Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Journey through My Herb Gardens

my garden in 1997
I’m not sure when I first fell in love with herbs, it was sometime in my early 20s, probably after reading a historic novel. My first venture into growing herbs began with seeds. I thought I could grow lavender, thyme, and rosemary by casting seed around the old windmill on the farm. I covered the seeds with soil, watered the area, but of course, nothing came up. Starting herbs like lavender and thyme from seeds takes some knowledge of horticulture and the right growing conditions. At the time, I grew a vegetable garden and a bed of strawberries, but nothing from seed started indoors. Starting lavender seeds indoors can be done, but it takes patience as lavender seeds take a month or more to germinate.

I began reading about herbs and the more I read the more fascinated I became with the history, beauty, and usefulness of the plants. My first herb plants came from a Smith & Hawken catalog that landed in the mailbox one day. I sat leafing through the thin catalog enraptured by what I saw…lush green thymes; spikes of lavender in blue, pale purple, and pink; bushes of rosemary in terra cotta pots, and lemon verbena light and refreshing beckoning me to buy, buy, buy…so I did. The plants arrived wrapped in damp newspapers, bare root exposed, and looking a bit wilted. I jumped in the car and ran to the nearest store for clay pots. I couldn’t wait to plant the herbs.

An old wooden wheel from a long discarded wagon or buggy became my first herb garden. I wish I had a picture of it, but it never dawned on me to photograph my gardening journey at that time. As a foolish grower, I hadn’t read enough about herbs, yet. I was just excited to grow a few. So I planted spearmint, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, lamb’s ears, and Silver king Artemisia. I can almost hear the gasps and cringes emitting from herb enthusiasts. Yes, I placed two invasive herbs, next to darlings like thyme and lavender that overtook the entire wheel, heading out into the lawn. If you’ve never grown herbs, you should know… mints of any kind invade every corner of the garden, landscape, or lawn unless you take extra precautions to keep the mouth-watering fragrant herb in check. Artemisia is a prolific plant, growing tall, and sometimes gangly, falling over into its neighbors. Both plants add a layer of beauty, fragrance, and utility to the garden and should be included, but showcase each properly and refrain from planting helter-skelter.

In the few years I had my wheel garden, I fell head over heels for the fragrant plants and wanted more. A flowerbed was worked up and herbs planted among iris, a Queen Elizabeth rose, globe thistle, and a variety of annuals became my focus. I started sticking herbs everywhere… in the vegetable garden, in the flower beds around the house, and anywhere I could find an open bit of earth, but I wasn’t satisfied… I wanted an herb garden smack dab in the middle of the side yard.

I picked up a book called The Pleasure of Herbs by Phyllis Shaudys. I spent the winter pouring over that book as if it were a new friend and I needed to know every intimate detail. A long-time insomniac, I would sneak downstairs so the light would not bother anyone and read all about herbs at 2 am. I found sources for herbs that I could not purchase in rural northwest Ohio. I discovered garden designs and how-to directions for building raised beds. I discovered a love that then turned into a passion.

As spring approached, I had my garden design drawn on paper, a list of plants, and a pleading plan ready to go. Yes, I got my raised bed herb garden using old lumber from the farm.

I placed a bee skep in the center of the garden and thought surely I would be satisfied, but my passionate hobby turned into a business and once again, the bigger, better bug hit me. This time I wanted my dream garden.

Come back and learn about the dream garden tomorrow.

Now get out there and green your thumb!

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