by Jessica MacDonald


On this part of the planet, we are still under the cover of snow. But this is the perfect time to sit with a warm cup of tea and plan for the gardening season ahead. There are several factors to consider and preparations that can be made before your shovel breaks ground.

First, it is important to consider how much space and time you must commit to your garden. You also need to consider the growing conditions of the site you have selected. Drainage, sunlight and soil quality will all affect the plants that are chosen for your garden.

Space and time
The romantic idea of having a large garden is wonderful, but the reality of the maintenance involved is a huge factor in the success of growing healthy, thriving plants. Starting too big too fast can be discouraging when the peak of weeding season or dry season is upon us. It can be the deciding factor as to whether you continue with your love of gardening or give up. Starting small and getting your beds established and building out each new season will not only build confidence, but also give you a better opportunity for you to get to know your plants and how they like to grow. Keeping in mind the amount
of time you have in the growing season will allow you to enjoy other activities, not to feel “burdened” by your garden.

Living in an urban area with a small parcel of land or even an apartment terrace should not be a discouraging factor when deciding to grow medical plants. A small garden can give great joy and sense of accomplishment when it comes to harvest and production time. Some herbs thrive in containers and small garden boxes. Look at the space you have and begin to think about how much of that space you would like to dedicate to you garden. Think about whether you would like to have a structured, bordered garden; a beautiful spiral or patterned garden; or a more freeform wild looking garden. It is all personal preference.

Soil Health

Knowing what type of soil you have and what your space needs in order to have a productive garden is key. There are 6 types of soil: peaty, loamy, sandy, chalky, clay and silty. All these varieties are based on moisture, mineral and organic content. Although it is possible to work with most types of soil, loamy is the most forgiving and is preferred by most plants. Acquiring this type of soil requires the addition of compost, sand or peat in varying ratios but makes an ideal home for your herbs. The addition of macro and micronutrients such as Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc or Copper will also help the health of your garden. Rotating your gardens will help balance the “give and take” of these nutrients in the soil. Also, knowing the ph of your soil is beneficial. A soil test can be purchased or taken by a provider and will give you the level of acidity or alkalinity in your garden. You can then make the necessary adjustments with additives like Sulphur and lime to raise or lower levels as needed. It can be tricky, so if at all in doubt of your ability to add the right amount, best to consult an expert. One of the most important additives you can offer your garden is compost. Kitchen waste, lawn clipping, animal manure (careful which animal it comes from and how long it has been composted before adding) and even tilled cover crops can offer huge amounts of nutrients back into the soil and your plants.

What to plant

Depending on your level of experience you need to consider what you would like to grow. Not all plants are drop seed, water and watch. Some herbs take more time and care in order to have them flourish. Do research into the plants that you would like to work with. What zone do they grow best in? How much sun do they need, and can your space provide that? What kind of soil do they prefer, wet/dry, loamy/sandy, or what nutrients they give and take from the soil?

Some gardeners prefer to have formula specific gardens. You can have gardens dedicated to particular conditions or remedies. ie: cold/flu, skin conditions, allergies, etc. Think about what you would like your garden to help you with and what you are comfortable working with in the formulation process. Perhaps there are particular plants that call to you, and you would like to have the opportunity to be with and work with them.

Cold and Flu Garden herb ideas
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) – Immune modulator/stimulant
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) – Relaxant Expectorant
Garlic (Allium sativum) – Antimicrobial, affinities for the cardiac and circulatory system
Thyme (Thymus spp.) – Antibacterial, immune support and affinity for the respiratory system
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – Immune tonic/adaptogen, expectorant, demulcent for the respiratory tract
Elder (Sambucus nigra) – Anticatarrhal/decongestant and Inflammation modulating

Of course, there are many more options. Finding plants that resonate with you and what you want to work with will not only make the planning more enjoyable, but it will also increase your likelihood of success.

Don’t forget to consider what is growing around you! Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Plantain (Plantago major), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyma) are just a few of the “weeds” that are readily available to harvest without any need for cultivation. Just always remember to practice sustainable harvesting and try not to harvest close to roadways or other areas with higher levels of ground pollution.

Purchasing quality seeds is another great way to get excited for the new growing season. There are so many options from buying off the stand in your local supermarket to ordering rare heirloom varieties.

Here is a list of seed companies offering herbs and veggies that you can try your hand at growing.

Halifax Seed Company – https://www.halifaxseed.ca
Richters – https://www.richters.com
Hope Seeds – https://hopeseed.com
Rainbow Seeds – https://www.rainbowseeds.ca/store
Annapolis Seed – https://annapolisseeds.com
Strictly Medicinal Seed – Strictly Medicinal Seeds | Organic growers of medicinal herb seeds, medicinal herb plants, organic vegetable seeds and organic garden seeds

Growing tools and equipment

Heat pads
Seeding trays
Seeding soil

Now that you have decided how much time and space you have, what to plant and have gathered your seeding necessities, it is time to start your research into when to start your seeds. Some seeds can be directly sown into the soil after the frost is out of the ground and can be worked. Others need some more time to get going and should be started indoors. There are plenty of resources to help you get all the information you’ll need. Seeding charts and harvest times are available on several different websites and in books. There is also information located on most seed packs. Knowing the zone that you live in will help determine the best time to begin.

Seeding soil can either be purchased pre-mixed or you can opt to combine the ingredients yourself. There are several different recipes and ratios out there. Playing with different options gives you a better idea of what works for your space and growing environment. The most important part is to keep your trays warm and moist.

So, enjoy your gardening journey! Spend time with your plants, get to know them and how they grow. Having a personal relationship with your herbal garden will keep you in tune with their growth patterns, health and the energy that the plants bring. Spending time in the garden is not only good for your plants, but good for you as well. Studies have shown that time in the garden lowers stress levels and increases serotonin production. Not to mention the wonderful Vitamin D that you will get being out in the sun.

Happy Growing.