Easy to grow Herbs
Most herbs are easy to grow and some are available all the year round ready to pick for the kitchen. Herbs can be planted in the border, or containers and many have the added bonus of being attractive to bees and butterflies. Herbs are so easy to grow and it's good to have them on hand ready for cooking.
Herbs are commonly grouped and planted together but are a very wide range of plants. It is because they are a diverse group of plants that planting herbs all in one spot as a herb garden is only a good idea in theory. The mediterranean type herbs are a good starting point being easy to grow and include some of the common herbs we like to cook with such Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, but they have different growing requirements to say, Chives and Parsley.
Growing Herbs Rosemary Thyme and Sage
These are grouped together because these herbs all have similar growing requirements and so can be planted in the same area. All are sun loving plants which like well drained or dry conditions and can be grown easily on average soil. These herbs are not fussy, provided the conditions are not wet. They do not need rich soil and are good in walls, rockeries and containers.
This mediterranean type herb grows best in a sheltered spot which means if your garden has cold winds it can chill the plant causing the needles to go brown and die back. In a sheltered spot Rosemary will do well and has lovely blue flowers in the late spring.
There is also creeping, horizontal form of Rosemary, ( Rosemarinus officinalis Prostratus Group) image left growing as a trailing wall, which is less hardy and always needs winter protection. This is not always made clear on the plant labels and it is disappointing to buy the plant and find it fails to survive the winter. If the Rosemary is upright it is the hardier form, if it is trailing it is likely to be the less hardy type and so bring into a greenhouse over winter where is will be just fine.
If your garden is wet and cold, Rosemary will grow well in a container which can be moved in the late autumn to a sheltered spot or greenhouse. Rosemary officinalis, the upright variety is fully hardy and will withstand frost down to -10, it is just wet or very cold winds which can damage the plant. The most popular forms are Rosmarinus officinalis, widely sold, and 'Miss Jessop's Upright' which is a large variety growing up to a meter. The only maintenance Rosemary requires is a light annual trim after flowering to keep the plant in shape. As a mature shrub Rosemary will grow to 1.5m
In contrast Thyme is a low growing plant, only a few centimetres high. Thymus are also evergreen perennials and love a sunny well drained spot in the garden. There are many different types of Thymes, most but not all suitable for cooking, including T. citriodorus common name lemon scented Thyme which is fully hardy and good varieties are ' Archers Gold' and 'Golden King' with lovely gold variegated leaves and 'Silver Posie and Silver Queen' with cream variegated leaves; T.doerfleri 'Bressingham' prostrate mat forming with purple pink flowers in the summer; T. 'Doone Valley' another fully hardy mat forming Thyme with lavender pink flowers. Thymes are attractive to bees and butterflies and will happily grow in poor soils, as a low growing plant Thyme looks good alongside paths in gravel and make an attractive edging to a path. Thymes can get leggy and benefit from cutting back after flowering.
Sage falls into the same group of easy to grow sun loving herbs. Sage is more of a shrubby plant and like Rosemary it is a hardy, but as a Mediterranean herb it needs a spot which is on the dry side and sheltered. A very bad winter can damage the plant especially if it is wet. It is easy to grow in containers. Sage requires no maintenance and will look after itself in the right spot.
Growing Marjoram and Oregano
Another mediterranean herb which I only grow because the bees love it . In summer the herb will hum with activity. Growing conditions for Marjoram and Oregano are the same and essentially a dry spot with sun although Oregano is much tougher and will grow in most places, in fact the main draw back is that it is a prolific self seed and tends to pop up everywhere. It is vigorous, and you do need to check it, but the bees and pollinators cannot get enough in the summer. It's not a great herb for cooking with but as the image shows it does look great alongside Rosemary and keeps the bees happy and busy in the garden. Oregano is best cut back each spring and new growth will form.
It can get quite large and is receptive to the Chelsea chop in May to make it more compact.
To grow from seed just sprinkle 2/3 seeds into a small pot and create a mini propagator by covering with a poly bag and securing with an elastic band. I also often place a small pea stick or twig in the pot to hold the poly bag away from the plant. Fill the pot with good quality compost, misted with a water spray and sprinkle on the seed covering very lightly with compost. Cover with the bag and seal and it will germinate easily within a few days if placed somewhere warm, such as a window sill or greenhouse. As soon as the seedlings appear, take off the boly bag and grow on ensuring the plant does not dry out. Once it has reached a decent size and has good roots, which will take a few weeks, pot on into a large pot and it is ready to provide you with pickings all summer long. I cook with a lot of basil and make several sowings during late spring and early summer.
Just as easy to germinate and grow, and requiring very similar conditions, is Thai Basil which is fabulous for curries and Thai dishes. It has a slightly aniseed flavour to the leaves and seeds can be purchased in most garden centres.
Every cook needs Parsley and the usual varieties are P.crispum which is the traditional curly leaved Parsley, and var.neapolitanum which is the French and Italian flat leaves varieties. Both will grow in sun or partial shade and are best considered an annual as the leaves are less good the second year. In cold areas, although *** hardy Parsley does best with some frost protection.
Parsley can be tricky to germinate, often slow and sometimes not all will germinate. EU regulations of seeds are such that there are minimum requirements for seed viability, which varies, but can be as low as 65% so not all of the seed will necessarily germinate. Parsley seeds need warmth, good rich soil and to be kept damp. Early in the year the soil is too cold for Parsley to germinate easily and I would recommend sowing in the greenhouse or inside. The key to growing from seed is to ensure plenty of warmth, moisture, and allow several days or weeks to germinate without the seed drying out.
Chive flower heads are attractive to bees and are long lasting. Chives are perennial and die back over the winter months and start growing again very early spring. If looking a bit tatty by mid summer Chives can be cut back and will produce new fresh green growth. The flowers are also edible and have become popular with the cooking trend of adding various flowers to salad dishes.
Allium tuberosum is the Garlic flavoured chive, which has very similar growing requirements with white flowers. Both types of Chives will grow easily in full sun, or partial shade with no special soil requirements other than not to be waterlogged. Chives like so many herbs are easy to grow with little or no maintenance required.
Tarragon is a great herb to grow not always readily available in the supermarket and has a lovely aniseed flavour. There are two types, French, which has the stronger flavour and Russian which is hardier. The French Tarragon will survive if overwintered in a greenhouse or outside if your garden is sheltered. Tarragon, latin name Artemisia dracunculus, is part of the Artemisia genus which all have aromatic foliage often grey or silver leaves which make attractive border plants. Tarragon thrives in full sun in well drained soil. Tarragon is classified as *** hardy though it thrives best in warmer spots and to be overwintered out of the frost and chill winds. French Tarragon does not set seed very often so is usually grown from small plants Russian Tarragon can be raised from seed. French Tarragon can be propagated from cuttings and grown all the year round if kept under glass.