To demonstrate some of the many culinary, aromatic and medicinal plants suitable for this area.
This is primarily a full sun garden that receives some afternoon shade and has a few larger plants that provide shade. The original garden was established in the naturally occurring silty marine clay (Saanichton). By the time the need for sand amendment was recognized, many plants had become too well established to be moved easily, so sand is added as specific areas are renovated.
This garden incorporates design elements for useful plant gardens that go back through monastery and cloister gardens of medieval Europe to pre-Christian household gardens. These elements include the circle within the square, the solar orientation, the sundial, and the small beds that make it possible to cultivate and harvest plants without treading on the soil.
Plants are selected and placed along the paths so that there is visual and aromatic attraction as well as plant maintenance and harvesting activity throughout the garden throughout the year.
Useful household properties can be found in plants from lichens and mosses to trees. Many culinary herbs are herbaceous annuals (hence the name), but these are not prominent in this garden because of the desire to emphasize the year-round characteristics of this project.
The small size of the garden precludes most trees, but you will notice a beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica), and several eucalyptus (Eucalyptus niphophylla).
The champion amoung the core group of Mediterranean culinary herbs has got to be thyme. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the preferred seasoning, Cultivars of this species (e.g., silver thyme) are used as ornamentals. Cultivars from another half dozen species give a wide variety of scents, foliage, color and form. Many low growing forms are used as ground covers.
There are a dozen or so species of the sage, genus Salvia. These plants can be annuals, biennials, perennials or evergreen shrubs. There is a wide range of blossom and foliage color as well as size. Salvia officinalis, common garden sage, is a small evergreen shrub with a silver hue. Another very popular variety is purple sage (S. leucophylla), a big drought tolerant shrub, which is also passable as a culinary seasoning.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a good plant for beginners. This pest-free plant can grow big enough to function as a small shrub, has blue flowers in winter, year-round dark green foliage, and will produce far more seasoning than you can possibly harvest and give to friends each year. There are a number of cultivars that range from a trailing plant for rock walls to large plants suitable for hedges and many variations in bloom time and blossom and leaf color.
Another versatile genus is mint (Mentha). There are about a half dozen common species and a number of cultivars. They like moist soil, but many are surprisingly drought tolerant. In this garden they are easy to identify because they are in the hyper-tufa pots. This is one way to deal with their invasive spread from underground stems.
Aromatic herbs are the neglected cousins in many herb gardens, but are well represented here. The most common species is English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). It displays a massive late summer bloom, is used for perfumes and sachets and attracts insects. There are several other species and many cultivars that offer a range of blossom times, size, foliage color and fragrance. In this climate you can have some kind of lavender in bloom most of the year.
As a group, culinary, aromatic and medicinal herbs are generally hearty, pest-free plants. In fact, many companion planting schemes recommend that herbs be interspersed with other garden plants because of their tendency to repel insect pests.
Slugs are a problem, but rather than use slug bait an effort is made to render the habitat less amenable to slugs. This involves using garden compost instead of leaf mould for mulch and trying to eliminate as many as possible of the nooks and crannies that slugs love.
In spite of the problem-free character of most of the plants, this is not a low maintenance garden. The wide variety of plants require much in the way of customized care with respect to planting, propagating, thinning, pruning, watering, harvesting and preparing for use. The line between culinary and medicinal plants and poisonous plants is not always clear, and one should develop a certain level of expertise before venturing into this area of gardening.
This garden was originally established in 1984 by the Herb Study Group of the Victoria Horticultural Society. In 1997 it was redeveloped by students and staff, and additional drought tolerant plants were incorporated into the design.
Another redevelopment was begun in 1999 with the aim of reestablishing the authenticity of an ancient herbal garden. Many of the design and plant criteria come from Mrs Grieve’s Herbal. This book, which was originally published in 1931 and is still in print, is available from the HCP Library.
The Capital Regional District Water Department has supplied some funding for this garden. Current development and maintenance is done in accordance with a partnership agreement between the Herb Garden Partnership Group and the HCP.