Father’s Day is nearly upon us once more. However, now that The Partner’s children are old enough to buy decent gifts, they live too far away to send them.
I will have to step into the breach with something like the recently published Big Ideas for Small Gardens (see panel), in the hope of inspiring him to lend his expertise to the creation of my new spring herb garden.
This is always the first thing I plant, probably because it doesn’t take much thought, time, money or effort – and I get to feel virtuous for very little input. Now it’s time to start and I’m keen to dream up a new design scheme.
Lots of people in New Zealand who grow herbs, seem to do it in pots, or small, raised beds, somewhere near the vegetable garden.
But when I was last exploring big country layouts in Australia, I saw herbs integrated into the greater scheme of things and used for ornamental, as well as culinary, purposes.
Chives, for example, were everywhere, adding swathes of purple blooms to the landscape.
So, alongside the plan for a completely new style of vegetable garden, is another for an integrated herb garden, or in fact gardens, since there’ll be more than one.
Choosing which herbs to grow is as easy as deciding what you like to eat. The most popular choices are basil, dill, mint, fennel, coriander, oregano, chives, chamomile, lavender, and (please don’t sing) parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
I’ve been having a deep and meaningful relationship with thyme since I discovered a couple of fantastic new dinner recipes that call for it, and this year I’m planting a whole big area of different types.
And that’s one of the best things about growing herbs – you can plant great big patches of them because they’re as cheap as chips. Do it in masses, and if one does kick the bucket, it’s a couple of dollars to replace.
In my garden, it’s the coriander (or cilantro) that’s likely to kick the bucket first. The entire plant is edible – flowers and seeds can be included in casseroles and used in meat rubs. Spanish conquistadors introduced it to Mexico and Peru, where it now commonly pairs with chilies in the local cuisine, and it’s believed to be named after “koris”, the Greek word for “bedbug”, because it has a similar smell. Charming.
According to legend, if a man presents a sprig of basil to a woman, she will fall madly in love and never leave him. I really like it, but possibly not that much. We have quite a few types here now, with Genovese, lemon and Thai being the most common. They’re each a bit different, so play around and see which one you like with which food. If you’re growing basil, the right amount of water is vital. You’ll find everything else you need to know, and then some, at basilgardening.com
This is my new best friend, both for eating and looking at. As well as making great rubs, crusts and marinades, it’s also a gorgeous ground cover and there are several varieties. It’s a perennial, so if you treat it right (full sun, well-drained soil), you could have it for three or four years. Plant different kinds in a big patch and rotate them. Visit the-herb-guide.com
Fish lovers must have dill. It’s good to flavour yoghurt dips, it works with potato dishes, omelettes, salads and cucumber relishes. The seeds are edible and are used in making pickles, dressings and potato salads. It’s also a pretty plant, and when I’m having a good year I stick it in vases with flowers. It also has medicinal properties, which you can check out at herbs2000.com
These plants grow quickly and spread fast, whether in full sun or shade, so corral it in a pot to restrict its rampant growth. For more on mint, see botanical.com
About Lee Ann McKenzie
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author