Growing tough herbs

By Penny Woodward

Bee and thyme

Bees love thymes including Lemon thyme, Thymus citriodorus.

As global warming bites, water becomes more precious and the heat increases it would be easy to just stop gardening. But I think it is even more important now that we grow as much of our own food and medicine as possible. Herbs are an integral part of this.  Herbs are used to control pests, to provide essential vitamins and minerals, to give flavour to food and to enhance the quality of our lives by adding perfume and pleasure. They can be beautiful as well as practical. My current strategy is to grow the essential but more water hungry herbs in pots near the kitchen, or in the vegetable garden. This gives me only a couple of spots that need regular water. The other tougher herbs go out in the general garden and rely on rainfall with the occasional top up with tank water. Read more

Lavender ‘Monet’ and prostrate rosemary

Article and photos by Penny Woodward

French lavender in flower

Dwarf French lavender Monet

Blue-flowered prostrate rosemary

Prostrate rosemary hangs over the side

A hedge of Lavandula detata Monet

Monet lavender hedge at Diggers, Dromana

Typically mediterranean plants, lavenders and rosemaries love well-drained, sandy soils and lots of sun, but hate humidity. More are killed by overwatering or planting into heavy soils, than for any other reason. Once planted in the right position the only care needed is regular pruning. French lavenders (Lavandula dentata) are great because they flower for most of the year, have a lovely mentholy lavender scent and provide nectar for bees, butterflies and beneficial insects.

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Pruning lavender

Lavender flower

Spanish lavender needs to be pruned in summer.

Italian lavender 'Avonview'

In the cool of the early morning and late in the afternoon I have been tidying up my garden. We had so much rain in spring that everything grew rapidly with lots of plants being overgrown, swamping nearby plants. I am just now finding time to do something about this and while most of the garden should have been cut back weeks ago (I always seem to be running weeks behind), now is the perfect time to prune most lavenders. They have been glorious right through spring but now the flower heads have largely finished and are starting to brown off, so its time to cut them back. All the Spanish and Italian lavenders (Lavandula pedunculata and L. stoechas) benefit from an allover trim. Just hold a clump of flowers in your hand and cut back well below the flowers, taking about a third of the leafy stem as well. You should end up with a compact, shaped shrub with no flowers.  One of the joys of pruning lavender is the scent, I find it makes me feel cheerful and clearheaded. Not unexpected as in aromatherapy lavender is calming and antidepressant. Read more

Gardening in sand

Native grasses

Native plants like kangaroo grass need no attention

A few gardeners are blessed with deep, rich, textured, fertile soil. In Australia however, these soils are very much the exception and most of us have to cope with much less than perfection. For more than ten years I gardened on the sandy, alkaline soils of the southern Mornington Peninsula and during that time made numerous mistakes in trying to establish a garden.
The most obvious problem was the need for constant watering and constant feeding of the soil. I was gardening on what used to be a sand dune, now stabilised by native vegetation. There was a few centimetres of grey stuff that might have passed as soil and then about 10 metres of pure sand before we hit limestone (not that I ever dug that deep). The indigenous plants in this region have masses of shallow roots that rapidly absorb moisture before it disappears into the aquifers under the limestone. Small amounts of soluble nutrients added to the soil are taken up by the plants, but the rest are carried with the water well out of reach of the plants. Sandy soils just can’t hold water or nutrients. Read more

  • All words and images © Copyright Penny Woodward 2017.
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