The great thing about most herbs is that they're tolerant of poor soils. That's no accident: If a plant was too persnickety, it might have been grown over at the manor house where it could get the special treatment it needed. Plants that were hardy as well as useful were the ones that made it into cottage gardens and common, widespread use, though. That includes most of the popular culinary herbs. They survive in inhospitable soils and usually need less TLC than other plants in the garden.
Think of herbs as the useful weeds past generations used as recipe ingredients, in remedies, to ward off the evil eye and to bring good luck. Folks decorated their homes with them, used them as deodorants, perfumes and room deodorizers. They also employed them in pest control (think mosquitoes, ants and fleas). If you're a beginning gardener, want to introduce your children to gardening or just like the idea of "setting by" a few homegrown ingredients for your own use, herbs are a great place to start.
Playing With Clay in the Garden
There are a couple of soil related issues that are important to consider when growing herbs, though. Drainage is certainly one. Plants require water in order to dissolve the minerals and nutrients they need and make them available to the roots of the plant. Too much water, and instead feasting on all that potential bounty, plant roots die and the plant starves to death.
Clay soils in particular are notorious for having a dense consistency that doesn't drain well after watering or a good rain. If you're dealing with clay in the garden, loosen it up with soil amendments like organic matter and sand that will help it drain better (and give your herbs a better start in life).
Looser soil will also encourage earthworms to come visit, those industrious little laborers that turn and enhance your soil without you having to lift a finger. Don't scoff at the potential benefit of earthworms. They're the unsung heroes of the soil.
Investing in better soil this season will also bear fruit (sometimes literally) next season and beyond. It's an investment in the future. In gardening, thinking about next season is one of the perks of the hobby. You'll begin to see time -- and your efforts -- differently. Instant gratification won't have the same appeal, somehow. You can't buy the satisfaction of building a garden. It's like exercise. Doing the hard work makes the reward -- when it comes -- so much sweeter.
You also want to look for herb real estate that isn't already taken. That can be trickier than it sounds. An open area in your garden may have soil filled with roots from surrounding shrubs or trees. It's a little like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic: the business end of plants, shrubs and trees can be a surprisingly large underground network of roots. Some herbs are shallow rooted and my be able to live in harmony over deep rooted plants, but not all.
The best place for your herb garden is in an area where you can dig down six to eight inches or so and not hit an obstruction. If that's a problem, you can always install a raised garden bed using top soil, potting soil or even straw bales.
You can learn a little more about herb soil from my blog: Soil Considerations