Herbs are one of the most satisfying plants to grow. Generally they are pretty easy to grow. Many garden herbs have specific uses in terms of herbal teas and winter menus and these are the best ones to start with. That’s because herbal medicine is a fine art and requires a qualified herbalist to prescribe and administer these powerful plant extracts. But also because culinary herbs are power plants that we should all have in our lives. I grew up with the children’s television series The Herbs. I was absolutely entranced by the characters, the stories and the plants that graced the screen and wove their way into my heart.
The great thing about herbs is that many of them grow very happily in pots. That makes them suitable for small spaces, balconies and even the kitchen windowsill. Indoors and out there are plenty of herbs that you can plant and grow now and enjoy over the winter months. But even better, a fresh leaf or two can make a herbal tea, transform a sandwich or jazz up your roast potatoes and much, much more.
If you don’t have a garden or are looking for an appropriate present for a millennial living in a flat or bedsit, then a pot or two of herbs are a great choice. They can be as simple or elaborate as you choose. The pots can be china, terracotta or anything that fits your décor. The herbs can be simple pots of living herbs from the supermarket or splash out on some organic plants from an independent herb nursery. If you are growing indoors then choose herbs that are annual but still early in their growing season, or grow a few less hardy delights that will fare better in the warmth of your kitchen or home. One of my favourite herbs is the curry plant Bergera koenigii (syn Murraya koenigii) also known as curry tree or curry leaf. I add it to basmati rice and curry dishes and it is simply delicious. Definitely one for more experienced growers, but a real treat for a cook or a curry fan. But a pot of basil or even an unusual mint is also a great choice. You can keep them growing and harvest the leaves as needed. Remember that basil is an annual and won’t really overwinter, so pick it and use it while it is growing.
Herbs in small pots
If you have a small area outside you can grow a whole range of great herbs in small to medium pots. I like to plant one type of herb into each pot. That way you can move them around into a display that pleases you and move them indoors from time to time to force a few new stems for cooking. You can move the pots in to a more protected area for the winter. Great plants for smaller pots include chives, marjoram, mints, and thyme. Most of these will die back for the winter and regrow in the spring. But you can force pieces and cuttings in smaller pots by moving them into the warmth of the kitchen for a few weeks. Use the fresh shoots. Keep them growing.
It’s the shrubby herbs that really come into their own over the winter months because these plants hold their leaves through the colder months and can be harvested and used in your cooking. Plants like sage, thyme, rosemary and even bay can all be harvested and used in your winter menus. These herbs need larger pots and planters to thrive. Bay can grow into a huge tree, but also needs a bit of winter protection to thrive. Rosemary grows well in a terracotta planter that will hold the warmth of the sun. It doesn’t like being waterlogged or over wet. I take my pots of rosemary into a cold greenhouse for the winter and water them sparingly. It means I can still pick leaves and stems from the plants and use them, but ensures that the plants don’t get too wet or cold over the winter months. Then I bring them back into the garden in March or April, so that the pollinators can take advantage of their flowers for nectar.