How many metaphors exist for growing a garden? I mean really, how many? This year, I planted an herb garden in a raised garden bed all by myself for the first time. My previous gardens are all in pots. These are a few lessons I learned:
Lesson #1: Have a Battle Plan with Goals in Mind
Ask yourself, “What do I want to grow?” I wanted an herb garden. What did I want in my herb garden? Other than lavender, I had to do some research. My battle plan consisted of me digging in the spice cabinet and seeing what I actually cooked with and reading a book about herbs to pick out which ones could grow in Utah and which ones wouldn’t. This is important, because while I’d love to grow a bay tree, they grow up to six feet high and that’s not happening since it’d have to be inside because it can’t be supported by the dry climate here. Hence, the battle plan.
Lesson #2: Prepare for Eventualities
With the help of my book, I drew out a map of how I wanted my garden to look with certain plants in certain locations. Some herbs grow taller than others and others grow like ivy, so its important to know what plant to put where. Also, which plants like full sun and which plants like partial shade… there’s a lot of involvement here. I actually ended up drawing more than one map, because I wasn’t entirely certain I could find all of the herbs I was looking at.
Lesson #3: Ask Questions
I picked up my baby plants at a local nursery and while there asked a dozen or so questions about some of the plants. Fortunately, I’d cornered the expert guy on herbs on duty so I was able to get quite a few questions answered. I even asked about the bay tree. Potted ones grow up to four feet. Still has to be kept inside, though.
Lesson #4: You Cannot Live on Water Alone
Basic plant needs include water, good soil and sunshine to grow. So really, they can’t live on water alone. Herbs, I discovered, grow better when repeatedly trimmed because this forces them to rejuvenate and grow “bushier”- resulting in more herb plant!
Lesson #5: You Will Suffer Loss
I originally planted forty-some odd plants. By the time the herbs were big enough to harvest, I was down to thirty-nine. At the end of June, I had to pull all the lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli, bringing me down to a little over twenty plants. Some things never rooted and died. It’s the end of summer and I have a remaining twelve plants. They are still going strong however!
Lesson #6: Drying Herbs is not Romantic
One of my favorite things to read about is “still rooms.” They sound lovely. In reality? Herb gardens all grow at the same rate. Then, when they produce, they PRODUCE. All at the same time. I have dried herbs in the kitchen, on the back deck, in the basement and under the deck. Also, they smell. Not a bad smell per say, but enough to make me sneeze- a lot. I used a dehydrator mostly but was forced to hang up bundles of herbs to dry, too. I had slivers, sneezing fits, little pieces of crushed dried herbs everywhere… it was not romantic. Let’s say it was an exhausting experience because I dried herbs on a daily or nightly business for a solid month. My fingertips are also greenish.
Lesson #7: Patience
Oh have I learned patience while growing a garden. Gardens you plant and monitor but for the most part ignore. Herb gardens are no different. I have learned a lot of patience. I weed, I spray, I water, I monitor and I talk to my plants. It’s a constant thing I just can’t go on vacation for a week and ignore without coming back to twice as many weeds, dried out gardens when the drip lines broke and the plants have shriveled to sticks. It just takes patience and persistence.
I have enjoyed growing my herb garden, and will probably continue to do so for as long as I have need of certain herbs in my cooking. Fresh dill is amazing and fresh salad with cilantro, dill and parsley really can’t be passed up. The oregano, basil and parsley produced enough to can over three dozen pasta sauce pints with enough left over for winter. I learned what not to grow (cauliflower) and what should probably be doubled for better yield (basil). I’ve had a great deal of fun this summer and can’t wait to start getting ready for my winter herb garden, which yes, does exist in Utah.