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by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

March 24, 2013

Once you’ve tasted home grown herbs, you’ll be forever spoiled for the dried products found languishing in jars and packages on store shelves. There’s nothing nicer than adding fresh basil to the pasta sauce, or rosemary to the marinade, or just smelling the wonderful fragrance of lavender and scented geraniums in your garden.

The three secrets to growing herbs are location, location, location. Many of the popular culinary herbs are originally from Mediterranean countries. They want a site with at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, in soil with excellent drainage. Plant herbs in soggy, cold soil and they will sit and sulk. A southern or southeastern exposure with plenty of morning sun is especially good for many herbs. If you’re planning on using your herbs for cooking, you’ll want your garden situated not far from your kitchen door, so you can run outside to snip a few savoury additions when planning a meal.

Most herbs will do well in a good garden soil amended with well rotted manure or compost. Resist the urge to give your herbs any amount of fertilizer, because all you’ll succeed in doing is getting plenty of vegetative growth, but a diminished amount of flavour and fragrance. The gentle fertility of compost is sufficient for most herbs.

Even with ideal sunlight, soil and drainage conditions, some herbs are best treated as annuals in our cooler climates, replanted yearly, or else planted in containers and moved indoors for winter months. Rosemary is a particularly tender perennial that benefits from being grown in a container and brought inside as are some of the more tender lavender species

Want to grow herbs from seed? Many of them are quite easy to do, such as dill, borage, coriander, chives, and edible flowered types such as nasturtium and calendula. Others require specific treatments of cold, darkness or other conditions before they will germinate. If this is your first time trying your hand at growing herbs from seed, check with a local nursery for additional information.

While many garden centres and nurseries offer a good variety of herb plants, if you’re looking for something really special you’re apt to have to look for seed. Richter's Herbs in Goodwood, Ontario, has an immense selection of herb seeds, plants and other products. (See sidebar for contact information).

How you plant your herbs depends on how much time and money you’re prepared to spend. I’ve seen gorgeous plantings built within planters built of landscaping stones, cedar rails or wooden ties, but you can also build a simple raised bed with a few boards and deck screws. If you choose to plant herbs in containers, use the largest sizes of planters you can find, including half barrels, and be prepared to watch closely to ensure your plants don’t dry out.

Some people interplant herbs among their vegetable or flower beds, while others like a dedicated herb garden, perhaps divided into sections for cooking, medicinal, potpourri and ornamental herbs. A herbal wheel, with pie shaped sections dedicated to themes or species of herbs, is a striking design, and the occasional gardener with plenty of time and ambition will plant a traditional knot design using lavender, artemisia, sage and other hardier types of plants to form the design.

What you plant for herbs depends on what you like to eat or what else you might want to use the herbs for. No matter how much we plant, we never have enough basil or rosemary to suit our household’s needs, and I could cover all our gardens with lavender and never grow tired of it.

One thing to bear in mind when planting herbs is that some of them can be a little on the overeager side when it comes to growing. All kinds of mint, comfrey and costmary should be planted behind root barriers or in pots to control their spread, while some of the self-seeding types may need to have their seedlings thinned lest they overrun other herbs.

A few recommended herbs for a culinary garden include basils (try the purple leafed varieties or some of the flavoured ones, such as lemon or cinnamon basil), rosemary, sages, cooking thyme, French tarragon, savoury, marjoram, lemon verbena, chives, parsley, horseradish, oregano, dill, and caraway.

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