Starting with herbs

Herbs are the powerhouses of the garden, kitchen and medicine cabinet. But they have so many other roles too, Jean Vernon explains.

parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage and chives

There are so many convincing reasons to grow herbs. If you enjoy your food the chances are you’ve bought a few potted herbs from the supermarket to add flavour to your meals. STOP right there. You can grow many pots of your favourite herbs from one or two packets of seed for a fraction of the price.

Herbs are the bridge between houseplants and the garden, because you can grow them on a kitchen windowsill like a houseplant or in pots outside. This makes them the perfect way to get houseplant parents into gardening. Plus they are plants that have many roles. Not only do they taste amazing, many of them have powerful medicinal uses too and if you allow them to flower, herbs are incredibly important nectar resources for garden pollinators.

What herbs to grow?

Think about the herbs you want to use in your recipes, the ones you would normally buy and have a go with them. Many of them can be grown from seed and it’s a really cost effective way to get lots of plants. Some are annuals, which means they only last for one year, but they are still very worth growing. One of my favourite herbs is basil. And I grow many pots of basil from just one or two packets, enough to keep me supplied with fresh, amazing pesto all season. The secret with basil is not to sow it in cooler weather. It loves it warm and hot. So don’t sow the seeds until late May/June and always water sparingly in the morning. Basil plants don’t like to be wet overnight. Most herbs have a few requirements or growing needs that once you’ve grasped them, will help you be successful. Other easy and powerful annual herbs that will transform your summer include coriander and parsley. Grow lots and share with like-minded friends.

homemade basil pesto
Grow basil and keep yourself supplied with fresh pesto all season. Image: Adobe Stock

The annual herbs will grow and can be harvested the same year, but there are also some perennial herbs you can grow from seed, like chives and lovage, fennel and marjoram.

Shrubby herbs

Some herbs grow into larger established plants that are better suited to garden growing especially after a year or two. These include things like rosemary, sage and bay. And while you can grow some of these from seed, it is far quicker and probably easier to take cuttings from established shrubs.

Rosemary is one of my absolute favourite herbs and I have several varieties growing in large terracotta pots in the garden. They are fully hardy but they don’t like the winter wet, so I do try and shelter them in a cold greenhouse over the winter months. Rosemary is a great herb for cooking and will add its fragrant flavour and aroma to roast vegetables, especially potatoes and all sorts of recipes. If you grow an upright variety you can even use the straight stems as skewers on the barbecue. Each year I take several cuttings from the plants and grow them on for friends and to ensure that my plants survive from one year to the next.

Rosemary growing in large pot in garden
Rosemary is easy to grow in pots in the garden. Image: Adobe Stock

Let them flower

We all grow herbs because we love their flavour, their smell or because we use a lot of them. Usually we want their leaves, but it’s important to understand that most herbs flower too. Leave a few stems to flower outside so that your precious garden pollinators can feed. Some research shows that bumblebees self-medicate on healing nectar from thyme flowers when they have a fungal infection. Our garden herbs may have other hidden uses, so grow more, grow many and grow the ones you love.

Bee feeding on nectar from thyme flowers.
Bee on thyme flowers. Image: Adobe Stock

Mint me

If you are really nervous about growing herbs start with one that is really easy and so very very useful. Mint. You’ll be amazed at how many different varieties there are of this fantastic plant. Every flavour from peppermint to spearmint, grapefruit and chocolate and even basil and lavender. Mint is easy to grow from cuttings packed full of flavour and an easy way to get started with herbs.

Mint and tarragon growing in terracotta pots
Mint is a really easy herb for a beginner (seen here with tarragon). Image: Adobe Stock
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