Herbs can add flavor to recipes throughout the year, and are surprisingly easy to grow at home in your backyard. Perennial herbs are particularly easy to grow. Unlike annual herbs, these plants remain year after year, requiring little care and attention once your garden is established. If you are a keen cook or want to become one, then growing your own perennial herbs is a must. Herbs can easily be grown in a regular annual or perennial vegetable bed, or as part of a forest garden.
Why Plant Perennial Herbs?
There are many different reasons to plant perennial herbs in your garden. These reasons include:
- The taste. Perennial herbs enliven a range of recipes.
- Ease and simplicity. Perennial herbs are easy to care for and take up less of a gardener’s time and effort.
- Perennial herbs carry a range of health benefits when used in cooking and in herbal remedies for a range of common health ailments.
- Perennial herbs can also be used to make a range of home-made cleaning and beauty products.
- Perennial herbs can help to reduce pest problems – some aromatic herbs can repel or confuse many pest species, while others can attract predatory insects which help keep pest numbers down.
- Some perennial herbs also attract bees and other pollinators to your garden. Pollination is essential to obtain an edible yield from many fruit trees and other plants.
- Perennial herbs can often smell great and can add to the visual amenity of your backyard.
Choosing Perennial Herbs for Your Forest Garden
To grow perennial herbs in your forest garden, or elsewhere on your property, it is important to understand that this diverse group of plants has a range of very different growing requirements. Some perennial herbs are best grown in full sun, while others will benefit from the shade that fruit trees and perennial bushes can provide. Even many hot-climate, sun-loving herbs can benefit from a little-dappled shade in the hottest part of the summer so it could be a good idea to grow them on the fringes of a forest garden area.
Edible Perennial Herbs to Consider for Your Urban Garden
Most cooks and gardeners will already no doubt be fully familiar with some perennial herbs that can be grown in a zone 8 Texan climate. These include sage, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, as well as lavender. All of these Mediterranean culinary herbs can grow very well in Texas when given the right growing conditions to thrive, though some will do best when given an open, sheltered, fairly sunny position, and a little protection from the hot sun in mid-summer. Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is better suited for Texan gardeners than other salvias. Marjoram can be grown in Texas, but often Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes Lucita) is grown as an alternative that is better suited to local growing conditions.
Bay, chives, garlic chives and a wide range of mints do need some moisture and will suit a more shady spot in a forest garden where conditions do not get as hot and dry. Be warned, however, mints can be extremely aggressive and can spread like wildfire. They can form an excellent ground cover in a forest garden setting, but if you would prefer not to have them take over, then you can choose to grow mint in containers.
In addition to the familiar culinary herbs mentioned above, Texan forest gardeners should also consider growing a range of more unusual herbs. Herbs which can thrive in Texas in the shade of trees and fruit bushes in a forest garden include:
- Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosiodes),
- Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor),
- Winter Savory (Satureja montana),
- Violets (Viola odorata),
- yarrow (Achillea millefolium),
- Lovage (Levisticum officinale),
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis),
- and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
All these herbs have culinary uses or can be used to make herbal teas.
Non-Edible Perennial Herbs for A Forest Garden
In addition to growing a wide range of perennial culinary herbs, gardeners should also incorporate other herbaceous perennials in their edible forest gardens. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is one plant that is particularly useful in a forest garden setting. When placed in full sun, comfrey can go dormant during the hot summer in Texas, though when planted in the shade of fruiting trees or other trees in a forest garden setting, comfrey can be attractive and useful year round. It is important to be careful where you place comfrey, as the roots go extremely deep and new plants will spring up from root sections, making it almost impossible to remove once established. However, when well placed, comfrey can be a really valuable addition to your garden. Though not edible for humans, comfrey can aid in the growth of food-producing plants.
Planting Herbs for Garden Health
Comfrey’s deep roots are one of the reasons why this herbaceous plant is so useful to organic gardeners. As a dynamic accumulator, comfrey takes nutrients from deep below the soil and when chopped and dropped around other plants, returns those nutrients to the topsoil, where they can be taken up by other plants. Other good dynamic accumulators include the edible culinary herb, yarrow, as well as ‘weeds’ such as the dandelion. Incorporating perennial herbs that are good dynamic accumulators can be great for the overall health of your garden.
Planting for Wildlife
Many of the perennial herbs mentioned above are also fantastic for local wildlife. Attracting wildlife to your garden and increasing biodiversity can make organic gardening easier by keeping all the elements of a forest garden in natural balance. When they flower, many herbs will attract beneficial insects for predation of pests and for pollination.
Sowing or planting and growing a range of perennial cooking herbs in your backyard edible food forest can be a great way to eat well year round and to make sure you have a sustainable, productive and efficient garden ecosystem in the years to come.