Elevating herbs

I have been elevating the herbs. Literally.

New dog Ralph is no respecter of gardens and one recent morn, I looked out the window to see him standing in the middle of my self-sown patch of parsley having a pee. Now I can never use that parsley again. Mark suggested washing it well might suffice but I think not.

New dog Ralph. That is a prostrate thyme at ground level that the bees love when in flower but I don’t pick because it has almost no aroma at all so I assume the flavour content is also lacking.

Then I found something even worse in the mat of marjoram. I have no idea if that was Ralph, Dudley or Thor who likes to visit from next door, but enough is enough.

I am no expert on herbs but I like to use them fresh. None of those dusty packets of dried leaves for me, thank you. I don’t even like buying pre-stuffed chook or herby-coated chicken in the supermarket because all I can smell are those dried herbs.

I keep the herbs I use all the time close to the back door so I can get to pick them without having to put on shoes. Oregano, marjoram, tarragon and rosemary are in the dry, hot border beside the house. Parsley, mint, chives and thyme are in the parallel border just across the drive. I have to walk a little further to get the bay leaves, the self-sown coriander, the second area of self-sown parsley and the less-favoured sage whereas the fennel I harvest and store the seeds. Sometimes Mark will grow basil in the summer vegetable garden. There are many more herbs that can be used but those are the staple herbs we favour.

I have only written about herbs once before that I can remember and that was back in 2009. At the time, I advised never to plant herbs on the corners of garden beds because that is where dogs will pee and cats will spray to mark territory. As far as I know, that has worked for us in the past when we favoured smaller dogs. But Ralph is larger and more energetic.

In that 2009 article, I also queried the merit of the designated herb garden which was pretty fashionable back in those days. Different herbs need different growing conditions. In the days of yore, the medieval herb gardens were much more extensive and more focused on medicinal herbs than culinary options. Scaling it down to a small modern garden is not likely to be successful in providing the different conditions needed to grow them well. Besides, while some herbs are pretty enough on their day, as a group of plants they are utility more than ornamental.

Concrete laundry tubs recycled to elevate herbs

Fortunately, we are an establishment rich in stored resources so elevating my back door herbs was not such a major exercise and cost no money. Tucked out behind the grapehouse were the old twin concrete tubs which we discarded when we renovated the laundry 20 years ago. We elevated them further using concrete pavers and blocks and I think they are high enough. They now hold mint, thyme, chives and some small parsley plants that need to grow before I can harvest them.  

Two concrete troughs and an old concrete planter repurposed in the pursuit of herb cleanliness

The oregano and marjoram need hotter, drier conditions to build up flavour. These are still in the dry house border but now elevated in smaller concrete troughs that Mark’s dad Felix made back in the 1950s in the days before you could pop along to the shop to buy such things (though mostly in plastic these days).

The narcissi in the apple border behind the trough, now minus the parsley plants – all Peeping Tom at this time of the year, although a ground hugging blue campanula and yellow daisy Doronicum orientale will take over later in the season.

I protected the drainage holes with broken pieces of terracotta pots and put in a thick layer of gravel at the base of all the tubs because drainage is everything for herbs generally (mint is the exception). I then used a 50/50 mix of top soil and homemade compost for the plants to grow in. They may need the occasional water in dry times but there is a nearby tap.

Mark has just come in and commented that Thor-from-next-door paid a visit and was lurking around the area out from the back door, peeing everywhere, including against the container holding the herbs which, fortunately, are now safely out of the way. So this new configuration has at least passed that test.

Finally, because my elevated herb planters are not very exciting visually, a few photos from yesterday morning. Spring has sprung here.

Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Alexandrina’ and Rhododendron protistum var. giganteum ‘Pukeiti’
Prunus campanulata is controversial in NZ because of its seeding ways but our trees are so full of nectar-feeding tui that we are constantly in danger of being taken out by low flying tui heading from tree to tree.
Narcissus cyclamineus seedlings growing in the park meadow agains the peeling bark of what may or may not be Acer griseum
Our garden apprentice, Zach, has created an orchid garden in the barricades and was stoked to see the first plant in bloom this week.

5 thoughts on “Elevating herbs

  1. tonytomeo

    Vegetable gardening within urban tree wells has been a fad for a while. I have no problem growing lily of the Nile, zonal geranium or various aloes in such tree wells, but growing vegetables out there is just weird. Not only do they look shabby, but they want more water than the trees want. Frequent watering promotes shallow rooting, and can damage old trees that are not accustomed to it. Worst of all, every dog who goes downtown does what dogs do on curbside vegetation. No matter how much I write about that, the fad continues.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      It ebbs and flows here though I rarely see mention of its success. Although Australian garden personality, Kosta, claims great success on Gardening Australia. Maybe Sydney dogs are not so inclined to pee everywhere?

  2. Dale Lethbridge

    Hello Abby, I wonder if you know Prunus puddum that I am told does not give fertile seed. There are ancient trees growing at Maungakawa Reserve at the back of Cambridge and there is no sign of seedlings anywhere over time. I think Growing Spectrum in Te Awamutu has been producing that prunus for sale.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes, we have it here and if is a nice enough prunus, though not stand-out spectacular. It isn’t sterile but it doesn’t set much seed compared to other cherries. I see a number of nurseries are producing it for sale.


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