Great on the table, herbs can also brighten a bed, says Marie Staunton
– 02 November 2013
Herbs aren’t just for foodies, they are a valuable asset to any garden and most have really beautiful flowers that attract a diverse group of pollinators into your patch.
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You can, of course, integrate them into a flower border if space is tight, but having a specially constructed herb garden will give you plenty of scope to grow some beautiful- looking aromatics that can be used for all your culinary delights – and some could possibly even cure you of your ills.
Depending on the funds available, you can go the whole hog and construct a knot garden to house your collection of herbs, or take the easier option of a little herb wheel.
Space will dictate the size of your new project, but it won’t limit your artistic flair. Enjoy choosing herbs that you use on a regular basis and those that have bright and beautiful flowers.
Most Mediterranean herbs tend to prefer a well-drained soil. Herbs do not require manure or a lot of fertiliser, so there is no need to add it in when preparing a bed.
In fact, they tend to have more flavour if the soil isn’t overworked and over-fertilised. If you look at where they come from, it will give you a good idea of the conditions they would be used to in their home place.
Nearly all herbs need plenty of sunlight to thrive, so a sunny spot in the garden would be to their liking. If space is limited, then just grow your herbs in a pot outside your kitchen door for easy pickings.
I love my grub and cookery programmes are a bit of an addiction, especially Raymond Blanc’s series, which has inspired me to grow some not-so- ordinary herbs in my garden of late.
French tarragon is hard to get your hands on but, luckily for me, I know a gardener who knows a thing or two about cooking and he just happened to have some to share.
French tarragon has a very delicate aniseed flavour that is used a lot in French cookery, though my culinary efforts are far from delicate.
I’m more of a baker, which requires exact measurements and a lot of kneading but, thankfully, doesn’t rely too much on a finely tuned palate.
If you are planning to plant up a little herb patch, then you might consider having a bay tree in the shape of a lollipop at the centre, with various other herbs radiating off it like the spokes of a wheel.
Firstly, choose the herbs that you like to use on a regular basis and then add in those that will provide seasonal interest. Rosemary, calendula and hyssop are all useful herbs in terms of attracting bees and butterflies, but they also have medicinal uses. Then, add in a couple of herbs that can be used in the house to repel the flies like lavender and mint.
This year was, in north county Dublin, a particularly bad year for mosquitoes, so I planted a lot of tansy to help keep them at bay.
The very beautiful echinacea and delicate airiness of fennel will give your herb garden a bit of height without the bulk.
I use the dried fennel seeds for making a tea if I have an upset tummy and it seems to help.
That’s the great thing about growing your own herbs; most will double-job and look good into the bargain.
Nearly every OPW garden around the country has a herb garden and it would be worth your while having a look at one or two of them for a bit of inspiration.
It takes the hard work out of designing your own and you can see what works in terms of the height and spread of each plant.