My spirit was lifted and my soul nourished by my time in the garden. It gave me a calm connection with all of life, and an awareness that remains with me now, long after leaving the garden. 

-Nancy Ross

This time of year, seed catalogs arrive in the mail daily, stirring up dreams of the upcoming year’s garden and all the dreams and hopes that it holds. I get giddy just pouring over those fabulous pages of photographs, drawings and descriptions, always turning to the selection of new seeds to see what new options I’ll have at my fingertips this year.

While it’s exciting to go through them, it’s easy to get carried away and order more seeds than your garden can possibly hold or that you have time to manage. And, if you’re like me and you are including your kids in on the experience, it can get overwhelming really easily. So just where do you start? Today I’m sharing with you some tips and ideas on how to plan out a fantastic herb garden that you and your children will enjoy for a long time, from sowing to harvesting and beyond.

Be selective with your sources.

You’ll be getting all different types of seed catalogs with a huge variety of options: some are heirloom only, some gmo-free, and many with lots of gmo seed and hybrids. Toss out those catalogs with hybrids, especially if you want to save seed from your annuals, as hybrids do not grow well from saved seed. Gmo’s should be avoided as well. There are plenty of great choices with what’s left. Some of my favorite sources here in the USA are Horizon Herbs, Thyme Garden, Baker’s Creek, Bountiful Gardens and Pinetree Garden Seeds. If you’re interested in adding medicinal mushrooms to your garden (a great project for kids), try Fungi Perfecti.

Plot out your garden space.

Get a pad of graph paper from the office store and got outside to measure your garden. This is a great lesson for kids and they love to help out whenever there’s a tape measure involved. Next, go inside and plot it out on graph paper. Mark any permanent fixtures such as fencing, bird baths, tool sheds, raised beds, etc. You may need to go back outside once you have the rough measurements drawn on the graph paper to add in the details. That’s fine, and it’s good to double check your work.

Mark shady spots so you’ll know which locations are in full shade, part sun or full sun.

How about plots for the kids? Some kids like to have their own special plot while others like to just help out with the general gardening. Adding in a spot for a Sunflower garden house or a Passionflower (instead of a bean pole) tipi is a great way to get them involved in herbal gardening. Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy is a great book for inspiration as is her book Sunflower Houses: Inspiration from the Garden.

Don’t have garden space? Consider container gardening. You can grow many medicinal herbs in pots on your patio, deck, balcony or anywhere you have a bit of sunny space. Check out Pinterest for many ideas on how to grow a garden when you don’t have a lot of room.

Take inventory.

Do you have any perennials growing in your garden? Be sure to mark those on your existing garden space. Make a note of any that you know will be crowding out others (Comfrey, Mugwort, Motherwort and Mints are often the culprits) so that you can plan to get them thinned out as soon as they make an appearance. Do you have anything growing that is getting old and may not return? Some tender perennials such as Rosemary, Lavender and Sage often die off over winter, especially if it was colder than usual.

Plan ahead.

Now that you know what you have growing, what new things would you like to grow? Often it’s best to make this list before you start eyeing those luscious seed catalogs. Time for the wishlist later. What do you want to learn about this year?  Select herbs that interest you and your kids, pick 10 – 20 herbs to start with, and grab the corresponding Herbal Roots zine ebooks.

Figure out planting requirements.

Now it’s time to dive into those seed catalogs! Seed catalogs are a wealth of information. Not only do they give a description of the plant but they’ll tell you how big each plant gets, if it’s an annual, perennial or biennial, if it needs lots of sun, shade or a combination and the zones it can grow in. Use that information to determine where you’ll place your plants in your garden. You might find it easier to slip the drawn map of your garden into a clear paper sleeve so that you can use a dry erase marker to mark the plants locations. Once you’re finished, you can place that directly on your scanner or copier to make a completed copy or you can remove the original drawing from the sleeve and write it with a pen.

Tackle the Wishlist.

Once you’ve got all the plants you absolutely want/need to have in your garden, go back over it and look for blank spaces. What do you need filling in? Make a note of that and now it’s time for you and your kids to have fun!

What new herbs catch your eye as you thumb through them? Is there an herb you’ve always wanted to grow but never have? One that you’d like to work with on a more intimate basis? Are most of your herbs quiet bloomers and you’d like to add a splash of colorful flowers to it? The more variety and color you have in your garden, the prettier it will be and the more likely it will be to attract natural pollinators (bees, butterflies and other insects) to help your garden flourish. Don’t be afraid to add a few vegetables in there as well. I love growing my tomatoes among the Borage and Basil and the Celery makes a great border for the Skullcap and Lobelia. I even leave patches of Dandelion and Violets amongst the plants too. Not only do they help to keep other ‘weeds’ at bay, but then they are easy to access when I need them.

Place your order.

Decide if you’ll be ordering seeds or plants or a combination of both. Seeds can be started in containers early so they’ll be ready for planting out after your freeze date while plants are generally shipped to you when it’s time to plant. Some plants self seed freely and can be direct sown at the proper time; instructions will be provided with each seed packet for each plant’s needs.

You are on your way to having an amazing herb garden this year! What will you be planting this year in your herb garden? Do you have any favorites you grow year after year? What new plants will you be trying out this year? Do you give your kids their own garden plot?