Laying out the herb bed in the Community Garden

Last year I rashly offered to lay out a herb garden in the Tayport Community Garden if a spare raised bed could be found.

I’ve always been interested in herbs, having been given Roger Phillips Herb Book, and once had quite a big herb garden full of culinary and medicinal herbs (if they were pretty enough), plus a few ‘proper’ flowers and alpines. Gradually, however, the herb garden got out of hand. I had small square beds, delineated with stones and blocks, separated by earth paths that always needed weeding. Some of the herbs turned out to be real thugs and started to take over (oregano), while others gradually gave up the ghost (tarragon).

Herb garden
My old herb garden, before and after
Herb bed
One of my new herb beds

So I decided to start again and to set out some new herb beds further down the garden, with a more limited range of herbs. I still liked the idea of small squares, so divided a couple of raised beds with granite blocks salvaged from the original herb garden. This gives me something to stand on if necessary. I had some standard bay trees in pots which I used as focal points in one bed, and clipped box plants in the other bed. My original herb garden had pillars of golden hop as focal points.  These were really attractive but eventually the wooden poles they were growing up rotted. In principle, the middle bits of my new herb beds are left unplanted for annual herbs but in practice they tend to get used for anything I can’t find space for in the vegetable garden.

I used pretty much the same plan for the herb bed in the Community garden since the dimensions were similar in my own herb beds. Again I decided to separate the beds into 3 sections using, in this case, little hedges. One ‘hedge’ was box plants I’d grown from cuttings. I didn’t have quite enough so I’ve used golden feverfew instead for the other ‘hedge’. I’ll take some more box cuttings this year to replace the feverfew at a future date. For the rest of the herbs I’ve chosen mostly culinary herbs, but have included a few ‘medicinal’ herbs such as feverfew and hyssop. Each section has a focal point in the centre. The middle one is a bay bush which I intend to keep trimmed as they can get out of hand. The two end ‘squares’ have bronze fennel which should grow into a tall plume of feathery bronze foliage. These don’t live long so will have to be replaced at some point. The rest of the beds are laid out with some attempt at symmetry but I’m sure that won’t last long!  This was the original plan:

herb bed planAnd on 1 Feb I went to plant it up.

Herb bed
Ready to plant

First problem. These beds might look rectangular but they aren’t! I spent quite a bit of time measuring up with a ruler and thinking ‘that can’t be right’ before I realised that the bed was actually a parallelogram. So all my careful calculations and measurements went for nothing and I ended up doing it all by eye.

Second problem. The soil. It’s clay. I’m used to sand and so are my herbs. Some will definitely not do well (sage) while others might thrive. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Third problem. I lost track of the plan. This was probably because I was holding it upside down! But it doesn’t really matter. There’s still some symmetry.

Fourth problem. The plants that have gone in are rather small. They’ll grow in time, but for this year at least there’s going to be lots of exposed soil just itching to grow weeds.

Herb bed
Planted

Beginning of March update.  Well, it’s still not finished.  (Is a garden ever finished?) Most of the herbs came from my own garden but I needed a few more.  A sensory hedge will be going in along the path so lots of herby-type plants were being ordered for that from Poyntzfield Herb Nursery on the Black Isle (well worth a visit if you’re up that way), so I put in a request for a few plants for the herb bed, and I’ve now planted them.  I also found some some old herb plants kicking around the polytunnel (flat-leaved parsley and chervil), so they’ve gone in to fill in a bit of space, and I put in some chives from my own garden.  I still need to source some variegated oregano called ‘country cream’ which I bought last year from Jamesfield Garden Centre. It’s very pretty, tastes like oregano, but doesn’t self-seed like the regular herb, so I must have an outing to Jamesfield in the next month to see if they still stock it.  I also need to plant up the mint pot and am planning on dividing one of my own pots of mint (an attractive variegated apple mint) and planting some rooted bits – mint is pretty vigorous!  (The second mint pot in the plan has been abandoned.)  I still have to think of something to put in to cover the soil and make the bed look at bit greener. Parsley plants are an obvious choice, and can be bought quite cheaply. I’ll also sow some annual herbs such as coriander and more chervil, although I’m not sure how they’ll do in clay soil. We’ll just need to wait and see.

So lots of fun still to be had and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it does.

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