Plant to the plate
Get herbs in pots or the soil now to boost your summer meals
FRESH herbs taken directly from your garden can be used to liven up your cooking – and you can reap the benefits all summer.
Now is a great time of the year to plant herbs so you make the most of them.
Typically the herbs you buy in supermarkets in pots don’t last long so it makes economic sense to grow your own. And even if you’re not a cook you can enjoy their delicious scent when crushed between the fingers, plus many are attractive additions to the garden from a visual point of view.
Herbs can be grown in anything from small pots on the windowsill up to a larger, more permanent herb bed in the garden, or scattered among other plants. Some herbs will survive all year long outside, while others will be finished by the end of summer.
Before planting think about the effect you would like to achieve
and the most suitable method for your needs.
You can also use herbs as an alternative to your usual window box or hanging basket plants. If you have more room, design an area especially for herbs which will look good throughout the year. Set out the backbone of the scheme with evergreen plants such as bay, rosemary, lavender or sage, and infill with perennial and biennial plants such as basil, parsley, fennel or chives. Always ensure you plant mint in a pot or confined area as it is very invasive. Herbs prefer to be planted in full sun but will grow in semi shady positions, in moist but well-drained soil.
Mint is the exception to the rule – it likes life wet and shady.
When preparing the beds or window boxes use John Innes number 2 or similar compost, and include water-retaining gel to help keep window boxes and hanging baskets damp.
Here’s my pick of the top herbs...
Chives: I prefer flat-leaved chives as they combine the flavour of onions and garlic (without the side effects). It is a hardy plant with very attractive seed heads. It can be grown from seed, from small plants or by division. Plants should be grown 15–20cm apart.
Basil: A must for lovers of Italian cooking. It can be sown indoors or in the greenhouse six weeks before the last frost, or directly in the garden (about 1cm deep) after the last frost when the ground is warm.
Parsley: One of the most-used herbs in cooking, this can be added to almost all dishes and used as garnish. Grown from seed it can be slow to germinate, so plants are the preferred method, spaced 15–20cm apart.
Fennel: A beautifully decorative plant in the garden with feathery aniseed-flavoured leaves and yellow flat flowerheads which insects love. Has self-seeded around my garden and I love it.
Mint: A wonderful but very invasive plant, so it should be planted in a container or in a very confined area. Grow from plants which should be set out 15–20cm apart and will quickly fill the area.
Thyme: You need full sunshine and well-drained soil for this pretty little herb. It looks lovely growing between cracks in paving or even as a thyme lawn. It’s tricky from seed so I’d recommend purchasing small plants. Tarragon: This herb is tender and best grown from plants or by division – so if you have a friend with an established plant ask them to share. Plant one in a pot, or up to 50–72cm apart in the garden to give them space to spread.
Rosemary: Evergreen and with lovely blue flowers at the moment. It’s slow to grow from seed but cuttings work well. Cultivate small plants 50–75cm apart in the ground, or they are ideal for deep containers.
Sage: Best grown from plants set out 50–75cm apart to allow room to spread. The plants need to be cut back to the wood each year to ensure they do not become too woody.