How to create a herb garden
10 of the best garden herbs
Where to plant your herbs
Container, border or window box? Or why not all three? The beauty of herbs is that they look as good as they taste so wherever you plant them – in a formal herb garden, flanking your pathway, in pot plants, in a window box or scattered among your ornamentals – they work brilliantly.
Says garden designer Jilly Welch, “Weaving herbs in between your veg will not only create a prettier, more aromatic display but also boosts your crop. 'Companion planting' taps into nature's own holistic balancing act. Pop some rosemary next to your cabbage, beans or carrots to deter bean-munching beetles. Plant basil among tomatoes, peppers and asparagus to boost their flavour and encourage growth.”
A coupborder scheme.) Also, lovage and angelica can grow to a statuesque 6ft so plant these at the back of a border where they’ll frame your garden to best effect.
Sun or shade?
Full tilt sun, contrary to popular wisdom, doesn’t suit all herbs. Even the mighty basil likes to take a break from the midday sun. So when planning your herbal offering bear in mind where the sun and shade falls.
Herbs that can tolerate full sun are thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary and French tarragon. Herbs that like partial shade include rocket, sorrel, mizuna, mustard, parsley, coriander, comfrey and lemon balm.
Growing from seed
Cultivating from seed is the more time-consuming method but all the more rewarding, not to mention cost-effective. Plant seeds in trays or small pots and position on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. Once the threat of frost has passed (god willing by May!) the seedlings can be transferred outside. Chives, rocket, coriander and parsley grow particularly well from seed.
Growing from plants
If you’re pushed for time, nursery-bought herb plants are the way forward. Don’t be tempted to plant herbs from a supermarket as they’re cultivated for instant use and won’t last. Rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon and bay grow well from plants.
Planting your herb garden
Few herbs are grown in peat so always use a (preferably organic) soil-based compost like John Innes which will retain water better and stop your containers or window boxes drying out.
Watering and feeding
Maintaining the right level of moisture is critical when growing herbs. From March to September they’ll need a weekly feed with slow-release fertiliser granules or liquid feed in the watering can. They’ll also thank you for watering in the morning rather than at night so they don’t get parched in the midday sun.
Pruning and maintaining herbs
Bay trees are best shaped in spring. Thyme, lavender, sage and rosemary benefit from regular light pruning in autumn to keep their shape and prevent them becoming too woody. Angelica and fennel both look gorgeous in winter when covered with a pretty sprinkling of frost. Don’t allow basil to flower if you’re using it for cooking.
Take cuttings of herbs in the spring before stems become too woody. Snip off a side shoot, remove most of the leaves and plant in quality compost in your greenhouse or on a warm windowsill.
Herbal remedies and teas
Few things are as delicious or as satisfying as a herbal tea fresh from the garden. When making herbal teas or ‘tisanes’ use water that’s cooled to below boiling and cover while infusing to retain the essential oils.
Peppermint leaf tea is excellent after a meal as it improves digestion. Lemon verbena is delicious drunk hot before bedtime or as a refreshing cool drink on a summer’s day. Chamomile is also perfect before bedtime to aid sleep and if you suffer from griping tummy pains dill seed is your friend.
Drying and freezing herbs
The quickest way to dry herbs is to lay them on kitchen paper, microwave on low for 3 minutes, dry the leaves then store in an airtight container. Freezing herbs is equally easy; just place them in ice cube trays topped up with water. Once defrosted they don’t look quite so pretty but are perfect for cooking.
Inspire me… which are the best herb gardens to visit?
Highly recommended are Chelsea Physic Garden, The Herb Society’s National Herb Garden in Oxon and for gourmands the hotel kitchen garden of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxford.