When you're deciding where to plant your herbs, just remember that most herbs like plentiful sunshine and appreciate well-draining ground (as opposed to very dry or very soggy sites). Read on for your placement options.
Inviting herbs into your current garden
If you're considering planting your herbs in an already-existing garden, here are two options:
^ Herbs growing by vegetables: Adding edible herbs to your vegetable garden is a good idea. They like the same growing conditions of fertile soil and full sun, and when you're in the mood for a spontaneous summer meal, everything you need is right at hand. Some of my favorite choices include basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, fennel, thyme, and chives. Check out Chapter 13 for info on vegetable gardening.
^ Herbs mingling with flowers: This type of planting works best for herbs with pretty flowers of their own, as well as ones that can contribute attractive foliage. Imagine not just how pretty the flower bed will be but also the intriguing homegrown bouquets you can assemble if you widen your palette to include some herbs. Favorite choices include sage (including the kinds with colorful leaves), dill, mint, basil (especially the purple-leaved kind), artemisia, and borage. For info on growing annuals, flip to Chapter 6; Chapter 7 discusses perennials.
For many gardeners, the best solution for growing herbs is just to put them all in their own garden. Follow the usual rule for flower gardens; namely, place taller herbs to the back or in the middle of a bed, with shorter ones at their feet, so you can see, appreciate, and access everything for care and harvesting. Allow every plant ample room to spread — if some herbs emerge as thugs over time, stealing the stage from less aggressive growers, just chop them back or take them out of the display altogether (see the sidebar called "Going solo").
You can choose from many types of herb gardens, but generally herb gardens are either formal or informal. You'd do wise to plan a formal garden ahead on paper, making a geometric design (composed of squares? Composed to look like slices of a pie?) to your liking — take a look at Figure 14-1, or flip to Chapter 2 for advice on designing a garden. Install the layout first, with edgings and pathways in place; use bricks, rocks, gravel, or even grass. Edging plants such as small boxwood plants, germander, or a sheared low hedge of lavender or dusty miller also work but require more care.
If you prefer informal herb gardens, take note: A casual bed devoted to all herbs can look delightfully cottage-gardeny, or it can look like a jumble. (A jumble is bad: It's hard to care for and harvest from, and crowded plants become more vulnerable to pests and diseases.) So make a plan on paper for this sort, too — set it up like your vegetable garden or your favorite flower garden — and then see what happens, making alterations as you see fit. Aim for a harmonious mix of foliage colors and types, with the occasional exclamation point of a flowering herb.
Some herbs are meant to be alone. These plants are tall or hog horizontal space. They also monopolize resources of soil nutrients and water or have a tendency to grow rampantly. In other words, they're not good team players. If you really want them, why not just segregate them in their own area, bed, or pot? Plants that do better solo include mint, oregano, and marjoram.
Potting your herbs
A lot of people like to grow herbs in pots, which contains their growth and makes them handy for cooking. Container gardening is also a terrific way to raise edible herbs that you use often in your kitchen.
The most important thing to do for potted herbs is keep them watered; potted plants dry out notoriously fast, and cycles of soaking and drying out aren't good for a plant's health, even a tough little herb plant. (Note: The Mediterranean herbs — such as thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage, and oregano — prefer poor, almost sandy soil; they'll rot if too wet. Use a sand or pebble mulch around them.) So site potted herbs where you won't forget about them, such as right outside the back door or on the patio in full sight of the kitchen window. A window box (see Figure 14-2) is a particularly effective and practical way to grow herbs in a container. See Chapter 16 for more information on container gardening.
Some herbs, such as mints, lemon balm, and lemon verbena, can become garden thugs. They're very invasive, so containers are perfect for keeping them where you want them and preventing their wandering and taking over. (Check for square stems on plants — these traits can indicate that you're dealing with thugs.)
Mixed displays can look great. Fill larger pots with several different herbs or assemble a gathering of individual pots and array them on a deck or patio. You can even tuck a potted herb into your garden proper as an accent, shifting it around as you see fit. If color or interest seems to be lacking, just choose especially decorative or colorful pots — they make a dramatic difference and add to the fun.
Frequent harvesting from potted herbs has an important benefit, by the way. When you snip off the tips, the remaining plant is inspired to grow more thickly and compactly — which looks better in a pot.
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