Freshly picked herbs are a complete joy, they add so much flavour to any dish. Think of parsley or coriander scattered over a dish, or mint simmered with new potatoes, they all radiate freshness & vitality.
Growing your own herbs is also a great way of gardening sustainably. Shrubs, such as Rosemary, continue providing every year, & seed can be collected from some annual herbs. The best thing is, they’re right outside the door.
There are different types of herb plants, let’s start with shrubs.
Shrubs are the easiest herbs to grow. Planted in the right conditions, you have an almost constant supply for years.
Most originate from the Mediterranean area, this gives you an idea of the conditions they grow well in. They’ll thrive in thin, unpromising soil with as as much sun as possible. Add plenty of grit to heavy, clay soil, or grow them in a large container, where you can supply the right compost for them.
This evergreen shrub is as decorative as it is useful, adding stature to any border.
The use of those intensely flavoured leaves are many & varied. Cook them with roasted vegetables, casseroles & meat dishes or scatter them over roast potatoes towards the end of cooking. Cut the newer green tips, this’ll help it re-grow.
From the Mediterranean area, see above for growing conditions.
Buy as a plant, growing from seed to a reasonable sized plant takes so long. Plant in Spring & water regularly when the weather is hot & dry, especially if you’ve planted it in a container.
Use multi purpose compost with lots of grit to help drainage in a Container. They hate to have their roots in wet soil, especially in winter.
A wonderfully aromatic shrub, it likes the same conditions as Rosemary. Sage is evergreen & a perfect shrub for a sunny ornamental border. Use the crisply fried leaves as a garnish, they’re good with pork, or add the finely chopped leaves to pasta dishes.
Much the same as Rosemary, see above.
Water it well when it’s planted & when conditions are dry, especially in the first year. Trim back to an emerging pair of leaves in early spring, once it’s established. The new leaves will be soft & bright & much more flavoursome.
I use this herb a lot, it’s so versatile. It’s great sprinkled on roasted vegetables, especially tomatoes, & any kind of pasta dish. There are many different types, the most useful are the basic Thymus vulgaris & a lemon one, Thymus x citriodorus, which is great with white fish.
The plant lasts well through the winter in a sheltered area.
It can be grown from seed or cuttings, but I’ve always bought it as small plants, they’re very inexpensive.If you fancy having a go, sow seeds straight into the soil in mid-Spring, thin them out to 50cm/20in apart.
An evergreen shrub or tree (eventually) with a good, solid shape. The leaves are easy to dry & they keep forever in a glass jar.
Plant it in any soil that’s not too wet, add grit if in doubt. Choose a sheltered position, leaves can get scorched in a windy one.
Buy these as a shrub or topiary for a nice shape, I’ve got 2 tall, lollipop ones by the front door.
They can be planted directly in the garden or in a container. Choose a mix of multi-purpose compost & loam based soil, without peat, for the container. They’re slow growing plants, but check every year & move the plant into a larger container when necessary.
Water sparingly, but don’t let it dry out, especially in warm weather.
Bay can be grown from cuttings, but it’s slow. My advice is buy one as a shrub, unless you love propagating plants.
They can grow very big, but are easily trimmed & kept in shape , but start when the plant is young.
Perennials are plants whose foliage dies back each year, but grows again the following year. They’re easy, because once planted they provide you with fresh herbs every year.
This is one of the easiest herbs to grow, & can be used in many different ways.
Fresh mint tea is so much better than tea-bags, Moroccan mint is great for this. Plain old garden mint can be used for anything, sweet or savoury. I love having plenty to use in cous-cous, & with summer approaching, it’ll be good to have plenty for Mojitos.
Mint is an enthusiastic, rampant plant once it gets going. Show it who’s in charge by growing it in a container.
I sink a big plastic pot into a larger container. You could put a pot straight into open ground, but it will eventually escape through the holes in the bottom & pop up all over the place. This would work if you have enough space for an isolated bed.
It does best planted in semi-shaded.
Plant into a container of a mix of multi-purpose compost & a loam based compost
Tip it out of its container in early spring & gently pull the roots apart. Discard the central ones & re-plant the younger ones that have developed on the outside of the plant, & plant back in the container. If left, the central part of the plant begins to die off.
I have these in a raised bed by the kitchen door, so I can pop out & snip a few of the long, grass-like leaves.
I use wherever I want a mild onion flavour, scattered over salads, in omelettes or scrambled egg. The flowers can be picked apart & scattered over salads, pasta etc. if you’re growing chives for the leaves, More about growing edible flowers next week.
In a light, sunny position, they’re not too fussy about soil. Great for balconies & window boxes, because of their small size. They also look good as an edging plant along a path.
They can be sown from seed in spring. Division is a good method of getting more plants. divide the plant, water it well before, gently tease the plant in two & replant them.
Herbs a such a big group of plants, that even narrowing it down to the essentials, became a long post. Part 2 of How To Grow Herbs is lined up for you tomorrow. It’s about annuals & half-hardy annuals, those easy to grow champions of flavour, including coriander & parsley.
Have a look here to find out more about how to grow fuss-free vegetables.
All photos: Jill Anderson