Garden progress report #1

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the wonderful kitchen garden project that Stephanie Alexander initiated in an inner-city Melbourne school, and of my resolve to start gardening at home with my daughters. I have been working hard, clearing the irises out of the space the girls and I intend to use for their gardens, and replanting them elsewhere. They surived the extraordinary summer heat here in Adelaide extraordinarily well, so they are definitely on my list of acceptable plants to use. I still have a little way to go on clearing and replanting, but Anzac Day provided me with the perfect excuse to make real progress on my own herb garden.

This is the space I started with – a good structure, but old, old soil, and just a few scraggly plants left. I thought that the best thing to do was to start again, clearing out all the pine needles, digging out the remnants of plants, getting rid of the onions (I don’t want to grow my own onions in any case). My Dad helped me to get rid of the pole in the middle. The previous occupants of this house had a dovecote atop the pole, but fortunately, they took it with them, sans pole, when they moved out. It took quite an effort to get rid of the pole – it was well concreted in – but Dad made short work of it once he had Mr Strange Land’s skill saw to play with. Once the pole was gone, I dug masses of compost into the soil, and watered it well (by hand and watering can, of course, in keeping with Adelaide’s water restrictions).

Then I planted it up – lemon verbena at the back, flat leaf parsley, curly leaf parsley, coriander, marjoram (thank you Mum, for the plant), oregano, and green sage. And thyme – lemon thyme, pizza thyme, and ordinary old thyme, all of which I value for different reasons. Lemon thyme for chicken, pizza thyme for virtually any purpose – its large leaves make it easy to use, it spreads into satisfying clumps, and it has a pretty flower – and ordinary old thyme for bouquets garni and bologneses and tomato sauces and because how could you possibly have a herb garden without common thyme? I want to find some purple sage – I like the flowers – and come spring, I will plant sweet basil. Any other suggestions for culinary herbs will be considered carefully, over a glass of wine and a stroll around the garden. Of course I will plant some mint somewhere, but in a carefully confined space; its rampaging habits would be a little hard to take in this beautifully ordered space.

The soil in the garden is very sandy, so borrowing a tip from my aunty who lives on the Kapiti coast, passed on by my mother, I put about a pot’s worth of compost in the hole I prepared for each plant before I settled them into the ground. After everything was planted up, and well watered, by hand, I covered the soil with mulch. And this is the starting product.

I’m not sure what to do about the centre section yet. I would like to have a small fountain there, just a simple upwelling of water into a bowl, but that seems wasteful, so I am thinking about a tiled bird bath, or maybe a sundial, correctly aligned for Adelaide, or perhaps a rose. Roses are incredibly hardy; of all the existing plants in my garden, they seem to have survived the hot summer best. In the meantime, the centre section is covered with small white stones, recovered from another spot in our backyard.

I have always managed to grow a few herbs, even when I lived in student flats. I love cooking with fresh herbs, and I find the process of planting and tending them soul restoring. It has been raining today in Adelaide, and as I have walked around my garden in the damp air, I can feel the garden growing.

(This post is for my gardening mother, and for my e-friend merc, both of whom knew that I ought to be growing herbs.)

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15 responses to “Garden progress report #1

  1. Thats wonderful (I am a herb gardener too). I always have rosemary and chives as well

  2. Aw, that’s great. There is nothing like having fresh herbs to hand when you cook. I too always have rosemary (lamb, roast vegetables).

    Recently I have started growing winter savoury, which has an nice minty/thymy/sharp flavour, and is excellent in bean dishes or with boiled potatoes.

    As for your centre: could you put a bay tree in there? They cope very will in containers, and are quite hardy. Fresh bay is fantastic.

  3. LOL I was just thinking about how you gave me a pizza thyme plant for my 21st birthday and it did really well so I tried to dry a whole lot of it in the microwave and it caught on fire!! We’re putting off doing up the backyard until after our holiday, so at the moment we’re confined to growing a few herbs in pots on the front step – but amazing how much use we got out of the basil and the corriander. Well until I pruned it.

    For your middle bit I’m going for the bird bath. I think they’re great cause the birds look so cute when they come and bath – and those mosaic tile ones look pretty schmick.

  4. Looking good – a nice selction of herbs, too. I love growing herbs – reminds me I have to re-do one of my gardens…

    I think a small bird bath would be the way to go. My cats drink from mine – so no birds are keen to venture near it ;-)

  5. You get the /silent awe/, your garden is so beautiful, it was meant to be there, as for the centre…
    …it is the centre that we consider most, for it is there that everything that is, that was is constellated , held in tension, a free wheeling galaxy of us…
    Go out and about and you will see a stone and that stone will sit beautifully in that place.
    The Bay Tree idea is a good one, but somewhere it’s drip line does no harm.

  6. What about chillis? They like the heat.

    And I’ll third rosemary – but it grows into a shrub, so it could go in the middle (but a bay tree also sounds good).

  7. Great progress being made.I like the idea of a bird bath in the central spot or perhaps a rosemary…….but you would need to keep it clipped.Chervil might grow, at least until the hot weather kicks in again.

  8. Bay trees can get quite big and may shade half your garden.
    A bird feeder or bird bath sounds ideal in a dry climate. As if your vege garden won’t draw enough birds in for a feed anyway!

  9. Great work Deborah! A bird bath sounds wonderful, but if you wanted a plant a standard of some sort might be good, eg a standard rose or lavender?

  10. They’ll stay small, if not actually bonsai, in a container. But I just happen to like them :)

  11. That’s an impressive transformation. I’m curious about the water restrictions in Adelaide; do they generally restrict watering of gardens or do they mandate technology? I did a project a while back with United Water – they’re big on recycling (big as in more than PR, not big as in off the curve) particularly for domestic gardens.

  12. Your garden is beautiful. I will chime in suggesting adding rosemary (for the incredibly corny reason of you’ve got parsley, sage…and thyme). Also, though my last remark has undoubtedly killed whatever credibility I might have had, I would vote for a sundial in the middle. I am actually sort of surprised no one else has commented liking that idea. I would think your daughters would find it very cool. I know mine would. You are off to a great start!

  13. I’m planing a herb garden myself. It’s to haev a lawn in the middle and the herbs planted in a two foot deep border all round. (The previous owners of our house had it as a veggie patch.) I’d suggest rosemary (as others have). How about lavender and camomile?

  14. Dwarf rosemary is more manageable and not so brash.

  15. Ooh, I love the symmetry. We inherited a similar but larger parterre-type-thing at our house, and it is home to a mixture of flowers, fruit, and veg, some permanent and some seasonal. In the middle stands a very slender dwarf weeping cherry tree. The birds like to sit on it and comment on the cats who come for the catnip bushes.

    So many wonderful suggestions so far for what to put in the middle – birdbath, sundial, philosopher’s stone, bay tree, lavender, rosemary, standard rose. Or perhaps a small, elegant Japanese-style azalea? Or something wacky and eye-catching like a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, planted in a pot with room for moss and some spring bulbs around it?

    Or a sculpture made by you and the girls out of found objects? Or a tiny pond, or even a splendid Chinese jar with goldfish and waterplants in it and a solar-powered floating fountain thingy (google it) to help circulate the water without having to hook anything up to the mains?

    While you’re making your mind up, you could do something temporary with a bamboo teepee and something floral or vege that likes to climb. I’m not sure about the growing season down that way, but you might get a nice batch of sugar snaps under way, or some old-fashioned sweetpeas for spring…