Friday, 22 February 2013

Herbs - my first (gardening) love (Part 2)

Remember the hauntingly beautiful Simon and Garfunkel hit, 'Scarborough Fair', with its recurring line, 'parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme'?

That song was an inspiration when I was contemplating having a variety of culinary herbs in my home garden.  I have to say that it is so handy to be able to just pop outside and pick a few stalks of thyme and rosemary for a soup or stock, or grab some oregano and basil for topping a pizza.  Herbs are such rewarding plants - the more you pick 'em, the more they produce!  This, and the fact that they seem to mainly look after themselves, it why they make a good first step into the world of gardening.

I tend to dot culinary herbs throughout the garden, as most are attractive in their own right.

So, back to Simon and Garfunkel . . . .

Parsley.  The picture below is of my flat leaf (continental or Italian) parsley, re-growing after going to seed in mid-summer.  In my garden, it seems to grow best in part shade, probably because it stays moister there (our summers are very hot and dry - and this year it was particularly so).

I have never had to buy more than the one original plant (which totally suits me, as I am a bit of a frugal Dougal by nature).  When it goes to seed and gets woody (every couple of years or so), you just shake the seed heads for more to grow up in the same place, or anywhere you want them to grow.  (FYI, the plant at the back with the pinky purple flowers is a crowea - an Australian native.  And as you can see, I tend to leave twigs, leaves and things in the garden to compost down naturally and provide protection for the skinks etc.)

Sage.  Here's mine, growing near the quince and plum trees.  My previous sage got a fungus after a few years, and carked it.  This one was planted (in a new spot) last spring.  (The plant immediately behind the is a feijoa or pineapple guava.  The debris around the sage is from a died down swathe of heartsease, which  I anticipate will return in abundance come spring.)

Rosemary.  I have planted three of the prostrate rosemary, 'Irene', in a row, to make a curved edge on my back grass (it's a bit scrappy to call it a 'lawn'!).  Each plant easily covers a square metre.  I cut it back from time to time to keep it neat and bushy.

As far as I'm concerned, rosemary is an essential ingredient in pumpkin soup!  (Can you see my baby black mulberry tree in the background? I am hoping it gets lots of fruit next year.)

The bees adore rosemary - it was literally buzzing when I took the photo!  See Mr Bee getting the goodness out of the pretty blue flowers?

and Thyme . . . here is the standard 'vulgaris', which is more upright and has a tendency to go woody (I keep it trimmed - kinda! - in the vegie patch)

and Edna Walling's favourite, 'Westmoreland' . . . softer and more prostate.  Seen here with other useful ground covers, alyssum and wild strawberry, and the strappy liriope.

But wait, there's more!  Depending on the season, I tend to have a few other useful herbs on the go, such as mint:

I keep my mint in a pot near the back tap so it doesn't take over the entire garden.  It also makes me remember to water it (mint loves to be damp and shady).  I do cut mint back from time to time when it gets a bit leggy - which is also a great excuse for making a nice minty lemon- or lime-ade!

In Canberra, mint goes dormant over our cold winter.   It sometimes reappears in spring, but this cannot be relied on.  I had to buy a new one this past spring.

Oregano, also in a pot.  Oregano seems to 'sulk but survive' through our frosty winter if kept under the eaves.  It cheers up again in spring.

Dill - only an umbrel at the moment, as it's all gone to seed - but it'll be back next spring!  (The plant at the back is an osmanthus 'heaven scent').

and, of course, delicious sweet basil.  Basil doesn't survive our heavy winter frosts, so I will hopefully get around to saving some seed for next year.

And now, for the encore . . . I just can't resist adding the next two, whose pretty salad flowers cheer the soul:

Heartsease (aka viola, johnny jump up - and yes, it does 'jump up', ie self-sow, several times a year, to my perpetual delight)

and borage.  This is a new one - only got the seeds this year, again from Diggers.  Aren't borage flowers such a pretty blue?

I feel so lucky that I can share my love of herbs with you!  I hope you have caught something of my enthusiasm for these delightful 'gifts that keep on giving', and are now persuaded to go down to your local nursery and get some seedlings or seeds to plant up.


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