To those who are afraid of starting an herb garden, don’t be. The rewards of having your own fresh herbs to use and dry, the therapy of working in the dirt, the ability to sit quietly and meditate in your own special place far outweigh the “errors in judgment” one can make.
Looking back at my first herb garden, I now recognize all the mistakes I made (according to the books). Looking back at my second herb garden, I recognize all the mistakes I made. Looking back at my third herb garden….
Here are a few reflections to share with fellow herb gardeners, and especially for those thinking of starting one.
Reflections of an Herb Gardener
Start small and keep a journal of what went where and why. This is a very good idea. I did that. I had a wonderful drawing of where everything was to go backed up with very compelling reasons why—color, height, etc. This drawing was the culmination of many hours of intense study. Plans and drawings do not take life into account.
My first herb garden was going well when one day I was given close to 50 plants the night before I was to leave for a four-day horse show. That meant most were planted in the dark, and towards the end it was “just get it in the ground, anywhere!” Flexible. That’s what you need to be—flexible.
Mark your plants so you know what went where. I did that, too. On wood, plastic, and metal. With pencil, pen, waterproof sharpies, crayon. Nothing is permanent. Anyone have any other ideas that won’t cost more than the house?
Don’t plant mints by other mints. This is such good advice. But hard to do when it’s dark, you’re tired, and everything smells the same. I don’t care what “they” say, a spearmint/peppermint cross can be lovely, too.
I wish someone had told me how non-invasively challenged tansy really is. I mean, actually sat me down and described my life with tansy in a few years.
That evening primrose (properly identified by the person who gave it to me) never gave me the lovely flowers at dusk all the books claimed it would. How many evenings did I check it out at different times in an attempt to “catch” it at the right moment? Of course, it’s probably best that it never did produce those evening blossoms….since it was MUGWORT!!!
Twenty-seven (27) bags of mulch can hide a lot…for about 3 days. (Note: A weekend.) You can get 27 bags of mulch in a Chevy Avalanche.
Herb gardens are the best place to meditate.
Don’t plant tansy near valerian. The babies look a lot alike. (Actually, I don’t remember planting the tansy near the valerian!)
Don’t pull what looks like baby burdock out by the roots with great glee when it comes up near where the clary sage was planted.
Mullein can grow wherever it wants. Who am I to tell the mullein it doesn’t belong on an herb garden path?
Yarrow really does stop the bleeding…..
Sweet Annie needs some help propagating itself in the spring. I made a wonderful stone circle for the sweet Annie. Lasted a year. Tansy likes stone circles, too.
The guy who gives you crown vetch for the ditch so you don’t have to cut it is NOT your friend.
If you sit very still, the bunnies come back. Sometimes the fairies do, too.
Gooseneck loosestrife propagates by itself. Even a large sage plant can get lost in the loosestrife.
Garden fabric doesn’t work. Shavings don’t work. Mulch doesn’t work. The jury is still out on four inches of pea gravel. (Update—didn’t work, yarrow can get through it.)
In the moonlight, angelica looks a lot like little people dancing.
Lemon balm will grow between the slats of a park bench. Tansy will, too.
It is NOT an old wives tale—rue in the sunlight really does give some nasty blistery burns.
In an herb garden, always smell it before yanking an unidentified plant out by the roots.
Large gas-powered, weed-whacking machines do not kill tansy. They merely prune it and make it healthier.
In fact, weed whacking machines do not kill many herbs at all. But they can make paths.
Lady’s mantle can get really big. Horehound doesn’t thrive well under it. Lavender seeds, however, do very well under dusty miller.
You’re never really done weeding, and the best weeding tool is your hand. Even the $12.95 weeding wonder doesn’t do as well. Nor does the $19.95 one, or the $39.95 one….
I don’t think I shall ever get past the belief that these plants are living beings and entitled to be here, even more than I am (including the Tansy). I don’t think I want to get past that belief.
But sitting on the bench in my herb garden, between the lemon balm and the tansy growing up between those slats, I consider all the challenges, discoveries, and therapy my garden has given me. As I breathe in the subtle smells from all directions, the reality of it is clear—there is no right or wrong way if you’re happy.
NOTE: Be sure to visit The Wisconsin Herbalist to read the free quarterly magazines that Jackie edits and publishes on-line. They’re very good!
This post was previously published in The Essential Herbal magazine. The Essential Herbal magazine has been bringing herbalists and herb enthusiasts together since 1992! The Essential Herbal is a print magazine shipping within the US and Canada and also offers a pdf version available worldwide.
Don’t forget… Herbal Academy students and Herbarium members can enjoy a 10% off The Essential Herbal magazine subscriptions. Locate the “discount” tab in The Herbarium or in the Student Dashboard to get your discount.