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.)