By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
Your life is completely packed with crazy schedules and pressing deadlines and that new-fangled cell phone that you bought to help you keep up with it all is driving you absolutely crazy. Some days you just want to shut it all off and hide from the world – even if just for a moment. What you need is a soothing place to catch your breath, have a few moments of stillness and something beautiful to take your mind off it all. But what?
If you can relate to that scenario, count yourself among the millions of Americans who juggle numerous responsibilities. Over time, stress can build to dangerous levels, causing multiple health problems including eating and sleeping disorders, digestive problems, weight gain and difficulty concentrating or communicating effectively.
If there were only some place you could go to escape the world for just a moment at the end of the day. A place that is peaceful, beautiful and soothing to all the senses. What you need is the ultimate mini-getaway, open 24 hours a day.
Imagine slipping away from life’s stresses into your own small but heavenly slice of nature – one 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 the herb garden and it can be anything you want it to be. But more importantly, it can take you worlds away from the stresses of the day without ever having to leave home.
Why Culinary Herbs?
A garden that is 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 grow quickly with little effort – the perfect description of an herb garden.
In fact, 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.
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 traditional vegetable or flower gardens. After all, isn’t more time and less work exactly what your clanging nerves are looking for?
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. 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 neighborhoods or when a wide open rural yard cries out for a cozy hidden niche to call one’s own.
Space – or the illusion of space – 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 and a place of beauty where the body, mind and senses can totally relax.
Begin With Your Imagination
Those who have never grown herbs before often imagine short green plants that are, well, boring. But 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 in shades of red, purple and even pink. Of course many culinary herbs also bloom – some of them quite extravagantly. And when placed properly within the context of a “room”, culinary herbs simply shine.
You’re sitting upon a garden bench with your back against an airy wall of fragrant bronze fennel, listening to the hum of small pollinators working over the lush yellow blossoms as you admire the sturdy, flavorful stems of lovage, which are just now covered with frilly lime-green leaves. These two plants have created a natural privacy screen that anchors this corner of your garden into the landscape, giving it a private and cozy feel
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?
Start Small for Big Results
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.
© 2013 Jill Henderson
The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a no-nonsense guide jam-packed with no-nonsense information on growing, harvesting and using 35 of the world’s safest and most flavorful herbs. In addition to the 35 detailed herbal monographs are entire chapters on growing, harvesting and using kitchen herbs to spice up your favorite dish or create healing herbal remedies. This is one book you will turn to time and time again!
Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.