At intervals I emerge in my herb-gathering garb: a full-skirted dress with dainty floral motive. A floppy hat secured with a large ribbon. A trug and some scissors. I waft and snip in the sunshine. My trug is layered with the texture of aromatics, touched with the blue of borage, the orange of nasturtium, all the scents of summer, romantically laid.
Returning to the kitchen and the allure of rich aromas that arise from the slow-cooking stews, and simultaneously seduced by the prettiness of dew-crisp salads, I sip a fresh-brewed herbal tea. I am seated beneath bunches of herbs drying overhead, and bottles with herbs flavouring olive oil and the rising dough for rosemary bread.
Outside, the un-corseted herbs are comely bushes. Carpets of thyme bounce under the hand like freshly laundered towels, and bees and butterflies flit and gorge. Slugs don’t nibble and though organic the garden is naturally free of weeds.
It is exactly like this in my herb garden, and my herb garden only exists in my imagination. I don’t have a herb garden, the garden is too shady. In the shade the sun-loving herbs stretch towards the light, gangle gracelessly and flop. The mints the slugs don’t eat romp and wage war. Thyme gets patchy and fennel reaches for the sky and self-seeds everywhere. Then there is the couch grass and the bindweed. Your herb garden implies control and management. Exquisite naturalism requires an exacting attention to detail. It requires that you are in control of your garden. This scarcely happens with me. Jobs don’t get done or are completed too late. I like plants to self-seed and destroy my plans, and plants mostly seem to break the rules. Anyway I’m too fat for a full skirt, prefer trousers, and the trug exists but is always full of gardening tools.
If you want to see a herb garden that works visit the discreet walled idyll of the St Valery herbarium in France. They do it right.
Susan A. Tindall