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Hot herbs for summer

Jean Vernon’s guide to five perfect herbs to grow this summer.

Lemon verbena

Summer without herbs is like a glass without the wine. One without the other is unthinkable. But there are some herbs that are summer personified and a must have for every garden.

Scentsational Lemon Verbena

If I had to choose just one herb for summer, well I couldn’t, but Lemon verbena (main image) would be in my top three. The smell is evocative of summer. It’s totally divine. Just one crushed leaf takes me to the Mediterranean and the hot, dry summer sun. I have a precious pot of organic Lemon verbena in my greenhouse. It overwintered there in its old terracotta pot which holds the heat of the summer and keeps the roots and plant hot and dry. It does flower, but of course is mostly grown for its leaves. I make Lemon verbena cordial to add to a summer G&T.

Fragrantastic Basil

When it comes to growing herbs from seed, Basil is top of the crops. But it’s a cranky plant that needs the summer heat and hates wet feet at night. A packet of basil seed sown gradually over the month of June will soon have you harvesting armfuls of flavour filled, fragrant leaves. It’s very easy to grow from seed once the weather is warm enough. The secret is to sow the seeds thinly into quality compost and cover the seeds with a little extra compost. Then be patient. Warm compost that has been allowed to acclimitise and not over wet will encourage the seeds to germinate. Water Basil in the morning and don’t leave plants or seedlings waterlogged or standing in water. If you aren’t confident growing from seed then buy a pot from the supermarket and repot into a bigger flowerpot as described here.

Healthy leaves of Basil ‘Genovese’ are full of flavour and make fantastic pesto Image: Martin Mulchinock

Magical marjoram

There are so many reasons I love marjoram. It’s hardy, it’s perennial, it’s tasty and it has pretty pinky, mauve and white flowers. But it’s also very very rich in nectar so it’s a very powerful plant for pollinators. Its fragrant leaves are perfect in sauces, pasta meals, on pizzas and torn into salads. It also self seeds so it freely spreads itself around the garden. You can grow it in patio pots or plant it in the border. I honestly can’t think of one reason not to grow it.

Bombus Lucorum Worker bee on Marjoram
Marjoram is a very powerful plant for pollinators. Image: Jean Vernon

Borage buffet

Borage is a strange herb, because it doesn’t have strong flavour. The leaves are a bit cucumbery, the flowers are bright blue, or sometimes white. It’s the perfect way to pep up a summer drink with borage flower ice cubes, or add the little flowers to the salads and summer menus. But there’s another reason to grow it. It is a very powerful plant for pollinators, replenishing its nectaries every 20 minutes or so in summer, provided you keep it well watered. This makes it an all day pollinator buffet, much like your bottomless coffee cup. It’s easy to grow from seed, self-seeds around the garden and is a great summer herb to add to salads as young leaves.

Leaf cutter bee on borage
Borage provides an ‘all day buffet’ for pollinators. Image: Jean Vernon

Lovable Lovage

I don’t know many people who grow lovage and that’s a surprise. It’s a fabulous plant, with celery flavoured leaves and fabulous umbels of flowers that attract a variety of fascinating pollinators. I have a huge clump in the herb garden and its early leaves are a vital addition to spring salads, their flavoursome leaves add depth, texture and fresh leaves to the salad bowl. Let some of it flower in late summer. In hot weather you can almost smell the seeds toasting atop the strong stems. It’s an important plant for hoverflies and wasps and adds a sculptural effect to the herb garden.

The celery flavoured leaves of lovage make a great addition to salads.

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