Starting with Herbs
Herbs have it all: choose the right ones and your garden can look stunning, will be relatively easy to maintain, and will provide lots of useful things that you can harvest and use in your cooking and crafts.
How to Plant and Grow Them
Most herbs grow best in full sun and prefer well drained soil. They’re often planted in a separate bed, but they can be grown amongsother small flowering plants, such as in rockeries and cottage garden beds. The larger herbs (lavender, wormwood, rosemary) can be grown as a low hedge, and many of the smaller herbs make excellent edging plants (thymes, chives, oregano, dwarf sage).
Most herbs like to be cut back regularly, even if you’re not using them. There are the odd exceptions, but for most, a good pruning when they are growing strongly (not in the middle of a bitterly cold winter though) will encourage lush, healthy new growth. Heavy pruning like this invigorates the plants; in fact, some herbs (Lavender for instance) will live much longer if 20-50% of the current years growth is removed at least annually.
Regular mulching, and feeding with composted organic materials will give greatly improved results for most herbs. Most herbs also like plenty of moisture when they are actively growing. Most varieties can be grown in pots. Use a quality potting mix and place the pot in a protected spot in full sun. Regular watering and occasional liquid feeds will help to keep them in good condition. The best time for harvesting most herbs is just before flowering when the flavour is at its strongest.
- In cooking – Use herbs fresh or dry them in bunches hung upside down in a well-aerated, dark, dry place. When completely dry, they can be crushed and stored in airtight jars.
- In crafts and cosmetics – Pot pourri is the most popular way to use dried herbs. The scent of the dried herbs is preserved using oils and fixatives. Herbs can also be used in dried arrangements, in cosmetics, and in dyes.
- As insect repellents – A number of herbs act as non-toxic insect repellents including pyrethrum, garlic, chamomile and pennyroyal
- For medicine – Herbs were used for their healing powers long before the advent of modern medicines, and they are still popular alternatives.
Favourite Herbs That Can Be Grown in Most Climates
Lavender – The most popular variety is English lavender, although there are many other species and forms available. It is a hardy, small shrub, which grows best in full sun and well drained soil. The flowers are used in extensively in perfumery and crafts, and occasionally in cooking.
Mint – Unlike most herbs, mint thrives in damp, shady areas. It spreads quickly by underground rhizomes, so it’s often best confined in a large pot or tub. There are many varieties, all with distinctive flavours, including peppermint, spearmint, applemint, bergamot and pennyroyal.
Thyme – A favourite for flavouring savoury dishes, thyme grows best in dryish soil in full sun. It’s prostrate growth and masses of small white, pink or purple flowers in spring and summer makes this ideal for growing as a groundcover in rockeries and in pots.
Parsley – This is a biennial herb (ie. it lasts two years before going to seed), which is best grown as an annual. It prefers moist, reasonably fertile soil in full sun or semi-shade. It responds well to regular liquid feeds to keep it green and healthy.
Basil - An annual herb, which grows well in most climates but is sensitive to frosts and cold, damp weather. It prefers fertile, moist soil in full sun, except in hot climates where it needs afternoon shade. Give regular liquid feeds to promote leafy lush growth. The purple-leaved variety makes an attractive feature plant.