the garden

If you have directly sown seeds of vegetables such as beets, parsnips, carrots, turnips, spinach and lettuce in the garden or subdivision in the past few weeks, then the rows of young plants should emerge. . To give these crops enough room to grow, it is important to thin the seedlings at the correct spacing before they become overcrowded. Handled very gently (using the tip of a trowel to extract intact roots from the soil and holding the seedlings by their leaves), the thinned plant can also be quickly transplanted elsewhere if and when needed, the only one exception being the long-tapping root vegetables like carrots or parsnips. Always gently water the seedlings immediately after thinning or transplanting and be sure to protect them from snails and slugs.

Begin to harden young, tender bedding plants such as dahlias, cannas, argyranthemums, begonias, and petunias, and frost-sensitive vegetables such as zucchini, pumpkins, and sweetcorn, over the next fortnight. to slowly acclimate them to the more difficult growing conditions they will face. when grown outdoors. This should be a gradual process to avoid shocking the young plants and slowing or even temporarily stopping / stopping their growth. With plants grown in a greenhouse / tunnel, start placing the plants outside on bright or sunny days, while making sure to set them back before dark. Newly purchased bedding plants will also need to be hardened in the same way to protect them from damage.

If you grow a lot of shrub or perennial plants in pots, now is a great time to decorate them to ensure healthy growth and good presentation over the next few months. This is a very simple and straightforward process: just gently scrape the top 3cm of stale compost and replace it with a new layer of good quality compost plus a light pinch of slow release organic fertilizer and gentle action in the form of granules or granules. If you suspect that a container grown plant has become pot bound – the obvious signs include poor growth and its roots growing through the container ‘s drainage holes – then now is a good time to pot it in. a larger container. Again, be sure to use fresh, good quality compost and a pinch of slow-release, gentle-acting organic fertilizer and water well after you’re done.

The dates of your agenda

Saturday: Maynooth Community Space (next to the Range store), Maynooth, Co Kildare, Maynooth flower and garden plant sale (2 p.m.-5 p.m.), view maynoothflowerandgardenclub.com.

Sunday: at Burtown house and gardens, Athy, Co Kildare – Rare and Special Plant Fair 2018 (from 10am), with over 40 nursery stands specializing in rare and unusual plants and expert advice from growers. See burtownhouse.fr.

Thursday: ‘Fuchsias’, a talk given by fuchsia expert and horticultural judge Nick Egan on behalf of the Dublin 5 Horticultural Society at the Artane Beaumont Family Leisure Center, Kilmore Road, Artane. Entrance: 5 €.

Saturday May 19: Garden owner Frank Lavery will open his private garden at 30 Ailesbury Drive, Dublin 4, with all proceeds benefiting Blackrock Hospice (2 pm-5pm). Entrance 5 € (garden not accessible to people in wheelchairs).

Sunday May 20: RHSI Garden, Russborough House, Blessington, Co Wicklow, Garden Open Day (2 p.m.-5 p.m.), view rhsi.ie. Mount Congreve Plant Fair, Mount Congreve Gardens, Co Waterford (11 am-5.30pm), view montcongreve.com.

Tuesday May 22: Foxrock Parish Pastoral Center, 18 Kill Lane, Dublin 18 – “Plants essential for a good garden”, a talk given by Kevin Hughes, owner of a resistant plant nursery in the UK, on ​​behalf of Foxrock Garden Club (8:00 p.m.).


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Terri S. Tomasini