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Tips for planting a herb garden

Colour theming your herb garden will help feed both body and soul.
Tips for planting a herb garden

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – the song was wimpy and the idea of planting nothing but these in a herb garden even more so. Not that you shouldn’t have them, but you can have much, much more. I’ve been lazy when it comes to herbs – heaps of parsley and basil, a raggedy rosemary bush and a tub of mint. Various others such as oregano and thyme have been added on occasion, but by the time they’ve grown I’ve forgotten which is which.

But not this year. Spring and a bit of dry weather have been so long coming that I have had ample time to read up on and plan a seriously impressive herb garden that will satisfy my culinary, aesthetic, olfactory and health requirements. I was initially inspired by a story I read on chia – a recently trendy herb which is one of the salvia family. To be honest, I was far more attracted by the bit that said it helped you lose weight than the other stuff on its health benefits, and further impressed by pictures of fields of brilliant purple salvia.

The idea of planting swathes of purple herbs took root. Colour affects mood and has an effect on our emotional and physical behaviour. Hot colours are energising and creative, while blue, mauve, lilac and even pale lemon colours calm us. I certainly won’t be calmed by anything from the yellow palette (apart from Lurpak butter), but I’m keen to go with tones of lilac.

Fragrance also has a feel-good factor, so it’s a good idea to choose plants with scented foliage. As you tread on it or brush up against it, the scent is released. Basil, rosemary, lemon verbena, sage, mint, citronella geranium, lawn chamomile and pennyroyal will all do the trick. Texture is the third element that makes a garden such a multisensory experience.

Lambs’ ears (Stachys), artichokes, Artemisia, bronze fennel and Russian sage (Perovskia atripicifolia) are distinctive texture plants. I’ve usually kept my herbs trapped in a raised bed, but this year’s effort is being incorporated into the wider garden. I like plants that multitask so I’m doing a colour co-ordinated, layering thing that’ll provide colour and texture in a garden bed at the end of the lawn.

Lavender is the best known purple flowering herb and much as I don’t love it, I’ll plant Lavendula intermedia, which has a reputation for flowering non-stop and never going woody. Yeah, right… Fernleaf lavenders (Lavendula multifida) are not strictly lavenders as their foliage is not aromatic, but the lacy fernlike leaves and long stems with bright blue soft flower spikes make this a very attractive garden plant. I haven’t found any yet but I’ll keep looking.

Catmint is a hardy perennial that grows in sun or partial shade. It can be untidy, especially if your cats love it, as mine do, so it’s best planted close together en masse. I’m also having a love affair with chives, with their tubular green leaves and globular heads of pale pink to purple flowers.

Russian Sage is a tall and bushy silver-leafed shrub that produces a profusion of downy pale purple flower spikes on grey stems. In full flower it provides a haze of colour, it’s water wise and the silvery foliage makes it an excellent feature plant. The leaves have a great scent. It grows to about a metre by a metre so it’ll work well as a ground cover plant.

I’m thinking of threading some pale pink and white plants through all this for a bit of light relief, so I’ve chosen a few abelia, some tall, spiky dietes that can be moved from another part of the garden and possibly some of the taller, dark green grasses.

A big, predominantly purple herb garden will also need some hard landscaping for definition, so a path of lime chip through the centre, some paving or a concrete pond will complete the picture – well, at least the picture I have in my head. When everything is growing, I should have a herb garden to feed both body and soul.

**Chia

**

I’m always a bit late climbing on the fashion bandwagon, whether it’s clothes, music or plants. So it’s not surprising I have just discovered the magical properties of salvia hispanica – chia – which is going to make me thin, energetic, clever and calm, with healthy blood sugar levels, an enthusiastic metabolism, an impressive iron count and great bones.

Everything you read about it says it’s better for you than cod liver oil, with more calcium than cows’ milk, more iron than spinach, more antioxidants than blueberries and so on. (Actually I’d probably rather eat three times more blueberries than chia seeds for the equivalent amount of antioxidant, but sadly I have failed at blueberry cultivation.) So Salvia hispanica is my new best friend.

It produces seeds that were regarded as an ancient superfood. They were once a staple of the Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures, along with the Native Americans of the southwest, and were used as an energy food, especially for their jogging messengers. Chia has been called “Indian running food” and is said to give an incredibly sustaining surge of energy.

I so want this to be true! Even if it does none of the above, it will more than likely grow well if it gets plenty of sun and good, free-draining soil, and it will enhance the look and feel of my garden, if not me.

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