“Gardening with herbs is indulged in by those who like subtlety in their plants in preference to brilliance.” – Helen Fox
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When planning a new herb garden there are many different approaches you can take. Herbs can be planted in a formal garden interspersed with flowers, trees and shrubs or in theme gardens. You can also just plant a patch outside your kitchen door for cooking purposes. Use whatever works best for you and your particular needs.
For gardeners that like projects or who have been gardening for some time and want a challenge, a formal garden is best. A formal herb garden consists of a series of beds interspersed with walk ways. The beds do not have to be identical, but should be balanced and work together. In the 16th century, gardeners designed “knot” herb gardens in which the plants create intricate, geometric patterns within a square or triangle. When designing a knot garden, choose low-growing, compact plants such as thyme, hyssop and rosemary. Avoid fast-growing invasive herbs such as those from the mint family. They’ll eventually just take over your garden.
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Plant herbs in large clay pots to create the classic look of a French culinary garden. Be sure to use plenty of basil, thyme, marjoram, lavender, summer savory, rosemary, sage and fennel. Herbs can be grown by themselves or in groupings, depending upon your preference. Visit the Iowa State University Extension for more on culinary gardens.
To keep your garden looking great throughout the growing season, consider interspersing your herbs with flowers, shrubs and other plants. That way, something will always be blooming and your garden will continue to impress, even while other plants have passed their prime.
Finally, consider a theme garden. Themes can include kitchen gardens planted with herbs used in cooking (thyme, sage, basil, tarragon, dill) or herb gardens that focus more on scent including mint, scented geranium, lemon balm and rosemary. Heck, it’s your herb garden! As long as you’re not entering a competition, you can create any kind of theme you want. All that really matters is that you enjoy it.
Many herbs are used as companion plants in vegetable and flower gardens. Companion planting is based on the belief that certain plants, when grown near each other, are mutually beneficial. For example, basil attracts honey bees which are needed to pollinate tomatoes. Garlic is known to deter many garden pests and may even contribute to the flowering of some plants. Chives are often grown as a border around rose gardens to prevent black spot. Many herbs (dill, yarrow, rosemary, coriander) will also provide a desirable habitat for beneficial insects — predatory and parasitic insects that help to keep pest populations under control.
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If the lists of compatible plants at various sites online leave you dizzy, you can instead focus on our relatively short list of basic principles here:
Here are the Do’s
- Plant short, shade-tolerant plants beneath taller, bushy plants.
- When you mix sun-loving plants, put tall ones at the north end of the plot and small ones at the south end, so all will get needed sun.
- Plant herbs throughout the garden, especially basil, mint, sage, and dill. EXCEPTION: Keep dill away from carrots.
- Plant cosmos and French or Mexican marigold here and there in and near the garden to repel pests and encourage beneficials that prey on them.
- Do the same with chives, garlic, or onions EXCEPT near or amongst beans.
- Exploit the different maturation rates of different crops: plant lettuce, cilantro, spinach, or chard early where you plan to set out squash and melons later, so that weeds don’t have a chance to move in, and you get two crops instead of just one.
Here are the Don’ts
- Don’t mix dill with tomatoes or with carrots.
- Don’t plant garlic, onions, or chives with beans.
- Fennel does not mix well with most other plants; keep it in its own corner.
Keep in mind, that since most companions must be planted very near each other to have any effect, companion planting is especially well-adapted to small gardens where plants are grown in close proximity and space is at a premium.
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