Several years ago, gardener Julianne Labreche experimented with creating a scaled-down kitchen garden in her backyard. By summer’s end, the garden not only provided ample herbs for cooking but was also a joy to behold. Here’s how it was constructed and planted.
The Site Plan
For obvious reasons, the garden should be near the kitchen. It should also be in a sunny spot with good air circulation. Most culinary herbs thrive in summer heat and prefer well-drained soil. My east-facing garden proved ideal, and the cedar hedge that backs the property helped to create a perfect microclimate.
I opted for a 4’ x 4’ garden kit that was easy to assemble with no need to dig up existing lawn. The kit consisted of four 4’ long 2” x 6” boards, six 4’ laths and weed cloth. I constructed an open square pine box which sat above ground and spread weed cloth over top of the lawn within the box. As instructed, I added soil (not quite 6”) nearly to the top of the box. The mixture was equal parts blended compost, peat moss and coarse vermiculite. After the box was filled, I attached the laths together with screws over top of the soil in a grid consisting of 16 1’ squares, which provided spacing for 16 medium-sized plants.
After the frost danger passed, I removed the herbs I had bought at the farmer’s market from their pots, loosened their roots a little and placed them in the soil. The plants had to be the right size for the box. They also had to be non-invasive species. I opted for plants with relatively short root systems due to the depth of the box. Here’s what I planted.
The garden kit was quick and easy to assemble.
1. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
This hardy biennial extends long into the gardening season. My favorite is the robust-tasting flat-leaf Italian parsley, as opposed to the curly variety. It can be started from seed, in which case germination is slow, about two to five weeks. Ideally, it is best started indoors. To speed up germination, soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting. Parsley prefers full sun or light shade and lots of watering during dry spells.
2. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Along with the common variety, some other favorites include purple basil, such as ‘Red Rubin’, and Thai basil. Seeds can be sown in pots or directly in the soil once the risk of frost has passed. Germination will occur in five to eight days. As with other herbs, watering is dependent on rainfall. During dry spells, watering should occur about once a week. It’s best to trim basil throughout the growing season and to remove flower buds to encourage growth. Basil’s sweet flavor combines particularly well with garlic and tomatoes.
Basil plants growing in the garden
3. Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Try common, golden (‘Icterina’) or purple (‘Purpurascens’) sage. This perennial herb grows from seed or cuttings. For cuttings, rooting time is about four weeks. It should be renewed every three to four years.
4. Thyme (Thymus spp.)
This sun-loving perennial plant comes in varieties such as lemon, orange, woolly and nutmeg. Some creep along the ground; others grow in clumps that are easily divided for new plants. After flowering, it should be cut back to promote new growth the following year. It grows from cuttings or divisions and should be renewed every two to three years.
Thyme plants growing in the garden
5. Oregano (Origanum spp.)
This herb grows from seed, cuttings or division. Cuttings can be taken in early summer. Plants are best divided in spring. In fall, its stems should be cut back to ground level. This attractive, hardy plant also makes a nice ground cover. The golden variety of oregano is shown in the photo.
Oregano plants growing in the garden
6. Lavender (Lavendula spp.)
It is easier to start this perennial from cuttings than from seeds. Young plants should be watered frequently, while mature plants should be allowed to dry out between watering. Like thyme, it should be cut back in fall to just above the base. Add mulch for winter protection. Trimming it back will also promote a bushier plant the following year.
7. French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Tarragon is a perennial that can be grown from cuttings or divisions in sun or semi-shade. If grown from seed, the plant will not flower the first year. Tarragon benefits from being cut back in the fall and protected by mulch or straw. Tarragon has a subtle, delicate flavor.
Tarragon plants growing in the garden
8. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
This plant is a tough, hardy perennial that requires little care. Chives grow from seed or by clump division. It is best to divide it again in spring every few years. Their spiky leaves shoot from mini-bulbs. The plant thrives in sunny conditions, but is forgiving of adverse conditions too. Chives have a taste that is somewhere between mild onion or garlic flavor.
Chives growing in the garden
9. Mint (Mentha spp.)
Mint, a perennial plant, is highly invasive, so I planted it in a separate pot placed on the deck. Otherwise, its root runners would quickly run rampant and take over any garden plot. Mint is best planted in a container, as it is highly invasive.
10. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
With the middle space in the nine-point square garden grid still empty, I inserted a pot filled with regular garden soil and planted a flowering annual herb, a climbing nasturtium, which has edible peppery-tasting flowers. Before long, it climbed a steel garden obelisk and its yellow flowers became an attractive focal point in the garden.
Mint plants growing in the garden
Julianne Labreche is a freelance writer & garden enthusiast who volunteers with Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton.
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