Growing your own herbs is a really satisfying part of kitchen gardening. You have a ready source of herbs to add to your favourite recipes. You can have these herbs at your fingertips much of the year round and all without having to venture very far or forking out for expensive jars of herbs at the supermarket.
Some of the herbs you grow will need full sun to really bring out the intense flavour in the stems and leaves. These herbs, grown in a Mediterranean climate naturally, enjoy the intensity of full sun, but are not so fussy about soils and will grow happily in poor soils as well as rich soils. These herbs include rosemary, thyme and basil.
Not all herbs are Mediterranean in origin and enjoy a certain degree of shade for them to thrive. This is helpful if you have a north-facing site that doesn’t enjoy a lot of sun or lack space in the sunny parts of the garden that are reserved for your sun-loving ornamentals. Herbs that cope with a degree of shade include sage, miner’s lettuce, mint and artemesia.
Herbs are wide-ranging and each variety has its own growing requirements. However there are a number of properties that all herbs have in common and you can take on board when growing them. Here are some tips;
Keep your herb plant compact
Whether you are growing a shrubby rosemary or a herbaceous basil, you’ll get most from your plant by regularly harvesting and pruning to keep it compact, dense and foliage-rich.
With herbaceous plants such as basil and miner’s lettuce prune out the growing tips of the longer stems; this encourages more sideshoots and therefore denser plant growth.
With rosemary, a regular trim will promote the production of more young stems; again this will increase your harvest of fresh rosemary leaves and keep your plant rejuvenated.
Dry your herbs for winter
You can save herbs in the colder month by drying them after harvest. Just hang them in bunches in a dry cool room or garage. After the stems and leaves turn brittle you can crush them and store them in an airtight container.
Freeze your herbs for winter
As an alternative, chop freshly harvested herbs and add to ice-cube trays and bags and place in a freezer. When you need them in winter, simply add the herb-contained ice-cubes into your recipes.
Alternatively add to hot water for refreshing tisanes and herbal teas.
Keep your herbs close but separate
You can grow herbs in containers that have special planting pockets. Being in the same container they are conveniently close to each other for easy harvest. But each type of herb has its own root zone for optimum growth and the least competition. Use these for herbs that enjoy the same light conditions – sun-loving thyme and rosemary in one container and shade-tolerant mint and sage in another.
Avoid herbs going to seed
There are some herbs that you grow to encourage seed production such as caraway and borage. However, most common herbs you will want for the pungent and flavoursome leaves. In early spring try to keep them protected against cold snaps. Frost will blacken leaves. Cold spells encourage plants to go to seed, producing flower stems at the expense of leaves. Either bring herb containers indoors overnight until May or protect with a horticultural fleece.