Herbs for all seasons

Keith Mundy

With the ever-increasing demand for food to be labelled with the origin of the supply, one sure method of knowing the location of where it is grown, is to grow your own.
With the desire to try new and exciting taste sensations a great way of doing this is to use the amazing number of herbs that are available to us that are easily grown in our own backyards.
Herbs are tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions and they grow well with very little maintenance. However, for the best results it is best to categorise them into four groups. If you follow the growing hints for each group, your herbs should be healthy, flavoursome and fragrant.
Initially though, the preparation of the site is most important with a light, well-drained soil and generally in full sun. Although there are some herbs that prefer a light shade.
Before planting dig the soil to about 25 cm deep and if the soil lacks any decent humus, it is a good idea to add some well-rotted cow or chicken manure and either some blood and bone or a complete fertiliser. Some garden lime can also be added at the rate of half a cup per square metre. Fork all this together and probably let rest for a week to ten days.
Getting back to the four categories of herbs they are categorised into: Mediterranean herbs; summer high moisture users; vegetable culture herbs; and those that will suit most conditions.
The Mediterranean group includes thymes, sages, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, French tarragon, lemon verbena, oregano and several others.
These herbs will handle low soil fertility, higher lime or alkaline soils, require very good drainage hence lower water requirements.
The next category is the summer herbs that have high moisture requirements and include the mints, water cress, lemon balm, lemongrass, sorrel, cardamon (and all the ginger-related herbs) and several others. Many of these become dormant in winter.
These herbs prefer a soil with a high nutrient content and will not perform well if allowed to dry out. Saying that though, the soil must be well drained and not waterlogged apart from the mints that will still perform in wet conditions.
Thirdly the vegetable culture herbs include basil, chives, parsley, rocket, coriander, dill, fennel and several others.
These herbs again like high soil nutrients with the focus being on high levels of nitrogen. They also prefer good summer moisture.
Finally, the last group are the suit most conditions herbs. These include borage, feverfew, tansy, winter tarragon and aloe vera to name a few.
These will handle the conditions of all the above.
So, when planning your herb garden, it is important to divide your garden into the four categories mentioned. This will make it much easier to maintain and ensure that each herb gets the best conditions for healthy growth. A variety of foliage types within each group will also make the garden visibly more appealing.
Other factors to consider in the location of the garden
have it close to the kitchen so quick access is available;
use it regularly so fresh material is always coming on; and
replace plants like parsley every two years as they often go to seed.
Herbs come in perennial and annual forms with the perennial types usually dying down over winter. As they die back, give them a cut back and in early spring spread a handful of complete fertiliser around them with a few handfuls of composted cow manure. This will get them off to a good start. Annual forms will require replacement every year.
For those of you who have difficulty in providing a plot for your herbs remember that they do very well in containers. Just follow the guidelines above and keep plants requiring the same conditions together in the same container. Mints can become invasive so are best grown in a pot under the backyard tap. Remember always use a premium potting mix in the potting process and regularly feed with a seaweed/fish emulsion fertiliser.
Happy herbing!