Pots and Beds in Herbology

Stop! There will be no need to put on ear muffs, we are not about to pull a mandrake from a pot and go all Harry Potter on you. There is no need for Professor Sprout here. We are expanding our herb garden and with it our working knowledge of what herbs do*.

Mandrake, Harry Potter, Professor Sprout,

There are no little screeching people on the mandrake root and neither is there an opium tree, something that the Hortus sanitatis in 1491 believed existed. No, like most herb gardens of old our's presently looks like this. You can screech now.

Herbs, herb gardening, pig row

The herb garden has come along way since those initial plans and earth works which recycled hardcore from the old front garden which was rather sad after successive builders had damaged it. We have learnt more about herbs and the herbs we want in our garden, and even the herbs we want to grow to sell or barter. Over winter, we have left pots and beds to go over and the foliage to die creating insulation for the new shoots coming up. Where we are on the Saddleworth hills it doesn't matter how much grit you add to a bed or even a pot, moss gathers and so do liverworts. So, quarter of an hour at hand, some sharp and clean secateurs in hand, we decide to break it down in to several jobs over the next week or so before spring really steps up to the plate. Job #1 is simple, to clear pots of weeds and old foliage, and assess any damage.

gardening, herb garden, pig row, saddleworth

A number of new terracotta pots have shattered in the frost, flakes of red pot can be seen around the pots, crunching underfoot as we move down the path to clear out the foliage from the fennel by the front door. Cutting this up, even at this time of year, releases a heady aroma of aniseed that lingers on your clothes hours after cutting. It is the smell of summer but the dead foliage is crowding the growth from two roses. We are considering moving a compost heap in the front garden to make way for an apothecary's rose (Rosa gallica - as in Gallic rose, as in French origins though more than likely this rose is from the middle east) which reportedly helps hangovers, eliminates wrinkles, makes tea, and is great in a soothing lotion. That aside, every good herb garden must have one, so our's is on order and it will replace the wedding rose (a rambler) that hangs over the front wall causing chaos to anyone walking past. That is earmarked for a wall or a shed, or anywhere where it can ramble. We will also decide on what pots can be saved and what will become crocks (not the shoes, which is spelled differently but the stuff you use for drainage). Many of the pots that have gone over are a mix of the old, some so old that we have forgotten where and when we bought them, and new ones, which highlights some of the shoddy terracotta being sold nowadays.

mint, herbs, pig row,

Simple cleaning out of pots reveals what is supposed to be a pot full of mint is awash with couch grass and liverworts. Garden mint (Mentha spicata**) is an easy herb to grow, all you need to remember is to keep all mints in a pot, never plant in an open border as the roots are a rhizome, this means that in six months this garden mint could spread two feet in every direction choking every other plant. If you want it in a border, plant it in the pot but make sure the pot rim is a good inch (2.5cm) above the soil level in the border. To tidy it up use some secateurs. We chop it right back and remove leaf litter and moss to reveal gritty soil beneath. Even in gritty soil, mint often dies back in the centre as it gets bigger, so later on in the month we will separate this clump and make several new pots, some for keeping and some for selling. Mint is an easy plant to propagate from roots, cuttings and layering. Basically, if this wasn't a useful plant to us, it would fall easily into the invasive weed category.

gardening, propagating mint, pig row

It doesn't take long to clear out the pots that had annual herbs in, we grew dill (Anethum graveolens) and parsley (Petroselinum crispum) in succession in these pots (succession merely means we staggered sowing at two weeks intervals to have dill throughout the summer), and they are ready for this year, nestled beside some rosemary, mint and lavender (Lavandula). We have never had luck with the latter, no matter how much grit or shelter we give it, and alas it looks the same this time around. Some gardens and locations where not made for lavender. It comes back to the old adage, right plant, right place and not bloody minded gardener, wasting plants.

gardening, herbs, pig row

On the other hand, our bay is doing well hidden beside two large black pots. All we can think is that these are acting as heat sumps and releasing any heat into the bay's terracotta pot. You can see it in the photo, twice the size it was and bushy to boot. When the rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis - officinalis is an epithet, in this case the origins of this is medieval, and often denotes plants with medicinal or herbal qualities, and it always the second part of a two part botanical name) gets going we're going to take cuttings off them to create new stock for the year. We'll show you that in the next few months.

herb garden, pig row

The lemon balm (Melissa officinalis - see how officinalis creeps up around herbs?) has held up well beside the pond which is full of pond weed, even though it has an oxygenator in there is can still end up with some weed. In a pond this size it takes a few minutes to scoop it up and dump it on the side for any beasts and bugs to find their way back. We have water in the herb garden because we want to attract beneficial bugs to this area and make it a bee friendly garden.


The beds are for another day when the rose has arrived and we can get in, pull out the wedding rose and clear back the crowns of other plants before mulching them.

* The opening image was published by Jacob Meydenbach in Hortus sanitatis in 1491.
** Yes, when and where we can we will share botanical latin with you and sometimes we may even tell you what some of it means.


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