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Mary Lowther column: Successes and failures of growing herbs in Mesachie

The ‘winter protected’ rosemary has yet to put in an appearance
Herbs growing in a window aren’t getting eaten by bugs. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

I have devoted one bed to herbs but large leafed basil will not grow there or anywhere else outdoors. Some very particular predator managed to get past every deterrent and, ignoring the thyme, oregano and sage, ate every large leafed basil down to the roots! I should have planted the small leafed variety that bugs don’t have a taste for, but all is not lost as I also have an herb garden in a sunny bay window where the large leafed variety is thriving, with more seedlings in flats ready to transplant. One veteran gardener suggested putting them outside beside the tomatoes, so I’ll try that next.

The “winter protected” rosemary has yet to put in an appearance; I suspect it died. I may have to consider it an annual in Mesachie, which goes to show how much colder it is among these mountains than down in subtropical Victoria, where rosemary grows into lovely flowering bushes that attract pollinators in the thousands. Fortunately, I’m growing two of those inside as well in the hope they like it indoors. Fresh rosemary makes a huge difference in the kitchen; the flavour difference between fresh and store bought is just as evident with herbs as it is with tomatoes.

It remains to be seen if my other newly planted herbs will make it through our winters, but if they don’t I’ll treat them as annuals and sow new seeds every year. On the positive side, the chives I planted three years ago are still going strong. I keep these in a pot because (like mint) they can take over. Chives send up lovely purple flowers every year, attracting bees and probably contaminating the honey with onion flavoured pollen.

The lavender planted by the previous owner returns every year, but is in a high traffic area; although it smells lovely it is far from prosperous. I’ve tried transplanting some of it elsewhere without success and maybe when it’s stopped flowering I’ll dig the whole works up and move it to a better spot. Apparently lavender plants only live about 10 years on average, so I might be better off just to use seeds from the present plant to grow new ones.

It’s a lot easier to grow herbs in Victoria. In his early 20s, David had some in a window box that he forgot about until they had gone to seed. For the next decade he never had to bother with them because he could pick fresh herbs from the plants that grew from the cracks in his driveway below. He claims that the parsley actually choked out the pre-existing dandelion!

Most herbs are that easy to grow because bugs eschew them, and homegrown herbs are easily dried for winter use and replaced every year with a new crop. All my herbs are for culinary use, but maybe I should try my hand with a few of the medicinal ones just to find out how they work. I will need to be careful, though, as the predators hereabouts are healthy enough already!

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.