From an in-depth look into the fascinating history of Melbourne Gardens’ aromatic Herb Garden, to tips and tricks for growing herbs at home and what to plant in spring, here's a guide to all things herb!
First things first, what are herbs?
Herbs are defined as 'any seed-bearing plant that does not have a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering', so, technically, bananas are herbs! This being said, when we refer to herbs, we're generally referring to the leaves, seeds, or flowers of plants that can be used medicinally, to flavour food, or in perfume, such as parsley, mint and sage.
The Herb Garden at Melbourne Gardens
Tucked away in the north-eastern section of Oak Lawn, the secluded Herb Garden at Melbourne Gardens contains a diverse selection of culinary and medicinal herbs that stimulate the senses, including wild-collected herbs from the Asia-Pacific regions and plants used in perfumery. October's warmer and sunnier days accentuate the myriad fragrances in the Herb Garden, which is full of new growth and blossoms in spring.
The Herb Garden boasts a lengthy history. In 1881, William Guilfoyle, Director of the Gardens from 1873 to 1909, commenced work on a medicinal garden on the site, planted with hardy plants of reputed medicinal value. Many of these herbs were supplied to hospitals for use in pharmaceutical preparations. The Herb Garden we know today was opened in 1986, and resides on the same site as the old medicinal garden. It's essentially micro-climate tailored to growing herbs, with the warmth of the sheltered site accentuated by the heat-retaining bricks used in its design, and the cooler and shadier areas of the garden extending the range of herbs that are grown.
Growing herbs at home
You can grow herbs indoors or outdoors depending on how much space you're working with, but regardless of where you grow them, all herbs require lots of sunlight – around six hours a day – as well as moderate temperatures, and an excellent, well-draining potting mix. It's worth noting that many popular herbs, such as rosemary, basil and thyme, are endemic to the Mediterranean, so will flourish if provided with similar growing conditions to this region.
Growing herbs in containers means you can shift them indoors and outdoors as needed, so that they are protected from the cold and rain during winter, but get the benefits of outdoor sunshine during the warmer months. For successful growth, ensure that your containers have holes in the bottom for drainage, and allow for a minimum of 25cm of space around each plant, as herbs are fast-growing.
When it comes to watering herbs, aim for a light watering earlier in the day, ensuring you’re getting close to the roots of your plants. Make sure to research specific herbs as different varieties have different watering needs. If your herbs are looking wilted and limp, they're thirsty.
There’s nothing more satisfying than harvesting fresh herbs that you’ve grown yourself. When your plants reach a height of around 15cm, you can start giving them a light trim to encourage growth, and once they’re established and a little bigger, you can harvest your herbs. As a rule, don’t cut over a third of your plant’s branches off at a time, as this can inhibit growth. Whenever you cut your herbs, make sure you’re trimming just above where the leaves attach to the stem.
Ideal herbs to plant in spring
Some ideal herbs to plant during spring for most parts of Australia include chives, basil, coriander, oregano, dill, sage, parsley, mint and thyme. If you live in a more tropical region, now is also a great time to plant chilli and ginger.