Spicing Up Gardening

Digging In: A Gardening Series

Spicing Up Gardening

Kimberly Cooper, Historic Garden Manager

Herb cultivation is a practice founded in ancient times. Common uses of herbs include culinary, medicinal and textile dyes. These would have been the focus for herb cultivation during Jackson’s time. Herbs can be defined as any plant valued for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal qualities, insecticidal qualities, industrial use or for the coloring material they provide. This is a very broad definition that can encompass virtually all plants under the herb umbrella, giving modern herb gardening limitless possibilities.

Now with the doors to herb gardening opened wide, there will be a few things to keep in mind when getting started with your herb garden: What herbs you want to have; the culture requirements of your desired herbs versus the climate you live in; restrictions you face based on modern living conditions.

The first step could be considered the most important: Identifying the types of herbs you want. Foodies will likely want herbs valued for culinary use because there’s just something about homegrown fresh-cut rosemary that can’t compare to store-bought dried rosemary. Many people are looking for home remedies for minor ailments as opposed to over-the-counter medicines. For some with allergies to common medications or additives, a medicinal herb remedy is safer (disclaimer: consult with your physician on herbal remedies before use). Also, who would willingly turn down a soothing chamomile lavender tea after a stressful day at the office? A little extra research into medicinal herbs would be beneficial for a home remedy herb garden. Then you have people that are crafty DIYers. Smell that? It’s the home-made potpourri Aunt Lacey made from her own fragrance-themed herb garden. See that watercolor canvas painting on the wall? Uncle Jimmy made that using the natural dyes harvested from his dye-themed herb garden. Or maybe you want to theme your herb garden off that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Morocco you took last fall and never want to forget. Really, you can’t go wrong with what herbs you choose or why you chose them.

Now you want to consider the cultivation requirements for your herbs. A general rule of thumb for herbs is to provide moist, fertile, well-draining soil and full sun (at least six hours of direct sunlight). Some herbs will have different preferred conditions. Elderberry, for example, likes to stay in a spot with a bit of shade during the heat of the day. Rosemary, a very popular herb for its flavor and sent, prefers to be watered less frequently than basil. Researching the natural habitat and preferred conditions of your desired herbs will help you pick the perfect spot in your garden or patio.

You’ve picked your herbs, you researched their cultivation requirements, now you want to look up your Plant Hardiness Zone. The USDA developed a system to categorize the growing conditions across the states. This system is the Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The map considers the average annual extreme minimum temperature for an area and assigns a number and letter code. The Nashville area is categorized as 7A due to extreme temperatures falling to a range of 0 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Many retail plants will often be labeled with the Hardiness Zones the plant performs best in. What happens if you want an herb that cannot stand temperatures falling as low as your Hardiness Zone? Good news—you can still grow them! The best way to grow these plants will be to keep them in containers. Containers will allow you to move your herbs inside during the winter when temps are dangerous and move them outside in the summer months when they can thrive.

The biggest challenge we face today when gardening is the ever-expanding urban jungle. With our major cities expanding and the need for more housing, we see a rise in suburban neighborhoods, apartment complexes and townhome communities. This means less space and possible HOA restrictions for your average hobbyist gardener. How can we overcome these obstacles and still grow a plant haven? We just have to get creative!

For my fellow gardeners living in neighborhoods ruled by a Homeowners Association, you have the luxury of planting beds being provided for you. Your HOA made a fuss when you tried to bring out that tiller to build a veggie garden in your side yard last year, but this year you will not be stopped. You can add in your favorite herbs right into your HOA-approved landscaped garden beds. That hedgerow of boxwoods? Plant a row of rosemary in front of it to create a tiered hedge effect. There are several flowering herbs that will also make an attractive display that not even the pickiest of HOA board leaders can get mad at.

For garden lovers living in fancy apartments and yard-less townhomes, container gardening might be for you. With a big enough container, you can create a small herb garden right on your balcony or patio. You will want to keep in mind to pair herbs with similar water and soil requirements, or else you could end up with half dead container arrangements. Containers are also great if you have herbs that likely won’t survive the winter months in your Hardiness Zone, making it possible for you to extend the life of your herbs.

A popular new trend for gardeners in small spaces is vertical gardening. Vertical gardening uses containers and allows you to utilize vertical space as opposed to taking up limited floor/ground space. There are several different designs for vertical gardening setups available as DIY projects or from retail sources.

For those that want to create a unique indoor plant space, this trend is for you. It’s called window gardening, and it’s great for year-long herb growing, given you have windows that get plenty of sunlight. Think container gardening, but smaller. You likely won’t want to use large containers as these will be in your living space. You can pick any sunny window in your home. Many people like to have their window herb garden in their kitchens for easy access while cooking. When starting your window garden, you may want to select small plants or start your plants from seed. We don’t want the plants to outgrow the windows and small containers too quickly. You can also combine window gardening with vertical growing to maximize your interior space.

With enough creativity and willpower, we can create beautiful and unique herb gardens no matter where we live or how we are living. Keep in mind that this is your herb garden, and there are no rules as to what herbs you can have. There’s no reason to let yourself be limited.

Happy Planting!