With our ongoing drought, food prices continue to rise. Now is a good time to create a herb garden as these plants are undemanding, inexpensive, nutritious and have health benefits to boot. Bridget Kitley answers frequently asked questions on how to plant the perfect herb garden.
Herb gardens can be planted at any time of the year. Some herbs can be used to create borders, some can be used as fillers – any design is possible and it makes sense to plant a garden where everything growing has a use.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING A HERB GARDEN?
- Where is your garden facing? Plants grow well according to the amount of sunshine they receive. North-facing gardens are the best for planting herb gardens as they receive plenty of sun.
- Is the soil clay or sand? Is it poor or does it require nutrition?
- Do you have a lot of time to spend in your herb/veggie garden?
- What area do you have available?
- What is your budget? How much compost will you need? Calculate the area of your garden: 2 m x 2 m = 4 m2 x 0.05 m = 6 bags of 30 dm 1 kg compost.
HOW MUCH SPACE DO YOU NEED?
This is entirely up to the individual, but do space wisely. For a small herb garden hosting a good variety of plants, 2 m2 should do the trick. A larger area simply means that you can place more plants and possibly combine a culinary garden with a medicinal one with insect-repellant properties as well.
TOP TEN HERBS FOR THE NOVICE
If you are starting out, the herbs below are a good investment:
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Parsley (Petroselinum erispum)
- Marjoram (Marjorana origanum)
- Oregano (Oreganum vulgare)
- Lemon grass (Cympobogon eitrates)
- Bay tree (Laurus nobilis)
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum) or perennial basil (Ocimum gratissimum).
The roots are the most important part of any plant and once planted, they need to adapt quickly to normal soil surroundings in order to survive – this is why it is very important to buy plants that you know have been grown in natural conditions.
DO SOME HERBS ONLY DO WELL IN CERTAIN PARTS OF THE COUNTRY?
This all depends on climatic conditions. In Johannesburg, the Karoo and the Free State, there tends to be more frost in the winter. Herbs come from the northern hemisphere and so adapt well to frost and cold climates. Durban has a tropical heat, so plants grow fast apart from lavender, which may not enjoy extremely humid conditions. The Cape has a Mediterranean climate and herbs do very well.
Two herbs that are difficult to grow in the heat are dill and coriander. The heat of summer seems to make them go to seed as soon as they have germinated. This two grow very well in the autumn, winter and spring.
DO HERBS NEED LOTS OF WATER AND MAINTENANCE?
This really depends on how well the soil is prepared with compost and organic fertiliser before planting. The better the preparation, the less excessive watering is required. Herbs do not need lots of water; in fact, the Labiatae family, which comprises lavender, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and sage, prefer not to ‘sit with wet feet’. Once your herb garden has established itself, normal watering applies. Mulch the plants with compost to protect from the heat. Potted plants are to be watered regularly and fed with organic feed every two weeks.
SHOULD CERTAIN HERBS BE PLANTED TOGETHER?
Not necessarily, no. Choosing where your plants will go is more of a practical decision than anything else. One would plant basil and tomatoes together because they prefer the same conditions, loamy soil and a warm spot with air circulation. When planted together dill and fennel tend to hybridise. But then again if they were planted at opposite ends of the garden, they would quite likely still do this.
It is always a good idea to plant insect-repellant plants together with herbs such as southernwood as they deter the black and yellow beetle from eating holes into rose petals. Tansy deters fruit flies. There are many insect-repellant herb varieties.
Having a herb garden is probably one of the most worthwhile investments in the world. Teach yourself about the plants you have bought and gain confidence in using them for culinary and medicinal purposes. It’s rather like having a spice cabinet and a pharmacy growing in your garden all wrapped into one!
Go for it!
Recommended reading Bremness L. The Complete Book of Herbs. New York, London, Australia: The Penguin Group. 1994.