In recent days I have swapped keyboard for potting bench and once again feel liberated in my polytunnel: I have star-trekked back to my planet and plant production has begun. The first seeds I have sown are lettuce mix, rocket and the hardier oriental greens such as mizuna and pak choi. Each year I try to limit my growing to approximately 50 varieties. I could easily get sidetracked into growing obscure, non-saleable oddities: and I hate waste. Keeping stock over winter here is not very successful as high rainfall can cause many plants in smaller pots to rot. Temperatures have recently plummeted back down so I will delay further sowings until the thermometer creeps back up to at least 10ºC. New introductions this year will include red veined wild rocket and chicory! I also have a few surprises for the flower and bee garden!
There is a misconception that the herb kingdom is a small, select group of plants-however it is in fact quite the opposite. It is a vast dynasty encompassing all kinds of individuals. The herb growing community is no less diverse. One of my first student friends in the Botanic Gardens, Dublin was a girl called Ziggy. She was an extremely colourful character in both manner and looks. Her passion for herbs was infectious and she was forever leading me into the herb garden. My knowledge back then on herbs was sparse; I had just begun my journey as a horticulturist. I remember her vividly, swinging basket in hand obsessing about herbs. Today I understand that obsession for it has infiltrated my gardening world.
Being very much a plant person my own interpretation of a herb extends beyond the dictionary’s definition which says that any plant ‘used in the making of medicines or in cooking’ is a herb. After three decades of growing, studying and exploring I have come to the conclusion that any plant containing hidden properties which may be utilised can be called a herb! Such examples include Chrysanthemum cinerarifolium which forms the basis of the organic pesticide pyrethrum and Anthemis tinctoria aka Dyer’s Chamomile which does as its name suggests.
We cultivate herbs unknowingly in our gardens. Many are extremely decorative, often producing aromatic foliage or fragrant flowers, sometimes a combination of both occurs as in the case of French lavender! We plant lupins and aquilegias in our borders, violas and nasturiums in our hanging baskets, and we deck our walls with roses and honeysuckle. Apart from the cultivated species, we are surrounded by the wild ones, the super-seeding dandelions in our lawn, the abandoned briars in the hedge and the banished nettles in the ditch. Finally we remember the old friends of the forest: the oak, holly and birch. All of these plants I have mentioned are herbs, and, if you look more closely you will see their secrets have been unveiled and their hidden properties revealed and fervently used down through the centuries!
Greta’s Herbs will be on sale shortly at the following outlets:
Foxy Johns Dingle, Keanes Garage Lispole, O Donnells Shop Annascaul, Miltown Organic Store and Mace Camp.
Greta McCarthy-O'Brien qualified in Amenity Horticulture at Botanic Gardens Dublin in 1983 and has been growing herbs in Annascaul for over 10 years.