Designing and Planting an Herb Garden

Designing and Planting an Herb Garden

Part of Ep. 1301 Gardening and Cooking with Herbs

Susan Churchill discusses how she designed her garden to research the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs. Churchill teaches the basics about herbs for cooking and blending teas.

Premiere date: Jul 09, 2005

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Hi, I'm Shelley Ryan. Welcome to a special edition of "The Wisconsin Gardener." Today's program focuses on herbs. First we'll learn how to design, lay out and plant an herb garden. Then on to the finer side of life, herbs for tea, herbs for dessert, how about mint sauce for ice cream? We all think of herbs for cooking, oregano in spaghetti, but Susan Beno takes cooking with herbs to a whole new level. She's going to teach us how to make some wonderful chutneys, salsas, and even herb butters. Finally, we're going to create beautiful silk scarves using herbs and plants. Believe it or not. It's all coming up on "The Wisconsin Gardener."

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Shelley:
We are sitting in the middle of an absolutely gorgeous herb garden. And I'm with one of the people who helped plant it and design it, Susan Churchill.

Susan:
Hi Shelley.

Shelley:
Hi, Susan, this is beautiful!

Susan:
Thank you.

Shelley:
Tell me about how it came to be.

Susan:
Sure, I recently co-authored a book on culinary and tea uses of herbs with Lauri Lee, President of the Madison Herb Society. Hence this garden.

Shelley:
Well, it's also enormous and it's a little frightening for some of us beginners. Are herbs usually just tied in with teas? They're not.

Susan:
Herbs can be used for many things, certainly teas is one of the them. But also medicinal uses, for dying and for food.

Shelley:
Cooking!

Susan:
Hardy food. In fact, if you wanted to have a smaller garden.. This is 50 types, 600 plants. But you could have a four-plant Italian garden right outside your back door. You could have your basil, your marjoram, your oregano and your parsley planted in a container outside your back
door and you're set to go.

Shelley:
So, a lot of them work in containers.

Susan:
Yes they do.

Shelley:
So we're not stuck if we don't have a yard.

Susan:
That's right.

Shelley:
Ok, whether they're in a container or in the back the yard, what do I need to do to keep them all happy?

Susan:
There are some things that herbs do require. Most herbs require full to partial sun throughout the day.

Shelley:
Ok.

Susan:
In addition, they all like well-drained soil. Some, like rosemary and sage are happy in a drier soil, others like mint and basil like more moisture, but they need to be well drained.

Shelley:
So clay is not a good option.

Susan:
Yes, that's correct.

Shelley:
Ok. What about fertility, compost, fertilizer?

Susan:
Herbs have a reputation of being happy in poorer soils and that's true of some. But the majority like sort of a medium fertility soil. For our gardens here, we added a well-rotted horse manure compost. And that's an excellent source to really build up the fertility of your soil.

Shelley:
But don't overdo it.

Susan:
Exactly, ‘cause you can! If you overdo it you're going to get really lush beautiful foliage, but the essential oils that cause the herb flavor will be dispersed through more foliage and it won't be as tasty.

Shelley:
So it won't be as intense.

Susan:
Exactly.

Shelley:
Ok. I think you mentioned peat moss, as well, just to make the soil retain moisture a little bit.

Susan:
Yep, we added some peat moss and then after we planted, we used a cocoa bean mulch to hold the moisture and to make the garden look nice.

Shelley:
Let's talk about the design of this garden, I mean it really is a stunner.

Susan:
Well we had to take in to thought some things that we needed to accomplish here. First of all, because we were planting so many things, we needed to have some organizational system.

Shelley:
Some order.

Susan:
Right. Exactly so we came up with the circle format as a way to have the slices of the pie so to speak, and we could have family groupings of different herbs. For example your basils all together, and so forth, so that we could find our way through the maze of many different plants.

Shelley:
So sun as we said, they all need sun, then some organization. And yet, what I see also has little touches that make it beautiful.

Susan:
Well we did want the gardens, since we're going to be spending a lot of time there, to be an inviting place to spend time. And so, we thought about what can we do in addition to making it lush and full to make it beautiful. So we thought of some architectural touches as you can see. We incorporated the wattle fencing and the tower, and used some container gardens to add interest.

Shelley:
Absolutely beautiful! Beautiful. Ok, let's talk about harvesting these herbs.

Susan:
Of course you grow them, you want to use them.

Shelley:
Do something with them.

Susan:
If you're harvesting for supper tonight you just go out take a basket, snip and take what you need so create some lovely food. But if you're for example harvesting a lot of basil to make pesto, you're going to be picking quite a lot.

Shelley:
Or the dry them say, too.

Susan:
Exactly. The best time to do that is early in the day, that's when the oils are most concentrated.

Shelley:
So the best flavors.

Susan:
Exactly. Just as the dew goes off, gather them. If you're going to wash them, and health and safety experts recommend that you do...

Shelley:
Especially if they've been in touch with the soil.

Susan:
Exactly particularly the lower growing ones, you want to just have them in water a short time so dip them in a cool rinse to make sure they're clean. Dry them as thoroughly as possible, blot them off on towels.

Shelley:
Ok.

Susan:
And then make a little bundle like this. Just use rubber bands and you can hang them in the closet, hang them on a drying rack or wherever it's convenient. And you need to keep them for about two weeks while they're drying.

Shelley:
Ok, so well ventilated, not in direct sun while they're drying.

Susan:
Exactly. Good point, out of the direct sun and plenty of air movement around them.

Shelley:
And I've heard a paper bag can be used to dry them as well!

Susan:
Paper bags are great. You put them in a paper bag and just shake it periodically and in a couple
weeks you'll have dried herbs.

Shelley:
Oh that's easy. Ok.

Susan
When they're dry, and you can tell cause you'll crunch them and they're crunchy!

Shelley:
They'll be crunchy!

Susan:
Something like that.

Shelley:
Ok.

Susan:
The larger leaf ones you can just strip them off the stems and store them in a bag or in an airtight container. The smaller leafed plants, like thyme or marjoram, you can just leave right on the stem.

Shelley:
Ok.

Susan:
And store them in a bag or a plastic container until you're ready to use them.

Shelley:
Ok then, the biggest question of all-- use. Especially, if it’s a new herb or somebody's new at this, where do you start?

Susan:
A great way to start and this is great someone new to herbs or an experienced herbalist when you're trying a new herb. Very simple format, that we've got here before us. Take some bread, butter it. Take a particular herb you want to try. Shelley, I've got a pineapple sage here I'm going to let you try. So just put that right on your bread--

Shelley:
And get a sense of the flavor.

Susan:
And get a sense of what that herb tastes like. The various complex flavors that are in there.

Shelley:
That gives me all sorts of good ideas, and it does have a pineapple flavor!

Susan:
It does, it really does.

Shelley:
It's a great idea and it's fun too. Thanks Susan.

Susan:
You're welcome.

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