Gardening and herbs are a beloved hobby of mine. It is amazing with a little creativity how much you can fit into a small space. I have grown butternut squash in large pots and corn in the suburbs. Many herbs can be grown inside and many more thrive outdoors.
There are thousands of things that can be grown. Some are pretty zone specific while others will grow almost anywhere! I am going to concentrate on what I grow. I will also recommend several books I have found very helpful over the years. This will be broken down into sections so just click on the item you wish to view and you will be zapped right to it! After each section, click on the picture to return to the top so you may select again.
Before I go on, I have to say this about safety when using herbs as medicine. Herbs can have toxic results and if you take the wrong one for a medical condition, you can have trouble. It is possible to overdose on them and some have been proven to cause health problems. Herbs can also affect other medications you are taking so please, let your doctor know about any herbs you use medicinally. Plants have only one Latin name but many common ones so if you have plant allergies, know the Latin names of the plants and avoid those in the same family as your allergy. Use at least three good herb books as a guide as some will contradict each other!
Mint - various types. This herb grows like a weed and can quickly take over a garden! I suggest you place the plant in a large pot that is sunk into the ground. Leave about 2" of the put above the soil and use plastic (icky I know but terra cotta can crack and the wily runners get out). Magically, mint has healing and money attracting properties. Culinary, use in sauces, teas and even chutneys. I grow Common Mint, Peppermint, Apple Mint, Pineapple Mint, Chocolate Mint and Orange Mint.
Lemon Balm - Lemon balm may have sedative properties. In the kitchen, it is great fro seasoning summer squash and in teas. It makes great satchels when dried.
Thyme - Magically, thyme can be burned or worn to attract good health or put under the pillow to help with dreams. Culinary, thyme is a wonderful seasoning! I grow several types of Thyme: traditional, lemon, silver and variegated.
Sage - Magically, sage can be used in spells to heal and for money. In the kitchen, sage is a must for stuffing and goes well with poultry. There is also a Pineapple Sage which has the most wonderful scent!
Oregano - Oregano planted around the house can ward off bad vibrations. In the kitchen, it is a must in tomato sauces! It also goes well with other foods such as eggs and cheese.
Rosemary - Rosemary is very powerful and has cleansing properties as well as protection. In the kitchen it is wonderful with many meats. Rosemary can also be used to flavor oils and vinegars. However, it is tough to grow past Zone 8. I am in Zone seven and have managed to over winter my shrub (yes some species of Rosemary will grow into a bush and actually flower) for several years.
Chives - Chives taste like mild onion and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Mix minced chives with butter and garlic to toast on bread, in cream cheese, in eggs and many other dishes. Chives flowers dry well and the seeds can be collected in bags for planting.
Catnip - Aside form what it does to many cats, Catnip can be used in teas to help relax and soothe. Grow it near the home for luck. Use it to attract love.
Lavender - This sweet smelling flower can be dried and used in sachets. It helps induce sleep and relaxation.
Dill - Dill has protective properties but is also a great addition to salads, seafood, potato dishes, etc. It is a very tender herb and is considered an annual.
These are just a few of the herbs I am growing. As I add more and work with more, I will list them. I am playing with a few now and seeing how they do.
Even if you have a small or no yard, it is amazing what you can grow!
Let's look first at small spaces.
Containers: I would use at least 18" pots for growing vegetables in. A pot this size can hold a patio tomato plant, a patio pepper, a squash or cucumber. Even broccoli, vining peas, egg plant, etc. can be grown in pots! Note, many plants cross pollinate so just planting one will not cut it. Anyhow, I find the yield from just one plant to se far too little!
Line the bottom of the pot with gravel and fill with a mixture of good soil, peat and manure. Plant the seedling and water well. If you are daring, you can start your veggies off by seed but I find that the amount of seeds in a pack wasted just for a few pots is not worth it. Let someone else start the seeds for me!
Water well and keep the soil moist but not wet. Put in the sun and let it go!
Small Gardens: It is amazing what you can plant in even a 4x4' garden. Use all the space! Tomatoes are vertical so plant horizontals under them! I have zucchini growing amongst my corn and tomatoes (my garden is about 16x16'). I have cantaloupe and cucumbers and water melon vining among collards and the remain of the broccoli (both cool weather crops so as the summer progresses, they get pulled. Leaf lettuce can be grown quite close together.
Now, you must make sure you have a good, well-draining soil and use manure (cured). Many vegetables are heavy feeders so you will have to fertilize them regularly. Consider all-natural pest controls as well! Ladybugs, slug traps made with beer, and if insecticides are truly needed, consider the alternatives of horticultural oils.
Large Gardens: Have a blast!!! You can grow a great variety of things and try many different species of each vegetable. Again, make sure the garden is well drained and well fed.
I feel the staples in any garden are: Tomatoes (include a few plums varieties for sauces), bell peppers (look at the rainbow of colors from green to purple), summer squash, zucchini squash, cucumbers and in the early spring before you can plant most of these, play with broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and beans that prefer cooler temps!
Well, not really my specialty. However, I have a few favorites I do quite well with:
Hosta, Columbine (self seeds and really can spread), Pachysandra, Vinca, Snapdragons, Marigolds, Violets (even the wild ones I cultivate into gardens), Violas and Pansies. Vining petunias are a great addition to flower boxes. And probably my favorites are the fall flowering Mums. A hint with Mums, cut them back in June and July and even August if needed. This will not only help them bush out but keep the blooms at bay until fall when other plants are all but done. I try to pick deep fall colors: russets, yellows, orange and red shaded, and a few whites for contrast.
I also enjoy bulbs, tubers and flowering shrubs. Crocuses, Lilies, Irises, Tulips (Black Swan is my favorite), Azaleas, Rose of Sharon and Rhododendrons do quite well where I am. Then add pussy willow and dog wood and a couple blueberry bushes.
Have fun in your flower gardens! I use strawberries as ground cover! Several types spread wonderfully! Plus the small critters that come out love them! (They tend to beat us to the ripe berries!)
The Pleasure of Herbs, Phyllis Shaudys
Holistic Woman's Herbal, Kitty Campion
The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants, F. Stary
The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Penelope Ody
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham
A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve, F.R.H.S., Mrs. C. F. Leyel, ed.
The Magic in Food, Scott Cunningham
A Kitchen Witch's Cookbook, Patricia Telesco
Reader's Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Carroll Calkins, ed.
These are all books I own and have read many times. They are great references. After all, the mind of a Wiccan Mother - or any mother for that matter - often has so many things racing around it who has the space to memorize the thousands of plants out there and what each does?
The big fad these days is organic gardening. People assume that if plants are not grown with the assistance of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that the plants are healthier and the foods better for you. This is not always true. There are many factors that go into how healthy is. For example, and organically grown vegetable that was handled by someone with e-coli on their hands or that was fertilized with manure contaminated with e-coli can be far more dangerous than a vegetable grown conventionally that had proper handling done.
Organically grown veggies and fruits are often more expensive. Why? Well, there is greater loss and that loss has to be passed on to the consumer. Insect damage, plant infections, etc., all take a toll on plants.
Organically grown fruits and vegetables have been linked to a higher incidence of e-coli. The two concerns are: improper food handling and hand washing and fertilizer that is contaminated. If manure is used, it MUST be properly aged to kill off the bacteria. However, improper handling techniques with conventionally grown foods can have the same problem. You should always wash fruits and veggies well before eating.
Now, I am all for decreasing the use of chemicals in gardening. I use hot pepper spray and insecticidal soaps (you can make your own with dish detergent, a spray bottle of water and a little oil) for most of my pest control. If serious, Sevin Dust or Liquid has a short life and breaks down very fast. Keeping the soil healthy and the plants properly taken care of helps greatly. However, I also feel that there needs to be a balance in all things. Just assuming some things are bad and some are good without doing some homework is, in my opinion, a bad idea. As consumers we need to know the whole story and be able to make our own decisions about what we buy and how it was grown. Luckily, there are many places that cater to organics, many stores that sell only conventionally grown foods and many stores that sell both.
For More information, please check these sites: I tried to provide a cross section of pros and cons to help you better educate yourself.