Herbs are fun and easy to grow, easily propagated, and one of the few groups of plants in the garden that give you almost instant gratification, writes TINO CARNEVALE
On how to successfully and easily grow your pick of flavoursome herbs
I’m with the cooks: a herb is any plant whose leaves, flowers, stems, roots or seed are used for flavouring
There are a few definitions of produce that if you ask a cook and a gardener you may get differing responses. What constitutes Fruit and what falls under Vegetable? How many things with berry in the name are actually berries and what is a herb?
Botanically a herb — short for herbaceous — is any flowering plant that doesn’t form a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering. I’m sure you see the problem: it cuts out all of those fabulously familiar flavours that we all love to grow and eat and make cups of tea from. So, in this instance I am with the cooks: common use says a herb is any plant whose leaves, flowers, stems, roots or seed are used for flavouring.
When in the garden I like to group my herbs into their site and soil needs. It not only ensures I put them in the right spots but it means I can use them to partner up with my vegetable crops as good companions to entice beneficial bugs and ward off the problem ones, kind of like a bouncer for my vegies.
There are the ones that like it hot and relatively dry with a soil on the sweeter side. These are mostly the Mediterranean herbs like Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Tarragon and Oregano. When it comes to these guys all I really do is harvest and deadhead them. A bit of water during the dry months will keep them strong and vigorous but the only food I give them is a touch of lime in the autumn.
Then there are those that prefer a damper, shadier aspect with a slightly acidic soil such as lemon balm, the mints, cress, and coriander. The first two of these are good in pots and in the case of mint, unless you like it taking over your beds that’s where it should stay.
Many people have a problem with
coriander bolting to flower and that is because it doesn’t like scorching heat. The consolation prize is that the flowers and seeds are plentiful and delicious.
Then there are those that enjoy it damp but love full sun and a soil that drains freely, herbs like Basil and FlatLeaved Parsley. This is probably the most demanding group as they need regular water and I feed mine with fish juice at least once a month over the season.
For all these plants as you see flowers appear near the end of the season, pick them off and the plant will put on a last flush of growth but if you do choose to leave them on and you will be guaranteed viable seed for the next season.
For the annual herbs I plant from seed as it’s cheaper and in the case of plants such as parsley, it prefers not to be transplanted once it has set down roots like it’s cousin the carrot. If it stresses it will bolt to seed. Basil is one exception, I will raise or buy seedlings to plant out as it doesn’t seem to do as well when sown direct.
If you are interested in growing your own food for the first time or keen to introduce a friend to the joys of gardening for food, then herbs are a great place to
start. They are easy and fun to grow, easily propagated and therefore cheap and they are one of the few groups of plants in the garden that give you almost instant gratification.
Basically you get a lot of output for very little input and as we all know, a pinch of the right herb can transform a bland meal into the sublime.