Winter is a trying time. One comfortable feeling is to have a stockpile of organic herbs from your garden that can ease the season’s challenges. An immune system strengthening herb garden can help you head into winter with a strong immune system as well as provide relief in the war on wayward germs, sniffles and other ailments that stalk us this time of year.
For us gardeners, it’s a happy serendipity that at least some of the immune system strengthening herbs that are most effective in this fight are also splendid additions to the garden. Take echinacea, for example—a quick boost to the immune system that is also a hardworking, hardy perennial commonly known as purple coneflower, with drooping ray petals in vibrant colors—and garlic, splendid in its own delicious way and easy to tuck into little spaces in sunny places.
This little garden is designed to provide a hefty harvest of these and other herbs to dry for both the kitchen pantry and the medicine chest, as well as a steady supply of tea herbs for comfort and relief, and even antioxidant-rich culinary herbs in tasty supporting roles. It’s a cheerful space, abundant but tidy.
Raise the Middle
This is a dual-level garden—a garden within a garden. The raised brick bed in the center provides the excellent drainage and sunny exposure, which herbs like oregano, thyme and sage demand in order to thrive. Rosemary, horseradish and ginger can be grown in pots or fairly large containers, the horseradish because of its aggressiveness and rosemary and ginger for their tender nature; it’s easy to whisk potted ginger or rosemary indoors to a sunny windowsill when temperatures drop.
Having that tidy raised space in the center (or near an edge) lets the gardener be lavish in the area surrounding it. The beauty of the purple coneflower is enhanced by the mass planting—and the extreme usefulness of this plant makes it a good one to dry and store to have through the changing of the seasons. An immune-strengthening tea can be made from a decoction of the roots or an infusion of the flowering tops.
Storing lots of herbs, such as echinacea, garlic and other immune-enhancing plants, and having them on hand, makes us more inclined to use them on a regular basis and incorporate them into our teas and meals, which is a great way to help keep ourselves and our families protected and strong. Plant the herbs that you use the most.
A Garden for Spring
Design and plan your immune system strengthening garden now so you’ll be ready to go as soon as you reach your frost-free date. Choose a full-sun location in your yard. Line up a supply of good garden dirt with which to raise the center bed, and explore what local materials you can find or buy inexpensively for the hardscaping.
The higher you raise up that center portion, the more drama you add to the bed, but also the more work you add in terms of moving dirt and building a sturdy retaining wall. Find a compromise that works for you and your site; a bed raised 2 to 3 feet would be great, but even 1 foot lifts those upper-tier plants up to increase the amount of sun they get as well as to improve drainage.
Think of this little bed as a permanent fixture you’re adding to your landscape, because the simple, appealing design can be adapted to many different types of plantings, should you want to change it up after a few years. After you mark the area for the raised bed, dig down a few inches around that edge so you can put down a foundation layer of coarse sand to keep that retaining wall sturdy and in place. Whether you’re using brick or stone, dry-stacked or with cement, you can tilt it ever so slightly toward the dirt center, adding stability. Add a good compost-based soil when you’re done.
Use this off-season to improve the soil around that raised center when you can, working in compost and whatever other amendments your soil needs. Newcomers can check with a county extension service if you’re in doubt about the type of soil prevalent in the area and what amendments are appropriate, as well as the frost-free date in the region.
Contributing Editor Kathleen Halloran is a freelance writer and editor living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.