Your life is completely packed with crazy schedules and pressing deadlines and that cell phone you got to help you keep up with it all is driving you crazy. Some days you just want to shut it all off and hide from everyone. You need a serious time-out but just can’t seem to find enough time or the right place to take it.
You can count yourself among the millions of Americans who have the difficult chore of trying to juggle the responsibilities of work and home while searching desperately for a little mental vacation at the same time. Well, take heart – getting away from it all is easier, and closer to home, than you may think.
Imagine slipping away from the stress for just a moment or two every day. Imagine a small but heavenly slice of nature with the ability to sooth jangled nerves and refresh numbed senses. Visualize yourself in a tranquil garden bursting with vibrant colors, touchable textures and luscious smells and tastes. This is your very own culinary herb garden: the ultimate mini-getaway open twenty-four hours a day.
Why a culinary herb garden?
A garden meant to be an oasis from life’s daily grind should not create work, but rather it should invite relaxation. This garden must be beautiful, diverse and practical, and it must fill in quickly with little effort.
Culinary herbs offer more attributes to the busy gardener than any other group of garden plants. They are hardy, reliable, useful, beautiful, edible and fragrant. They can be used to flavor food, scent a room or create a naturally refreshing bath or soak. Fresh or dried culinary herbs add a decorative touch to wreaths and bouquets. And while culinary herbs taste great, they also have medicinal value and can be used to craft safe and natural herbal remedies at home. As if that weren’t enough, most culinary herbs are naturally pest and drought resistant. This means they require much less time to care for than a vegetable or flower garden would. After all, isn’t more time exactly what we are looking for?
So how does a bunch of culinary herbs become an “oasis”? Throughout time gardens have been praised for their powers to restore the mind, body and spirit. In the early 1900’s Hanna Rion wrote “The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses”. In the Victorian era, gardens were often surrounded by stone walls or thick evergreen hedges to give the viewer the illusion of being in a private room “walled-off” from the outside world and prying eyes. Recently the idea of sectioning yards and gardens into “rooms” has come back into vogue. The idea is not only pleasant, but practical, especially when considering tightly-squeezed urban and suburban homes or when a wide open rural yard cries out for a cozy hidden niche to call one’s own.
Space, or the illusion of it, is one of the most healing attributes of the outdoors. What we want from our herb garden is a feeling of privacy, a direct connection with nature and all of its living attributes – a place of beauty where body, mind and senses can relax.
Where to start?
Those who have never grown herbs before often think of them as short green plants that are boring. And while culinary herbs do indeed come in vast array of shades of green, they also come in blue, green and grey. Some even have leaves boldly colored in shades of red, purple and even pink and come in all sizes, textures and forms. Of course those are just the leaves and many culinary herbs also bloom – some of them quite extravagantly. And when placed properly within the context of a “room”, culinary herbs simply shine.
Imagine yourself in this culinary herb garden:
The tall feathery fronds of the boldly-colored bronze fennel arching upwards of five feet behind a small stone bench upon which you sit, you admire the sturdy and very flavorful stems of lovage which are covered in lemon-green filigree leaves that have together created a natural privacy screen that anchors this garden in the landscape.
On your right is a mature sage in bloom. It is one the loveliest flowers in the culinary herb garden and it’s deep purple flowers have attracted a few hummingbirds to your private oasis on this warm summer day.
To your left, the golden-leaved oregano is in full bloom beside a terracotta pot of apple-scented mint, which is flanked to one side by purple creeping thyme that has wound its way around the stepping stones at your feet, creating a lush, scented carpet. The rounded forms of basil add a nice low wall to the front of the garden and you pick a handful on your way to the kitchen.
As you walk around the garden, you allow your fingers to caress the stiff needle-like leaves of rosemary, inhaling the invigorating scent that fills the air and lingers on your finger tips. You savor the bite of lemon balm on your tongue as you admire the butterflies that have stopped for a sip of water in your birdbath.
This is a garden you won’t ever want to leave and one that is easier than you think to create. Are you ready to get away from it all?
What you need to know
When you are ready to start your garden keep the following pointers in mind: Start with a small garden and add to it as time allows. Start designing your garden by setting out pots to help determine the permanent placement of plants.
Herbs thrive in full sun, but a half day of sun (at least six hours) work for most herbs and but morning sun is always preferred over late afternoon sun in hot climates.
Most culinary herbs don’t like wet feet. If water stands or pools in the area where the garden will be, dig sand and compost into the soil to help improve drainage. Raised beds are one solution to poor drainage, but involve more effort. A simpler method is to grow the herbs in various types of pots and arrange them on top of rough landscaping gravel for a lovely, carefree garden. Pots can also be used in and around any garden to add varied height and drama.
Although most culinary herbs are quite drought resistant when mature, they need at least one inch of water per week while they establish themselves. Use a timer attached to the hose for carefree watering.
In general, herbs do very well without fertilization of any kind and can actually become leggy and less fragrant when over-fertilized. If your soil is average, your herbs will thrive with no additives.
Mulch is crucial to keeping weeds at bay. Each season, place up to several inches of organic mulch such as chipped bark, shredded leaves or pine needles over the entire garden. A more permanent mulch of pebbles and stones is very attractive and practical. Mulch also helps protect plants from heaving during winter months.
Play with your herbs. Plant them randomly or plot them on graph paper. Keep them trimmed or let them grow wild. It’s your garden; your personal get-away from life. There is no wrong way to do it, so just do it! You’ll be glad you did.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz. She is a life-time organic gardener, seed saver and naturalist. Her books, including The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs and the Garden Seed Saving Guide, can be found in our bookstore.