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Growing a Shakespearean Herb Garden 
 
by Wendelynn Gunderson June 22, 2005

The Elizabethans created gardens in symmetrical rectangular or square patterns. Formality was the watchword of the era and plants were going to conform too! Walkways or paths were incorporated into the design layouts so that the garden could be enjoyed by all. Strolling in the garden was a popular past time and their gardens were designed with this in mind. If your herb garden is going to be near a patio or other socializing area, think about adding some of your own strolling paths.

As you plan your garden, you will want to consider the individual herb’s growing habits. Some grow as low compact plants. Others are two feet tall and bushy. Many herbs are perennials, meaning that they continue to grow year after year. Annual herbs will need to be replanted each growing season; you will want to locate them in easily accessible portions of the garden. Be sure to allow ample spacing between plants, herbs are slow growing and you may be tempted to underestimate the amount of room they will need. Proper spacing will allow for good air circulation, ensuring that your plants do not become susceptible to mold. The garden may look a bit sparse at first, but you will be rewarded with healthier, more abundant garden that will produce for years. You’ll be able to enjoy the herbs in your garden the first year, but it will take about three years for it to become a fully mature clipping garden. Planning is important in herb gardening as once they are established in a garden herbs do not like to be moved around.

Planting the Garden

Although you can start many herbs from seeds, starting your garden with small plants will increase the likelihood of your success. If you start your garden with seeds, be sure to follow the instruction on the seed packet. The seed packet will tell you how to prepare the seed, how deep to plant it and how to best care for the seedling. Plan ahead if you want to grow from seed, as the seedling may need several months growth before it is ready to go into the outdoor garden.

If you decide to use starter plants, purchase healthy plants from a reputable grower. When your plants are established, you will be able to propagate more plants by either taking cuttings or harvesting seeds at the end of the season. If you start your garden with small starter plants, you’ll be harvesting your herbs much sooner. Tap the plant out of its pot and gently use your fingers to loosen the soil around the roots. You don’t want to damage the root structure, just loosen the soil before you plant in the garden. Place the plant in the garden or a previously prepared container; cover the root ball with soil, pressing it firmly into place. You will want to thoroughly water your newly planted garden and not allow the soil to dry out until the plants are established. Don’t be alarmed if the plant droops for the next several days. Keep it evenly watered, and it will perk up soon. When the plants are firmly established, allow the garden to be relatively dry between watering.

You can encourage fuller growth by pinching out the new leaf and stem growth, just as you would with a houseplant. Start slowly until you are very familiar with each herb’s growth patterns. If you are a new gardener, consider keeping a garden journal to keep track of the growing habits of each plant. As you get to know your herb plants, you will be able to tell when they need attention.

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