Gardening: Herbs on the move

By Leigh Bramwell


Even when you're a really terrific vegetable gardener - and certainly that's not me - there'll be smarties who've grown something so clever you'll feel like pushing their faces into the compost.

I was talking to Mayor Dave Cull in Dunedin the other day and he told me he'd just picked and eaten a lettuce out of his garden.

He swore it wasn't in a greenhouse or under a heat lamp.

He also said Dunedin has the second lowest rainfall of any city in New Zealand, after Nelson.

And I also read the other day that Invercargill has radiation levels roughly as high as in Germany, where solar panels are commonly used, so don't be telling me the sun never shines down there.

All of which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to winter gardening.

I am hugely unsuccessful as a winter gardener.

I don't like swede, turnip or Brussels sprouts, and I don't much like sticking my hands in cold, soggy soil either.

Trouble is, I like eating fresh food and picking fresh herbs.

There is a solution, of course - as there is to everything. Move the garden. No, not right inside, but into an area where it's sunny and warm and sheltered and where, to a degree, you can control the environment.

Outdoor living areas like courtyards and terraces are ideal and since you're probably not using them all that much, given that at any given moment half the country's under snow and the other half is wet, they can double up nicely as a sort of outdoor greenhouse, if you like.

The usual features of a courtyard or terrace - walls, paving, planter boxes, containers, pergolas and umbrellas or shade sails - are probably already in place.

If there's an existing wall that catches the sun, make use of its passive solar heating potential by growing plants in front of it.

A big planter box up against it could accommodate, say, blueberries and feijoas, both of which are as good to look at as they are to eat, so you'll be adding style and substance at the same time.

Grab two or three half-wine barrels or build your own serious planter boxes and plant dwarf fruit and nut trees - whatever does well in your neck of the woods.

Add a raised bed (you can buy them pre-made from garden centres and hardware stores) and fill it with multi-coloured greens.

Choose from hardy varieties of your favourite summer lettuce or experiment with more unusual winter salad crops like salad burnet.

Salad burnet is subtly flavoured with hints of cucumber and almond and it's designed to be eaten raw because it becomes bitter if cooked.

Use the young leaves, not the stems.

And even if you don't want to eat it, it's really attractive in the garden and makes a great garnish.

Use herbs to fill any empty spaces - traditional parsley looks gorgeous when mass-planted and you can lift the odd paver here and there and replace it with other herbs like camomile, oregano or thyme.

An enclosed garden area close to the house makes gardening so much easier. Because it's a) so handy and b) in your face all the time, you can keep a closer eye on the plants and deal with issues of pests and disease the second they arise, do a mini-weed every time you walk past, and take immediate action to protect plants from frosts or serious rain.

What's the bet it'll become so much a part of your lifestyle you'll never want to move it, and it's your outdoor living area you'll be relocating come summer.

- Hamilton News

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