Interest in growing herbs has increased sharply over the last few years, many are used in cooking and others have valuable medicinal qualities. Nathan James Dodd gives you advice on what herbs to choose and how to grow them.
Herbs have many uses, culinary and medicinal are the most popular but they are also very attractive plants and an important ingredient of cottage style gardens.
Most herbs are simple to grow in a variety of locations. They will attract pollinating insects, can act as ground cover and will add scent and colour to a garden.
If you have only recently started to grow herbs there's nothing easier that to use small pots on the kitchen windowsill. Here basil can be on hand to enhance your Italian meals and coriander ready to add to curries.
An informal herb garden can be very decorative. It needn't be large, a plot just one metre square near your kitchen door can be planted with many types of herb.
Herb wheels are a traditional formal method of raising herbs with different sections preventing invasive species from taking over the whole plot.
Alternatively, various containers, hanging baskets and pots can be employed on your patio or back yard, Timber planters are really useful especially raised ones as you don't have to bend down too far to pick the herbs.
Annuals can go among bedding plants, perennials are at home in the herbaceous border, whilst shrubby herbs can be planted in mixed borders. Some of the sprawling kinds can even be introduced into cracks and crevices around the patio or any paved area.
How To Grow Herbs
First of all make them easily accessible and, as many derive from the Mediterranean, choose a spot that gets plenty of sunshine.
The soil needs to be well drained and, very importantly, weed free. If you have heavy soil either use containers or add grit and organic matter to increase drainage.
Pots and containers are prone to drying out very quickly, particularly in the sun, so keep the compost moist. The herbs will also be dependent on liquid feeding once they have exhausted the fertiliser content from the compost.
In open ground, many herbs are tolerant of quite poor soil, a winter compost mulch can help the following year's fertility but watering is only necessary if we have a particularly dry summer.
Harvesting will help control some herbs but others, for example lavender, need to be pruned back at the end of the season. Self sowers such as mint should be thinned out regularly.
What Herbs To Choose
The herbs you choose will mostly depend on what they are going to be used for, but a little research will help you avoid some that may be inappropriate.
Look out for herbs such as fennel and lovage that need lots of space that you may not have. Others are tender, bay needs to be brought indoors over the winter and you may not have the frost free environment that is required.
I've selected a few, all commonly available, that are well worth growing.
Tarragon: Its aromatic leaves, particularly the French variety, can be used fresh or dry to flavour food
Chives: Chopped leaves can be used in a wide variety of dishes
Rosemary: Very decorative, attracts insects and a strongly aromatic cooking ingredient
Borage: Attractive blue flowers attract bees, can be used fresh or dried and medicinally for a variety of disorders
Chamomile: Can be used as a tea, for facial care, and in pot pourri. Good ground cover.
Marjoram: Lots of culinary uses, seasons sauces and dressings
Feverfew: Used widely to control migraines and arthritis
Lavender: Its sweet smelling flowers are a valued culinary ingredient and also used in aromatherapy