A Good Thyme in the Herb Garden and some Sage Advice
by Mascha Florisson
Herbs have been highly valued and used as food and medicine by humans throughout history, their use dating back to our hunter-gatherer beginnings. Early Greek and Roman civilisations had documented over 700 herbs and their uses, many of which are still relevant today. In the 16th and 17th centuries, women that were skilled in the use of herbal medicine were known as ‘wise women’, however if their potions failed to heal they were in danger of being accused of witchcraft. Today growing herbs still appeals to many people, and although herbs are now mainly grown for ornamental and culinary purposes, the many fragrances, colours and textures of herbs can still add a sense of magic and mystery to a garden.
In a purely botanical sense herbs are seed-bearing plants that don’t have a woody stem and die down to the ground after flowering, but to the gardener herbs can be any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavouring, food, medicine, or perfume. Herbs are usually hardy plants that are easy to grow, and many can be propagated from seed, divisions or cuttings collected from friends or neighbours gardens, so starting your own herb garden needn’t be expensive.
Herbs are easy to fit into any style of garden and I feel no garden is complete without the inclusion of at least some herbs. Our herb garden at the Yarra Valley Living Centre is very formal in design with herbs planted into raised beds with built-in seating and arranged symmetrically around a central water fountain. Located directly outside the kitchen door and near to the dinning room, this style suits its use perfectly – convenient for our chefs to harvest from, and a pleasant place to sit or wander for program participants before or after a meal.
At home, herbs have infiltrated many parts of my garden. A row of various culinary herbs spill informally over the lower tier of a retaining wall near our back door, here they are in easy reach of the kitchen or the pizza oven. A mis-match of pots containing various herbs for making tea are clustered in groups around a bistro table and chairs to create a cozy spot to sit and enjoy a cup of herbal tea. Medicinal and culinary herbs that benefit our chooks are also planted around the edge of their pen and a mix of self-seeding herbs create a wildflower meadow in the grass around our beehives for our bees to enjoy. Herbs whose flowers attract beneficial insects are also squeezed into any empty spots in the fruit and vegetable gardens where they help to control insect pests. In Melbourne bat removal is commonly needed as they eat the fruit from people gardens. However, using the scent of certain herbs you can naturally repel them.
If herbs don’t already feature in your garden, consider how you may be able to incorporate them into an existing garden bed. Many herbs such as lavender, rosemary and curry plant are suitable for low hedges and can be pruned to suit a more formal garden style. The mint family is best planted into pots so they don’t take over the rest of the garden. You could try growing peppermint, spearmint, common mint, apple mint, chocolate mint and basil mint, just to name a few. Other herbs such as echinacea, salvias, hollyhocks, geraniums, lavender, borage, calendula, viola, hyssop, and bergamot brighten up a garden with their wonderful flowers and can be grown either in pots or planted in the ground. Some herbs make great additions to a leafy salad – try rocket, salad burnet, sorrel, purslane, watercress and chicory. Other herbs are great to add flavour to vegetable soups, some of my favourites include ginger, bay tree, parsley, chives, dill, oregano, lovage, lemon grass and coriander.
By the time this article is published our herb garden at the Yarra Valley Living Centre should almost be finished its makeover so be sure to come and enjoy some thyme there (sorry, I couldn’t resist a pun) on your next visit, and perhaps even find inspiration to create your own herb garden.
BSc, DipHort, Cert.Zookkeeping
Meet Mascha Florisson, one third of our extraordinary gardening team.
Mascha’s knowledge spans across a wide range of settings including zoo keeping in wildlife parks, organic farming, re-vegetation, indigenous plant propagating. She has been caring for our Yarra Valley Living Centre gardens since 2009 but her love for gardening really started when she started growing her own veggies at the keen age of 10.
Mascha holds a Bachelor in Zoology & Marine Biology, a Diploma of Horticulture, a certificate in permaculture design, and qualifications in horticultural therapy. She is passionate about sustainable designs and food growing, and the therapeutic benefits that nature offers people – both passively and also through the proactive nurturing of our natural environments.