What could be better than a meal made with fresh ingredients flavored by fresh herbs? A simple pizza can be lifted by the addition of fresh basil and boiled potatoes can be given a taste of spring by adding fresh mint. Despite this, how many of us go to the trouble of growing and using fresh herbs? They do have their problems: most require sunny spots in the garden, many die down in winter and some are untidy thugs. However, with careful selection and a little thought, we can have fresh herbs all year round – with very little effort!
Firstly, we need to decide what to grow. Many herbs are invasive weeds so stick to culinary ones. The evergreen thyme, sage, rosemary and bay all make good specimens for sunny spots and have many uses in the ornamental garden.
Mint, French tarragon and chives are deciduous making it more difficult to keep them going in winter. Basil is tender and needs winter protection. Parsley and coriander are biennial and annual respectively, needing regular sowing to maintain a continual supply.
Once you have decided what to grow, then decide how to plant them. Most people grow herbs in herb gardens or containers in the garden. Although this may be good for the plants it can be irksome having to wander around the garden half way through cooking. The answer is to grow herbs in a portable medium – either a lightweight plastic container or hanging basket. A hanging basket can be hung on a bracket outside the kitchen door and brought in when required. Planted in the top and through holes in the side, the herbs can easily be cropped next to the chopping board and then returned outside. This does however ignore the size and requirements of each herb so we suggest replanting the container every 6 months.
What to plant?
Basil. Grow in full sun. A half-hardy perennial. Grow it around the edge of a mixed container or basket (indoors in winter). It is best to buy small plants from a garden centre or supermarket rather than raising them from seed. Try the purple-leafed variety for some color.
Bay. Sun. This large evergreen shrub or tree is a stately plant. Grow it in a container against a sunny wall or as a centrepiece in a mixed container. When it grows too large, plant in the garden and replace with another small plant.
Chives. Sun or shade. A deciduous perennial. The spiky leaves and purple flowers make this a good ornamental plant. Its shape will finish off our mixed container – plant one off-centre in the top of a container or basket.
Mint. Sun or shade. This deciduous perennial has very invasive roots and, in the garden, is best grown in a bucket sunk into the ground. Plant in a container of its own and not in a mixed situation. To have fresh mint in winter, dig up a piece of root in the autumn and lay it in the top of a container. Cover with a thin layer of compost and place in a warm conservatory or on a kitchen windowsill. You should have fresh mint for Christmas dinner.
Parsley. Shade or part-shade. A biennial. Buy young plants rather than growing from seed and plant in a mixed container or basket.
Rosemary. Sun. An evergreen shrub with textured grey foliage and blue spring flowers. It is rather large so treat it in the same way as bay and plant a small one in a mixed container, planting out when too big.
Sage. Sun or part-shade. This evergreen shrub looks good tumbling over the edge of paving. Its textured leaves contrast with many leaf shapes making it the perfect choice for a mixed container. A medium-sized shrub it is best to use a small plant and plant out when too large. Look for the purple-leafed or variegated varieties for added interest.
Thyme. Sun. There are two types of this small evergreen perennial – round shrubby varieties and ones which form a ground-hugging mat. They are both good in the kitchen but the latter is great for softening paving in the garden. Grow in cracks in paving, between stepping-stones or around a manhole to completely hide it. Grow to tumble over the edge of a container or through the sides of a basket.
Read also: Common Mistakes When Herb Gardening