Herb Garden Makeover

Last year the herb garden got a major overhaul. Our initial plantings made in 2008 were foundering due to poorly draining, heavy soil. You often hear that herbs prefer ‘poor’ soil, but I believe you have to put that in proper perspective. It’s true that most herbs don’t need a particularly rich soil. But many of the culinary herbs do in fact require soil that drains well, since they typically grow in sandy or rocky soils in their native areas.

view of herb garden from kitchen door (click on any image to enlarge)

Unfortunately, the soil near the house where we had situated our herb garden was anything but well drained. It appeared to be either subsoil, or else fill dirt that had been hauled in. Most of HA has a quick draining, silty soil, but this stuff was hard clay, with lots of rocks, bricks, concrete and other debris mixed in. When it rained, water just sat there. And the plants drowned. It was conveniently located however, right near the kitchen door, and we didn’t really want to move it. So a makeover seemed in order.

French thyme blooming, with oregano plants behind it

To fix things, the soil needed to be amended. So I worked in quite a bit of sand and gravel, plus some peat moss. In general, adding sand to soil doesn’t make a lot of sense. It takes a huge amount of sand to make a difference. But this was a relatively small area to be improved – small enough that a dozen bags of sand and gravel could actually make a difference.

chives blooming; pea gravel mulch

We situated the plants that didn’t like to have their roots wet in the ‘improved’ area. This was the place to put the oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary plants. And then we topped this area with a layer of pea gravel for mulch, just like we do for our lavender plants. The tall bronze and green fennels went near the deck, where they wouldn’t shade the other plants. And the two rosemary plants went in a corner near the house, where they were protected from cold winter winds.

Tuscan Blue rosemary

A year later, the plants are thriving. No doubt the mild winter we had helped. There are two tender oregano plants that I dug up and overwintered in the greenhouse, but all the other plants made it through the winter, including the Tuscan Blue rosemary which is not always hardy here.

view from the other side (new Costmary plant in foreground)

There’s one herb you won’t see in this garden area, and that’s mint. We have a lot of different mints here, but they’re all growing in containers. Most mints spread like crazy, and containers help keep them from taking over the place. And I learned that the hard way.

mint growing in container

Hopefully, this herb garden will continue to keep us supplied with fresh and dried herbs for many years to come. And that’s a makeover that was worth the effort!

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9 Responses to Herb Garden Makeover

  1. Daphne says:

    All my mints are in containers too. And strangely our Tuscan Blue survived the winter. We are normally about 20F (11C) below what that one can handle. It looks a bit bedraggled from the winter, but it survived. What more can I ask? I’m sure it won’t last though. I put it in as an experiment. I probably won’t replace it when it does die. I’ve got two rosemaries that are hardier. And I had trouble with some of the herbs when I was at my last garden. It was heavy clay. At least there was a slope to the area so the water would roll off as opposed to sit there.

  2. Jenny says:

    I love your herb garden! so neat and green and very pretty with flowers. What are those two fern-type plants? i love the dark green almost purplish one!

  3. Lynda says:

    The bronze fennel is absolutely FANTASTIC!! Your herb garden is just beautiful…good job!

  4. Liz says:

    Your herb garden looks great. I find that herbs appreciate a bit of attention too. The woody ones are pretty self reliant but I do find the soft herbs like tarragon, chives, basil etc need a bit of both TLC and decent soil to grow in.

  5. Marcia says:

    I have my mint in a pot but buried in the soil. I wish I’d done that with oregano too. I find it growing in other places in my perennial garden.

    • Dave says:

      Lemon balm is another one that spreads. So far I have kept it in bounds by digging up and dividing every couple of years. I think I will have to do that for the oregano too.

  6. I’ve noticed here that the raised herb beds produce bigger plants, and they generally bloom earlier (at least the Thyme, Hyssop, and Sage) than the same plants set out in our native soil. Sometimes I wish I could turn the entire garden into one giant raised bed. Amending an area at a time does help a lot though, and it’s less overwhelming. I’m sure your herbs will reward you for the improvements. I agree, mint corralled in pots only!!! I love it, but it can really take over. I think my favorite mint these days is ‘chocolate mint’…it just smells wonderful 🙂

  7. What a nice herb garden you have! Thanks for sharing.

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