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Designer Simon Dodd plants some seedlings.

The story of a herb garden

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PENNY WOODWARD witnesses the transformation of old trial planting beds into a beautiful big herb garden. A large herb garden was established at Heronswood – the home of the Diggers Club in Dromana, Victoria – designed by gardeners Simon Dodd and Clive Blazey.

Recently I was lucky to be able to watch the establishment of a really big herb garden at Heronswood – the home of the Diggers Club in Dromana, Victoria – which was designed by gardeners Simon Dodd and Clive Blazey.

The area had previously been used as trial beds for new plants, but had never worked well because of the nearby tall gum trees. So it was decided to plant it out with tougher, more drought-tolerant plants that would look good all year round. Herbs were the obvious answer.

The designers settled on a combination of medicinal, dye and pest-repellent herbs, mainly because most of the culinary herbs were already growing near the club’s cafe. They also focused on perennial herbs, although some of the herbaceous perennials die back in winter.

Despite the nearby gum trees, the site gets plenty of sun. The soil is a well-drained sandy loam. Simon added compost, blood and bone and just a little organic fertiliser to get the plants started.  Too much water and food makes herbs sappy.

He also mulched with humate, a lovely organic carbon product from the Victorian coal fields that not only improves the soil but darkens it, thus increasing the warmth and allowing plants to grow more quickly. 

Simon based the design for the main bed on a knot design from an old English garden, and many of the herbs that he has planted have been in use since medieval times.

The structure is provided by a criss-crossed hedge of ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary – an upright but dwarf form with a lovely deep blue flower.

The hedge went in first and then all the other sections were planted. Simon says once planting was finished the main task was weeding, with things coming up from old plants’ roots and seeds.

After that the most important work was the formative pruning. Lavender and rosemary need to be shaped, otherwise they quickly become straggly and tall. The only other pruning was dead-heading flowers that had finished, to keep the new flowers coming. After just six months the herb garden looked fabulous.