So, I like herbs. I should do, I’m a trainee herbalist. I also like making things with herbs – and prescribing them too. Pity with that is, you actually need a source of your materia medica… good job I also like gardening!
That there would be a herb garden at Cae Non was never in doubt – it was simply a matter of when there would be a herb garden at Cae Non.
In light of this, Gillian has found what she reckons to be a good area for growing herbs and asked if I’d like to put it under the spade – well, you can imagine my reaction!
This area of land for the herb garden/beds is pretty much as good as it gets; it is near water (although I don’t suspect this will be an issue at Cae Non knowing how wet it can be), and is near enough to the Hafod to make brews, wash hands, etc. More importantly it also has a small depth of soil; we’re looking at 2-3 inches, so not much mind, but it’s a start. A tell tale sign of this is that there are briars growing where I intend to put the garden – normally a curse to gardeners, these are an indication to me that the land is of better quality as other areas (most areas) are too wet and clay ridden to support them. If they’ll take one Rosaceae, they’ll take many others of value.
So what do we have? About 30’ x 30’ of briars at the moment!
These are reasonably easily dealt with; an hour with the brush-cutter and they’ll be gone: The roots represent more of a challenge though!
First step will be to peel back the growth and letting some air get at the soil; turning it and preparing suitable portions for planting.
Due to the varying nature of the herbs/medicinal plants I intend to cultivate, some will go straight in: those with more sturdy tap-root systems that love going deep into clay to get at the trapped mineral-bearing layers will do fabulously here; they will also break up the alluvial clay and let bacteria in, starting to get some life into the soil and set off aerobic processes. Some of the herbs I have in mind are:
- Symphytum spp. Comfrey. – Medicinally useful large herb; also a source of ‘green fertiliser.
- Arctium lappa & Rumex crispus – Burdock and Yellow Dock. – These are grand herbs that are a little too large for the average garden – they also love field-like conditions and poor soil.
- Taraxacum officinale Dandelion – Do I really need to plant this weed? It seems like I do as it’s not present at Cae Non at the moment and would do well in the clay. Roots for medicine, Leaves for healthy salad, flowers for wine! Need I say more?
But while large plants are grand for the clay and direct planting, many of the smaller herbs I would like to plant would simply disappear or wouldn’t be able to deal with the soil. Aromatic herbs in particular like well-drained and sandy or loamy soil. What to do…?
Raised beds are an option here; many companies selling kits and pre-assembled beds. Problem is they tend to be expensive and on the small side. I also like making things myself. Having considered railway sleepers (nasty creosote and transport issues), new pine planks (expense, transport issues, short life), and other solid barriers, I’ve found myself drawn to using a woven willow structure to contain the soil and provide drainage. Willow is something we do have/have access to, and it doesn’t need to be especially thin – weaving 1/4 inch willow into walls like this would take a month of Sundays, use a lot of willow, rot quickly and generally be irritating.
So my plan is to use 2’’ diameter willow lengths (split or un-split depending on flexibility) with a semipermeable backing such as roofing-felt or hessian sacks. This would allow me to leave ~2 inch gaps, and attaining a height of 18 inches becomes much easier.
Searching on Google gives good ideas, but many are either built using thin willow, cost a lot of money, or are too small. I like these raised beds and these willow beds as ideas.
So, a tangible goal for this summer is to clear the area of briars, plant some larger herbs directly into the soil, and erect 2 raised beds and plant with some of my herbs from home and other annuals I’d like.
I might grin… it’s the manic grin of someone about to do hard work against the futility of briars!
Anyway, it’s gonna be great – I always love building gardens. The herbs may heal the body, but gardens heal the soul.