Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Herb Garden Design

I am the first to admit that I am both cheap and lazy. Or perhaps "efficient" is a better term than "lazy" because I don't mind doing work but I certainly mind doing needless work. And, when it comes to herb gardens here in Northern Virginia you can create some needless work and expense. And y'all know I love herb gardens!

Primarily I'm talking about plant selection. Some of the workhorses of the herb garden just can't handle our winters. (Rosemary, I'm lookin' at you.) You either have pot it up and take it inside for the winter or just cross your fingers & hope for the best. Neither of these sound like a particularly tempting option to me.

Luckily, however, there are varieties out there of many of these "tender" perennials that don't mind living outside all year in NoVA*. I've found that you generally have to mail order or look at specialty nurseries to purchase these, but occasionally I've seen them at larger independent nurseries (not big box nurseries). Just because these are more hardy varieties doesn't necessarily mean that they don't taste good or they look awful.

This was my first year having a dedicated herb garden. Sure, I'd grown the odd pot with basil, mint or rosemary before but there seems something more definite when the plants are in-ground. Here's what my herb garden looks like this year:

In it is Arp Rosemary (hardy to -10*F), Greek Mountain Oregano (hardy to -20*F), Hidcote lavender (hardy to zone 5 so can survive our winter), parsley (biennial), mitsuba (hardy to zone 4. A Japanese parsley-like perennial herb. Planted in the parsley box too), english thyme (hardy to -20*F), chives (hardy to -40*F), bee balm and thai basil (an annual). Oh, and a mass of Unwin's dahlias because I didn't know where else to put them! The plants that will not come back next year are marked with an asterik in the graphic.

Overall, I'm pleased with how it's turned out. If anything my herb garden pays for itself more than my tomato plants! But, next year I'm going to put the dahlias some place else and want to add in a few more herbs and change it up a bit. Here's the working idea for next year:

You'll notice it has many of the same herbs but more parsley/mitsuba, sage (which is currently in a pot on the side yard) and red basil (well, purple might be a better description. Right now it's with the sage on the side yard). I'm not actually sure my bee balm/bergamot/mondara is going to survive this year; I'm still battling some powdery mildew. I'm saving a place for it just in case!

I've got 2 squares I'm not sure what to put in, though. I had thought mint, but I think I'm going to put a container of that right outside the herb garden (it's invasive). Likewise, I'm going to put my italian basil in with my tomatoes so no need for that in the herb garden. And I suck at growing cilantro. If anything that'll get put in the veg garden just for its flowers (they attract lady bugs) Hmph. I suppose I could go for a lesser used herb (borage? lovage? chervil?) or a crazy variety of something I already have (lemon thyme? pineapple sage?) but whatever it is, I want it to be winter hardy so that I can just plant once!

Anyone have any suggestions?

*Note that some perennial herbs will die down into the ground during winter but they will re-emerge in the spring, so don't be worried if they disappear on you when it starts getting cold! Also, if you container garden I've heard a good rule of thumb is that a plant will overwinter if it can handle 2 zones colder than you. NoVA is on the zone 6/'7 border, so look for plants at least hardy to zone 4/5 for your outdoor containers.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info! Hopefully I can start an herb garden next year, and now I know what to look for :)