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 Growing Herbs
Herbs can be annuals, biennials or perennials and they play an essential part in every garden, they are not only a delicious addition to many recipes they also attract an abundance of wildlife. Herbs give your garden an array of wonderful aromas and can be used to make a vegetable plot more attractive. Whatever the size and shape of your garden growing herbs is a worthy pastime, especially if you take full advantage of them and use them in the kitchen.

Herbs can also be grown by people with little or no gardens in pots and containers. This method is not only decorative but practical too as the pots can be placed where they are easily accessible from the kitchen to be used in cooking. There are a tremendous range of herbs to be found but on average we tend to eat quite few, this does not mean however the herbs we do not wish to eat cannot be grown as they play a vital part in the garden by fending off pests and encouraging our other herbs to thrive. Herbs such as mint will deter creatures such as ants and flies whilst borage flowers attract bees and provide a welcome companion for tomatoes, squash and strawberries.

Traditionally used in medicine as well as for culinary uses people have been growing and cultivating herbs for years. Apothecaries would use herbal remedies to treat ailments and herbs are often used for religious purposes. Culinary uses for herbs has always been about adding flavour to food rather than them being the main staple as herbs are able to transform a recipe from bland to delicious.

There are however herbs that are grown purely for decoration and can be harmful when eaten, care must be taken that any herbs you are growing for culinary use are suitable for just that. Always follow the directions given when planting your herbs to ensure they reach their potential and provide you with the desired effect. Flowers especially must only be consumed if you absolutely know they are edible and then only in small doses to see if reaction occurs. Certain herbs such as chamomile must not be consumed by pregnant women or nursing mothers as it may be harmful to infants. Consult your doctor before using any herbs you are unsure of as some may interfere with prescription medications.

Growing Herbs

Herbs in pots

Herbs in pots and containers
Herbs can be grown successfully in containers provided they have adequate drainage. Containers make it easy to group plants accordingly to how vigorously they grow and the type of care that they need. Because they are portable, herbs in containers can be moved into a convenient position outside the kitchen door when they are ready to use.
Most herbs will thrive in containers that are at least 15cm deep. However fennel, which has a long root that needs deep soil, and bay trees, which are big when mature, are best in large containers.
Window boxes can be used for growing upright and prostrate herbs. For ease of maintenance grow the herbs in adequate pots. Fill the window box with gravel burying the pots up to the rim. This will make watering easier. Terracotta pots are an attractive popular choice but need frequent watering in dry spells.

Herb Garden

Herb gardens
Place your herb garden as close as you can to the kitchen door or at least next to a paved area for easy access. Choose a site with sun for at least half a day. If your garden is small you can blend your herbs into your flower borders or as edging.
Plant lesser used herbs away from paths or in borders where they can do their jobs whilst still providing your garden with colour and amazing scents.
You will find that where recipes call for vegetables and herbs they can often be grown together too for example, basil can be grown with tomatoes. They taste delicious together and basil can ward off pests that may destroy your tomato plants.

Herbs in raised beds

Herbs in raised beds
Raised beds are an essential addition to your garden when growing herbs and vegetables. Raising the soil level not only improves drainage, soil structure and the laborious task of bending down, the deep soil also encourages better root systems which in turn give you bigger and healthier crops. Raised beds are available in kit form coming in a range of sizes to suit every garden. Click here to view raised bed kits. Herbs are easy to look after and to gather if they are grown in a raised bed. If you want to grow herbs and your garden has a heavy clay soil then raised beds are an ideal solution to give you well drained fertile soil. It is also a good way of growing herbs accustomed to the Mediterranean climate such as thyme, oregano, sage & rosemary.
Raised Bed Kits

Small Herb Wheel / Planter

Herb Wheels
The perfect addition to any kitchen garden these herb wheels provide an attractive way of growing many herbs in one place. Site them close to your kitchen door, plant with your favourite herbs and you will soon be enjoying the produce all year round. Herb wheels allow you to grow a range of herbs in one place and because they are divided into sections the herbs will remain in their section without moving in one the plant next to them. Maintenance is required as with all plants but once you have got the hang of it your herb wheel will make an excellent addition to your garden. 

Herb Knot Garden

Knot gardens
The traditional formal knot garden, edged with box, rosemary, lavender or thyme looks fantastic. But a knot garden is time consuming to plant and is more difficult than other planting schemes to maintain. The edging needs trimming at least once a year and competes with the herbs for light, nutrients & water. Once mature a knot garden is a great addition to any garden.

Herbs in the flower border

Herbs in the border
If you have a border in full sun that is well drained, cut down on weeding by filling the gaps between plants with herbs. Shrubby herbs that are needed in small amounts such as rosemary can be grown as single specimens. Those herbs that are needed in larger quantities can be grown in groups such as chives and parsley.
Low growing coloured sages and mat spreading thymes also make good plants for edging. Mint is quite invasive so its worth plunging them in their pots to prevent it spreading.
Herbs for children to grow
It can often be difficult to get children interested in gardening because of the long process it can take to achieve a result from a plant. Herbs are a great way to pique their interest and give them the satisfaction of growing something that they can harvest and use. Herbs such as spearmint and chives have tastes that children may recognise and they have wonderful flavours that will provide excellent accompaniment to many recipes.
Harvesting & Preserving
There are many methods of harvesting and preserving herbs and these will differ from plant to plant and from area to area. It may be necessary to follow the directions on any shop bought seeds and plants or indeed adopt a trial and error approach however there are some simple techniques that can be used with most herbs that will enable you to get the best out of your plants.
  Harvest leaves and shoots throughout the growing season but always before flowering as this is when the herbs are at their best. Harvesting during winter of evergreen plants should be kept to a minimum.
  Harvest herbs on a dry day before the sun has a chance to warm up the plants, this will prevent any of the essential oils from evaporating.
  Handle the plants accordingly as to not damage them, pay particular attention to aromatic plants as any bruising to the leaves will cause the essential oils to be released.
  Harvest the herbs using a method that will allow the plant to keep its shape and always use foliage that has not been damaged.
  If you intend to harvest the flowers from a plant always do this once the flowers are full opened and on a dry day. 
  Seeds can be harvested by cutting off whole seedheads as they begin to turn brown but before they have started to shed.
  Roots are generally at their best in autumn although they can be harvested at any point through they year.
  Herbs can be hung upside down in order for them to air-dry. If using this method do not wash your herbs first as this can encourage mould to grow. Leave in a warm dry place until they turn crisp.
  How you preserve you herbs will depend entirely on the herbs you are growing, it is always best to use your herbs where possible after harvesting as this is when they are at their best. However if it is necessary for you to keep your herbs stored there are many ways in which to do this.
  For a speedier way of getting dried herbs you can use a microwave. Wash the herbs and pat them dry, lay them on a piece of kitchen roll and microwave. Check the herbs every 30 seconds as they may need rearranging.

  Certain herbs will keep their flavour more using a freezing process rather than a drying one. Choose soft leaved herbs to put into bags that have been labelled accordingly and freeze until they will break down easily.
  When using decorative herbs it is also highly effective to freeze them in ice cubes, this not only preserves them but also creates a welcome addition to beverages and punch bowls.
  Seedheads can be placed in a paper bag and kept in a warm, dry place to allow them to ripen and fall off. Seeds for sowing should then be kept in a cool, dry place.
  Roots can be harvesting and stored however they are usually at their best when fresh. Wash them thoroughly then peel, chop or slice them. Allow to dry until they become brittle before grinding and storing.
  Store all dried herbs in a dark container to prevent the light from affecting the flavour and aroma.
Common Herbs
Parsley (Curly Leaf)
This hardy herbaceous biennial can be harvested when needed and is great chopped or whole in sauces, garnishes and meals. Curly leaf parsley likes rich free draining soil that is not prone to drying out. Although the plant prefers full sun it can be grown successfully in semi shade in good soil. An excellent herb for containers.
Parsley (Flat Leaf - Italian)
This hardy biennial is the perfect addition to any kitchen garden providing colour, taste and aroma to a variety of dishes. Flat leaf parsley thrives in spots that get at least 6 hours of sun a day and due to the long root system it requires a pot or container big enough to accommodate that. Plant in soil that is rich, moist and well drained and do not allow to dry out. Not to be confused with coriander that looks similar flat leaf parsley plants produce leaves with a serrated edge. Perfect for soup toppings, garnishes, salads and potato based meals.
Coriander - Cilantro
This hardy annual produces leaves that can be used in sauces and salads and seeds that have a sweet spicy taste perfect for baking and adding to casseroles. Coriander leaves have round edges and the plants themselves produce an unpleasant smell making them a good outdoor plant. Choose a permanent site before sowing as coriander does not like to be transplanted, and ensure it is in well drained soil in a sunny spot.
Lovage
This hardy perennial looks perfect at the back of a border due to its height and can be used in soups, stews and salads. Similar to celery in both taste and the process of blanching the leaf stalks and stem before eating lovage is a wonderful addition to any garden. This plant will thrive in rich, moist soil in full sun or partial shade that is deep enough to accommodate the long roots.
Rosemary
This hardy evergreen shrub can be grown as an informal hedge and is a great addition to meat dishes such as lamb, pork and chicken as well as being perfect for arrangements such as pot pourri and as an essential bath oil. Rosemary is tolerant of many soil conditions but prefers a light soil that is sunny and sheltered, it will survive frosts as long as the site does not get too wet and windy.
Chives
This hardy herbaceous perennial can be used as an edging for borders due to its low growing, clump forming properties. Chives are particularly good at flavouring dips and sauces with their mild onion taste and the flowers can be eaten in salads. Chives will tolerate most soil condition but will thrive in soil that has been well prepared with organic matter before planting/sowing, in full sun or partial shade. Chives can be tolerant of a little drought but do not allow them to dry out completely.
Sage
This hardy evergreen subshrub that has a slight peppery taste and is perfect for flavouring meats such as pork and making stuffing and sauces with. Sage can be grown in containers that are placed to allow the plants sufficient light in standard potting compost. Ensure to line the pot with a material to provide drainage as sage is a Mediterranean plant and therefore does not like constant moist soil.
Sorrel
This is a sharp, acidic tasting perennial which has been cultivated for centuries. A hardy plant producing long and tender arrow-shaped leaves of a light green to purplish hue which can resemble dock leaves, sorrel is often used in salads, soups and sauces. Leaves are best picked young before flowering occurs, after which they can be used fresh or frozen for later use in cooked dishes. If left to mature, leaves will become increasingly bitter, and are best used to add bite to a soup or sauce.
Fennel
This hardy perennial is perfect for use in borders due to its height and stunning yellow flowers. The leaves can be used to add flavour and texture to meat dishes and salads whilst the seeds can be used for making teas and as an accompaniment for fish dishes. Fennel leaves have a distinctive aniseed taste whilst the texture is similar to that of celery. Fennel prefers to be positioned in a hot, dry place that is well drained however it will grow in an array of conditions; ensure that when choosing your site you take into account the height of the plant and that it will be returning every year.
Oregano / Wild Marjoram
This hardy, herbaceous perennial will enhance not only your garden with its small, pale pink flowers but also your cooking as the aromatic leaves are perfect for putting on pizzas and adding to sauces. Plant in full sun in well drained, light or sandy soil for maximum growth.
Thyme
This hardy, evergreen subshrub is perfect for using as border edging and to plant between paths and walkways due to it being low growing and displaying pale lilac flowers in summer. The tiny, aromatic leaves can be used in sauces, soups, stuffing and meat dishes. Being native to the Mediterranean this plant will thrive in a site that is light, well drained and in full sun. The ability to grow well in containers makes this an excellent addition to any kitchen garden.
Basil
This half-hardy annual has very aromatic leaves that are perfect for adding to sauces, pasta dishes, salads and goes exceptionally well with tomatoes. Basil thrives in warm areas and must be protected or moved in cold areas; a pot on a sunny windowsill will be more than enough protection. Plant or sow in a site that has light, well dug and well drained soil and when it is time to harvest simply take what you need from the top, use immediately, dry or preserve in oil.
Chervil
This hardy annual is a welcome addition to dishes such as meat, fish and poultry and for use in sauces and salads. Plant or sow in soil that is well drained; the site will depend on if you are growing summer or winter chervil. The flowers of the plant must be removed before they open to prevent the plant from self seeding.
Mint
This hardy, herbaceous perennial can be an invasive plant if it is allowed to be but it is a welcome addition to many dishes such as drinks, salads and as an accompaniment to peas and potato meals. As long as the soil is not too heavy the plant should thrive but be aware that regular maintenance will be required to prevent the roots from sending out runners into the nearby soil thus allowing the plant to spread.
Dill
This hardy annual is the perfect herb for beginners and amateur gardeners alike as it is very easy to grow and maintain. Use the leaves in salads and sauces or add the seeds at the end of cooking to dishes for a stronger flavour; if the seeds are added too soon they can overpower a dish. Dill can be grown indoors and out in most soils and requires at least 6 hours of sun a day.
French tarragon
This half-hardy perennial has shiny, narrow leaves that are perfect for use in sauces, chicken dishes and adding depth to vinegar. It is most commonly found in Herbes de Provence mixes. Due to its tender nature it is not widely grown, however it is simple to maintain and a welcome addition to any kitchen garden. Use light, well drained soil and position the plant in a sunny spot ensuring it will be sheltered from frosts and wind. French tarragon will thrive in pots and containers thus removing the need for a suitable outdoor spot.
Borage
This hardy annual has both leaves and flowers that can be utilised in the kitchen. Most commonly seen as the leaves at the bottom of a glass of Pimm's borage leaves and flowers are a perfect accompaniment to salads, sauces, dips and as decorations in ice cubes and on cakes. Always harvest the leaves the flowers young as when the plants matures it starts to become prickly and therefore unpleasant.
Bay
This hardy, evergreen tree or shrub is the perfect plant to grow in a container and has leaves that will provide that much needed flavour to sauces, stocks, meat and fish dishes. Bay will grow in many soil conditions although you might like to provide it with a rich soil if you are growing it in a pot and simply position in a warm, sunny spot.
Chamomile
This hardy, evergreen perennial is a creeping plant that is perfect for growing as edging to paths and borders or between paving stones. Most commonly used in the making of chamomile tea it can also be used for pot pourri. Plant in a sunny position into well drained soil which has had plenty of organic matter added to it.

Popular varieties of common herbs..

Grow your own herbs - Parsley 'Lisette' Parsley 'Lisette'
Improved Green Pearl type, Parsley Lisette produces a vigorous rosette of longer stems and more pronounced finer curled dark green leaves, that stand well without yellowing or bolting. Parsley Lisette is ideal for pot growing on a windowsill or the patio. Height: 30-60cm (12-24in)
Sow April-August outdoors; August sowings will overwinter. Seeds can also be sown August-March under glass, or in pots indoors.
Grow your own herbs - Coriander 'Confetti' Coriander 'Confetti'
A unique Coriander producing 'carrot fern-like leaves' with that distinctive coriander taste but with increased sweetness. Coriander Confetti is quick maturing, producing plenty of leaf that can be used as a 'cut and come again' salad leaf, or when a fully mature plant. Easy and quick to grow, direct outdoors or in containers. Height: 15-60cm (6-24in).
Sow seeds March-September at 4 week intervals.
Grow your own herbs - Basil : Basilico Genovese Basil 'Basilico Genovese'
The most popular Basil, essential for authentic Italian cuisine with strong scent and flavour. Basil Basilico Genovese is easy growing herb for the windowsill or outdoors.
Sow seeds in early spring under glass or on the windowsill. Sow seed thinly, 6mm deep, in trays filled with good compost. When seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out into trays of compost at 5cm apart.
Grow your own herbs - Sage - Salvia officinalis Sage - Salvia officinalis
Ideal for rich foods plus traditional sage and onion stuffing with duck and goose. A useful gargle for sore throats. And don't forget that Sage also looks great in the perennial border.
Companion Plant: Reputed to ward off carrot fly planted next to carrots. With cabbage said to improve their flavour and digestibility and to repel Cabbage Moth and Cabbage White Butterfly.
Grow your own herbs - Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis
Its powerful fragrance goes well with lamb and chicken. Add Rosemary to tomato soup, stews and, finely chopped, to fresh cooked peas. Rosemary tea is said to help headaches, colic and colds.
Sow seeds from late winter to early summer in John Innes Seed Compost. Do not cover the seed with compost. Make sure that the compost is moist but not wet and seal in a polythene bag until after germination.
Grow your own herbs - Oregano - Origanum vulgare (Wild Marjoram) Oregano
A hardy perennial herb, Oregano has sweet smelling, aromatic foliage which can be used fresh or dry for flavouring moussaka, stews, sausages, omelets, stuffings, pizzas and all Italian dishes. Try it sprinkling Oregano on lamb or pork before cooking.
The flowers produced in summer and autumn can also be used for flavouring after they have been gently dried. Flowers summer. Height 30-45cm (12-18in).
Grow your own herbs - Thyme : Old English - Thymus vulgaris Thyme 'Old English' - Thymus vulgaris
An old favourite for stews stuffings etc., mixed herbs and bouquet garni. Old English Thyme stimulates the appetite and helps the digestion of fatty foods. Helps repel cabbage root fly. 
Companion Plant: Grow Old English Thyme close to cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts as it is a great deterrent of cabbage root-fly or cabbage worm.
Grow your own herbs - Chervil - Anthriscus cerefolium Chervil - Anthriscus cerefolium
One of the most deliciously flavoured of culinary herbs, widely used on the Continent, Chervil is one of the few winter hardy herbs for all-year-round fresh use. It has a rich savoury taste of its own often said to resemble that of caraway, which blends well with fish and meat.
The leaves can be chopped and used in salads, stews, herb butter, dressings, etc., or used as a garnish in the same way as parsley.
Grow your own herbs - Mint - Mentha piperita Mint - Mentha piperita
Very versatile, for tangy mint sauce or garnish on new potatoes or peas. Cooking: The ideal accompaniment to roast lamb -for an unusual but delicious sauce mix with honey and lemon juice. Add to boiled new potatoes, peas, make mint jelly or garnish summer drinks. 
Companion Plant: Mint has a piquant aroma and as such is disliked by much of the insect world.
Grow your own herbs - Russian Tarragon - Artemisia dracunculus 'Russian' Russian Tarragon - Artemisia dracunculus 'Russian'
Similar to French tarragon, but producing a more vigorous plant. Russian Tarragon produces branching stems of lance-shaped, aromatic foliage can be used for tarragon vinegars, in white sauces and salad dressings, and with chicken, fish and egg dishes.
 Sow seeds April to May.
Grow your own herbs - Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)
Sorrel leaves are used extensively in French cuisine, in fish, soups and sauces, also picked young will add a tart flavour to a mixed leaf salad. Sorrel leaves are best harvested regularly whilst small as bitterness increases with larger, older leaves. 
Sow seeds March to May, fortnightly for 'salad leaves'.
Grow your own herbs - Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare (Common Fennel) Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare (Common Fennel)
Fennel is delicious, with a sweet and delicate aniseed flavour. Use in salads and with fish to counteract oiliness. Beauty: An infusion of Fennel used as a compress is excellent for softening rough chapped hands. Pour hot water over the leaves and stems for a cleansing facial steam bath. 
Nature's Remedy: Reputed use for many ailments, particularly regularising painful and abnormal menstrual periods.
Grow your own herbs - Dill - Anethum graveolens Dill - Anethum graveolens
Has a flavour all its own in both leaves and seeds. Dill is excellent in sauces, salads, soups etc. Dill leaves can replace parsley, tarragon and mint in sauces. 
Sow seeds from spring to summer at monthly intervals for a regular supply of fresh leaves, 1cm (½in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart in ordinary garden soil which has been raked to a fine tilth.
Thin out the seedlings to 23-30cm (9-12in) apart.
Grow your own herbs - Chives - Allium schoenoprasum Chives - Allium schoenoprasum
Savoury garnish adding zest to any salad. Try chive butter or frozen chive cubes. Companion Plant: Grow chives close to carrots as it is said to improve their growth and deter carrot fly and next to roses to help control black spot. 
Also makes excellent organic insecticide.
Grow your own herbs - Borage Borage - Borago officinalis
Borage Summer Skies is a blend of the usual intense blue and the more unusual white forms of this cottage garden favourite. The young leaves can be used in salads, and the star-like blue flowers can be added to drinks or salads. 
Borage flowers frozen in ice cubes are perfect to perk up your Pimms!
Grow your own herbs - Lovage - Levisticum officinale Lovage - Levisticum officinale
Lovage from Duchy Originals is a hardy perennial bushy herb. Height to 2 metres. Sow seeds March to May, thinly in a well prepared seedbed in full sun or partial shade. 
Sow seeds 13mm deep in drills 30cm apart. Transplant seedlings to 45cm apart. Keep watered.

 

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