Part 1: Making the Case for Herbs
Are you ready to start a garden but don't know where to begin? Or have you tried your hand at vegetable gardening before, only to be turned off by the amount of effort and financial input that it requires? Maybe you're looking to replace some of your landscaping perennials with plants that do more than just look pretty. Do you like delicious culinary herbs in your salads and cooked dishes? Or beautiful flowers in your yard or on your table? How about bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds happily feasting outside your window? Or brewing your own herbal tea, making homemade salve, or potpourri?
Easy to grow, aromatic, beautiful, delicious, packed with nutrients, often medicinal, attractive to pollinators, varied, suited to many growing conditions, and requiring far less space than other edible crops, herbs are in my opinion, the clear choice for a beginner gardener, for someone who is working in a small space, or is short on time, or who simply wants to fill their garden with heavy hitting plants that don't ask for much, and give such an abundance in return.
Simply put, an herb is a plant valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities. There are so many of these fabulous plants that I can't possibly list them all here. Most of you are already familiar with quite a few. Parsley, mint, sage, thyme, oregano, cilantro, dill, fennel, rosemary, lavender, chives, basil, and marjoram are just some of the first to come to mind. Many of these common herbs come in numerous varieties. Mint, sage, and basil are particularly varied. Add to that the lesser known herbs, such as chamomile, calendula, lemon balm, yarrow, feverfew, echinacea, St. John's Wort, skullcap, and valerian, and you have the opportunity to create a beautiful herb garden of any size, that includes ground covers, focal plants, varied foliage, and flowers that bloom at different times and in different colors. (As I write this, I keep thinking of more awesome plants! Lemongrass, hyssop, geranium, bee balm, marshmallow, comfrey, mugwort!)
Most herbs do well in average or even poor soil, and many of them are drought tolerant. Some can handle the hot summer sun, and others will thrive in the shady parts of your yard. Many are perennial, meaning they come back year after year, and easy to propagate by digging or taking cuttings - which means free plants! They play well with others, so you can easily intermingle with your vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and other landscape plants. And because they are strongly aromatic, they are generally pest-resistant, and can even help repel pests from your other plants. You can base your selections on your tastes, your climate, and your space.
No discussion of herb gardens is complete without a shout-out to the Herb Spiral. This is an ingenious permaculture planting technique that demonstrates many permaculture principles in one simple design. Imagine taking a regular linear garden bed, and folding it up into a spiral! Not only does the resulting mound have a smaller footprint by being built up vertically, making it more compact and easier to care for and harvest from, it also creates multiple microclimates to best suit different herb species! The most dry heat loving plants go at the top and on the south-west facing side of the spiral, while plants that like more moisture and partial shade go toward the bottom and on the north facing side! While there are many great reasons to plant your herbs in a spiral mound, it can be labor and materials intensive. There are plenty of other great ways to grow your herbs! You can grow them in clumps, rows, in pots, in raised beds, even in a sunny window!
Ok, so herbs are varied, often attractive, undemanding to grow, and can thrive in a variety of conditions. But for many people, the most exciting part about growing them is getting to use them in food, drinks, medicine, skin care, and more. Culinary herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, chives, dill, and so on, are not only delicious, but tend to be extremely nutrient dense. A small serving of these herbs, or a small salad made with them will often contain far more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than typical salad greens, or you can add them to your salad or other meal to kick up the nutrition content.The same is true of oregano, sage, and thyme, though their strong flavors may require a light hand when using them fresh. And mint and lemon balm can be interesting additions in a salad as well, even though their more common use is in delicious steeped beverages. The possibilities for teas and infusions are endless, as you experiment with different combinations and proportions of herbs (be sure to do your research, though, as some herbs can have very potent medicinal effects).
As many of us set out to become healthier and be better stewards of our planet, we seek to eat better, and to source our food in ethical and sustainable ways. While growing your own food is the epitome of sustainability and ethical sourcing, it is very hard to produce all your food at home. Most of us don’t have the space or nearly enough time. It is especially difficult to produce a significant proportion of our calories and macro nutrients at home. The good news is that it is much easier to grow our own vitamin and mineral rich herbs, in very little space and with only a small investment of time. With an herb garden, we can make a real difference in our health and the health of our families, while at the same time supporting our ecosystem by providing habitat and food for our local wildlife.
So - herbs are delicious, nutritious, (generally) easy to grow, beautiful, varied, beloved by local wildlife, and a little goes a long way (you can get a nice harvest even growing them in pots). I imagine by now you're convinced that an herb garden is the way to go. Are you ready to dig a little deeper?
Coming soon, in Part 2 of this blog, we'll share some of our favorite herbs and how to get started growing them.
By the way, even though we want you to know that herbs are relatively undemanding to grow, we know that sometimes you just want someone else to get the process started for you. That's why we're here! If you're ready to start an herb (or any other type of) garden, get in touch with us to learn about our consultation, design, and installation services.