Post Archives tagged ‘plants’

Seeds of a Herb Garden

Posted on: July 23rd, 2012 by
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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.

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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!Opening Up Stream 007

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.

Opening Up Stream 005

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.

Welcome to the Herb Garden!

Plant shopping and availability

Posted on: July 9th, 2012 by
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Well, it’s been almost three months since my last post on the herb garden blog. Ironically, the last post was made on my birthday! Due to a traffic accident, I haven’t been able to do any gardening – certainly not the heavy-duty Cae Non variety anyway!

What I have been doing is tracking down suppliers of the kind of herbs and plants I want to buy – unfortunately I often want to buy plants that are 1) hard to get to germinate, and, 2) are considered by many horticulturalists as little more than weeds. Usually seeds are available but not roots/tubers, cuttings or growing plants. If the plant I want is available, it is usually some tarted-up cultivar. For instance: No, I do not want a hybrid, variegated, gold-nugget-for-rhizome forming blue flag. I want a bog standard (literally in this case!) Iris versicolor.

This has got me thinking… a usually dangerous state for me to be in. Perhaps there should be some way for people interested in growing medicinal plants (and not necessarily limited to medical herbalists) to share, swap, trade, or sell such hard to find and grow ‘weeds’ at a reasonable cost or in exchange? Maybe there is already such a system that I don’t know about? Leave me a comment if there is!  If not i would be interested in sharing my plants and exchanging cuttings, etc with others… and at some point may very possibly sell some plants at a reasonable price to others in the area who are interested in these sorts of plants.

Really good herbs for wet, clay soils

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by
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Due to the spring finally bursting forth, the days getting longer, and the air getting warmer, it’s time to start thinking about planting seeds for the Cae Non herb garden. Nevermind thinking, more appropriately, it’s time to start planting the seeds.

As the raised beds are not built and will only come along later in the summer, I needed to turn my attention to plants I could put directly into the wet, clay soil that we have; of course, medicinal value is also considered. So, when a University assignment about researching plants and growing conditions came alone, it proved the ultimate excuse to turn my thoughts back to Cae Non.

The following plants have been selected for their tolerance to heavy clay soil, damp growing conditions, and ease of cultivation.

Many have seeds readily available, if not, cuttings, roots, etc are available and can often be ‘borrowed’ from the wild – or the local municipal park!

BarberryMahonia aquifolium.
This large shrub (3×5 ft spread) has many medicinal uses. It likes partial shade, heavy, damp soil and should do wonderfully as an architectural ‘feature plant’ – especially with it’s lovely yellow flowers in the spring!

Guelder Rose – Viburnum opulus.
Also known as cramp bark, the bark of this plant makes an excellent remedy for menstrual cramps, migraine/tension headaches, stomach spasm, etc. It has a similar growth habit as Mahonia, liking damp, heavy soil.

ElecampaneInula helenium.
Seeds sown into finely raked drills in the spring. Likes moist growth media and sun. Ht, 3 ft. An amazing herb for boosting immunity in the autumn!

BurdockArctium lappa.
Favourite of the northern drink, ‘Dandelion and Burdock’ this is a must grow herb for our location; It likes open fields and wasteland and grows to quite a height (5ft.).

BorageBorago officinalis.
This sturdy plant will be a great addition for its adaptogenic properties. Though an annual, it will be a worthwhile herb, and benefit the soil with its tap-root.

ComfreySymphytum officinalis.
Large (5ft.) plant with very deep set tap roots; it is rich in minerals and can be used as a green manure. More importantly, it is a phenomenally powerful tissue healing agent.

FoxgloveDigitalis purpurea.
A poison. I want it for it’s lovely flowers and deep taproot!

MulleinVerbascum thapsus.
The herb of choice for many respiratory complaints, this is also ideal for the virgin ground of Cae Non; it likes wet soil and has a deep tap root.

Milk ThistleSilybum marianum
Another large field plant. While planting thistles may seem a bit daft, this is actually an amazingly useful plant; protective to the liver and a great way to recover from a hangover! Again, tolerant of wet, clay soil and with a reasonable height (4ft.)

WoadIsatis tinctoria.
Not a medicinal herb, but one that is a source of an indigo like dye. I have always wanted to try making woad body paint. Maybe I’ll have the courage to make the dye (by peeing on the plant material to start a fermentation process that bonds the dye to the ammonia in the urine).


If you look up most of these plants, you’ll find a common thread. They are mostly biennial plants that like poor soil and waste ground. Apart from Mahonia and Viburnum they also all share deep-growing tap root systems. These are useful in our clay as the roots will grow down to the mineral and nutrient pockets in the clay that wouldn’t be accessible to shallower rooting plants. The roots will also help break up the soil aerating it and allowing bacteria to multiply and aid in breathing life back into the soil. These plants will grow in partial shade/partial sun and can probably all take full sun, some shelter is a boon.

I will be running a workshop one weekend in June 2012 on herbs and heavy soil – a chance to learn about planting medicinally useful plants in heavy, wet, clay soils that wouldn’t be suitable for the more normal perception of herbs needing dry, well drained environments. Date and price TBC, in region of mid June, priced around £20 for the day.

Perhaps you have thoughts or experience of these plants? Why not share it with us and leave a comment below?

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