Thursday, May 21, 2009


Herb gardens look as good as they smell and its worth a little planning to achieve a fine show of shape and colour.

The history of herbs and herbalism dates back a long time. There is a tablet (a record of herbs used for medicinal purposes) in the British Museum, which was at one time in the library of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria 668-626 BC, stating at the end that it was copied from a much earlier tablet which was written in about 2200 BC. Among the plants identified in this are figs, dates, caraway, coriander, anise and willow. Chinese and Indian records indicate that opium, ginseng, rhubarb, garlic and birch bark were among plants used long ago. And so, down through the ages herbs have played an important part in both medicines and cooking.

Gardeners are often advised to grow their herbs outside the kitchen door where they will be handy. Foolish advice here in the southern Hemisphere where the kItchen often faces south and offers a shady, cold situation, quite unsuitable for herbs which must have sun and warmth to thrive.

When laying out a herb garden, whether formal or utilitarian, divide the plants into two groups, those that enjoy very well-drained alkaline soil and those which do best in good, moist soil.  Make sure the tall-growing plants will not overshadow  smaller ones and plant the rows running north to south. In small gardens, grow a few herbs among the flowers where they will not be out of place.

Over the next few weeks I will deal with a wide range of interesting and popular herbs. The type of soil and growing conditions for each herb will be described. Never over-water those which need well-drained soil and a sunny position, many of which come from the Mediterranean region.

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