By Tina Glaessner, Herbalist and Proprietor of Crimson Sage Nursery, Orleans, CA
Chinese Balloon Flower
The big question each spring for many would be Herb growers is often do they have space for the traditional concept of an herb garden. Should it be formal beds of plants organized by the uses of each herb or maybe each garden bed is planted for a certain body system. Maybe an herb spiral will be built or circular beds are filled with herbs organized and labeled. All of these are great ways to plant Medicinals but these projects can be quite overwhelming to a new gardener or someone with very limited space. I like to encourage people to think outside the box as well. Our culture tends to compartmentalize things and Herb gardening is no exception. What if we look at the whole landscape of your yard or garden or farm as a whole herbscape where we incorporate herbs in many different areas where they serve many different purposes. Even within the Permaculture Design World plantings of perennial Medicinal Plants are often very under-represented in the designs. I would like to share a few of the more popular and reasonably simple Herbscaping ideas here but I want to remind you that this barely scratches the surface of the many ways both medicinal and culinary herbs can be incorporated into your landscape!!
1) Planting for the olefactory effect: This works very well along an entrance , walkway, or entryway! Planting wonderful smelling herbs so that you brush by them going here and there in your busy day can do wonders for the mood … these plants will uplift you and make people feel good as they approach your door. Rose Geraniums are great for this as well as lavender, Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, Tulsii Basil and lemon Balm. The Tradition of planting select herbs near the front door of the home for protection and purification is an ancient one. Good choices for this may include Rue, Wood Betony, Motherwort, Angelica, European Centaury, Red Clover, Horehound, Oregano, Tansy and many types of Sage!!
2) Creating privacy using herbs: Medicinals are not usually thought of in this way but there are a handful of herbs which are famous for their extreme vigor and can reach astronomical heights each year especially in fertile soil. These vigorous Herbs can create a fantastic annual green border or living wall when planted in a row or block. Planted between you and your annoying neighbor and you can bask in your private “Herbal cave “back yard. Several plants come to mind for this purpose such as Joe Pye Weed, Elecampagne, Burdock, Marshmallow, Blue Vervain Angelica of all types, Valerian, Catnip, Motherwort, Valerian or even Stinging Nettle!! If there is a wall or trellis to climb these herbs will make quick work of it, including Passion flower, Hops, Codonopsis, Schisandra, Fo Ti, Jiaogulan and Wild Yam. Extremely tall Herbs can also act as an over-story planting and create a shadow when needed for more shade-loving herbs such as violets, Self-Heal, Himalayan Valerian, wintergreen and partridge berry or wild Ginger to grow below them. When harvested the extra-large herbs provide a lot of Medicine plus a lot of biomass for your compost pile and the bees, birds and other pollinators and beneficial insects will be attracted to them as well.
3) Planting the Herbal Hedge : Planting a hedge differs from the privacy herbs because the herbal hedge is truly a living fence made up of perennial shrubs and small trees that are planted very close together to eventually create an impenetrable barrier. The Herbal Hedge was commonly seen as way of dividing pastures throughout Europe for thousands of years. Some of my favorite selections for the hedge row are Hawthorn, Chinese Forsythia, Elderberry, Crampbark, Wild Rose or Rugosa Rose, Vitex, Witch Hazel, Willow, Oregon Grape, and Wild Cherry. The living hedge can separate two properties or divide one garden area from another or even as a livestock fence eventually especially if the thorny hawthorn is included. The hedge will produce abundant medicine over many years along with great beneficial insect and wild life habitat.
4) Medicinal Trees: From the small yard of a peasant to the lines of trees approaching a castle Medicinal trees were commonly found throughout Europe and eventually many made their way to North America. Of course placement of these larger trees in the landscape requires serious consideration as they are a long term addition but these trees will give back for many many years in terms of shade, Fall color, medicine, wildlife and pollinator habitat! Some top choices for planting would include the Little Leaf Linden, Sweet Gum, Gingko, Black Cottonwood, Paper Birch, Willow, and Sassafras.
5) Butterfly and pollinator gardens are very popular these days and for good reason. The Honey bee and many other native pollinators are seriously threatened and need as much forage planted for them as possible! The more pollinator plants in your herbscape the better and the good news is these plants create a gorgeous garden full of colorful blooms and your yard will be a buzz with honey bees, Native pollinators, and hummingbirds. So many herbs both Medicinal and Culinary are excellent for pollinators that the plants I have listed here are simply some of my favorites there are many more not listed here that attract pollinators as well ! Try planting all types of Bergamont, Tulsii Basil, Pleurisy Root, showy Milkweed, Scarlet Sage, Pineapple Sage, Chinese Red Sage, Agastache any type including Anise Hyssop, Korean Mint, regular Hyssop, Rosemary, Lavender, Sages of all kinds, Echinaceas of all kinds, Nepitella, Yarrow, Valerian, Sweet Cicely, Angelicas of all types, Calendula, Meadowsweet, Horehound, Oregano and Thyme plus many more!
6) Tight spaces … It can be tough in a small yard to make space for the traditional herb garden but if there is already room for a small vegie garden and you have a few established raised beds why not plant 1 Herb that is not too tall or overly invasive at each end of the beds. Good choices for this would be Spilanthes, Lobelia, Vervain, Thyme, Yarrow, Echinacea any species, Basil especially Tulsii, Hyssop, Calendula, Chamomille and many others. Some herbs are better grown in the vegie garden and treated more as a vegetable such as Bitter Melon, Burdock, Dandelion, Egyptian Walking Onion, Good King Henry, Ashitaba and Oca tubers. Having Herbs mixed into a vegie garden does wonders for pest control attracting all sorts of beneficial bugs to the area.
7) When someone tells me they have no room in their city apartment or tiny front yard to grow any herbs I always have to remind them that most herbs respond very well to container gardening outdoors whether it be on a small balcony or a tiny area of cement outside your back door. Herbs are generally very tough and adaptable plants for and will make themselves at home in a planter very quickly. Good choices for container planting would be Mints, Bergamonts, Skullcaps. Comfrey, Tulsi, Thyme, Oregano, Greek Mountain Tea, Sages, Lavenders, Rosemary, Horehound, Hyssop, Turmeric, lemongrass, Passion flower, Jiao Gu Lan, Wild Yam, Chinese Pink, Chinese Leopard Flower…The options are huge and mixing multiple herbs in a planter with complimentary colors and textures can keep a gardener creatively inspired not to mention all the fresh tea and medicinal products that can be crafted from your planters!!
Chinese Red Sage
My question for all of you this Spring is will 2017 be the year to begin or add to your Herbscape?? Will you drift to sleep on summer evenings sipping your fresh Chamomille Tea as the sweet scent of Rose Geraniums is carried by the breeze into your window? Will you have all your neighbors wanting to know what those cool plants are all over your yard especially the one that is 7 feet tall?? Will your nosy next door neighbor stop charging into your yard unannounced because your 6 foot tall nettle patch slowed them down! Will the headlights of your country lane begin to be more tolerable through your herbal hedge planting? Will that one spilanthes plant at the end of your garden bed fill jars with potent medicine to keep in your medicine chest?? The act of gardening, getting your hands dirty and growing plants is healing in and of itself and the relationship of growing your own medicine is profound, empowering and a positive act for everyone in these tumultuous times.