What amazing variety of plant can be easily grown by children, beginner gardeners and people with no garden at all, food lovers, chefs and commercial producers, providing year-round produce for culinary, medicinal and cosmetic use and make every patch of your garden look great?
The answer is Herbs!
I always say I have two gardens – one is my cultivated garden and the other is my wild patch near hedgerows designed by nature. And I always use herbs from both gardens for cooking, in pestos, salads, drinks and I also use them for medicine to make herbal teas, tinctures and oils. The diversity of herbs is what amazes me the most.
Now is a good time to start your herb garden, so turn the current restrictions because of the pandemic into an advantage, as you may have extra time available or you may want to be outside the house, or get your children involved.
Even without a garden, you can create a herb garden in pots and containers on the window sill, the balcony or at your front or back door.
Growing Herbs is Easy and Great Fun
Creating your own herb garden is an adventure and a wonderful pleasure. You can decide whether you want it formal or informal, totally culinary or medicinal. As herbs are basically ‘wild plants’ it makes sense to grow them in conditions comparable to their natural habitat. In general herbs like a neutral to alkaline soil. Most culinary herbs originate from the Mediterranean and like a dry sunny place and prefer free-draining soil with the exception of mint which likes damp ground and grows well in semi-shade.
Important tip: Place your herb plants as near to the kitchen as possible, otherwise you don’t use them.
How to grow?
Herbs can be grown from seed indoors in a seed tray using a good seed compost. You can also sow outdoors once the soil has warmed up in late spring. Buying herb transplants is an easier but more expensive start or you can try softwood cuttings in spring or summer to propagate Rosemary, Sage and Thyme.
Cut a shoot (10cm/3 inches long) from a non-flowering tip of the plant, remove the leaves from the bottom third of the cutting, fill a pot with compost and insert the cutting up to the leaves and water.
Label and date and place in a propagator or sheltered area and spray everyday with water in the beginning until you see signs of growth and when warm enough leave the pot outside.
Herbs to start with
Basic is good!
My suggestions for a basic culinary herb garden is:
Just pick a few leaves as and when required. It goes to seed quickly but then you can harvest the seeds when they start to turn brown and use freshly ground in curries etc.
Can be grown from seed but it is easier to divide clumps of already established plants. When we started gardening we got our first clump of chives from friends. Chives have a mild onion flavour.
Use sprinkled on soups, salads, in egg dishes or blend with sour cream, as a topping for baked potatoes or in my famous green sauce, a recipe from the area where I’m grown up.
It is always good to have a few chive plants, so you could let one plant produce flowers, which are excellent in salads. You can cut the plants back a couple of cm above the soil and will grow back again.
It is best cultivated in modules inside. Sow in cell trays and cover lightly with compost, and propagate at 15-18C. Once large enough transplant in small pots and later outside. Keep well watered.
Usually keeps producing until Easter the following year before it will run into a seed.
spearmint which is often used on roast lamb.
Peppermint is stronger and makes a good herbal tea.
Applemint is nice with desserts like chocolate mousse.
In the summertime, you can mix water with a few slices of lemon and add a few sprigs of mint – very refreshing.
Note: Mint can be very invasive and should be grown in a pot to avoid taking over the herb garden.
Lemon thyme is another lovely thyme which attracts bees and is good in fish and mushroom recipes.
Sow in spring into seed trays, barely cover the seed. Water sparingly and propagate at 15-20C. Later transplant into pots before strong enough to plant them out. For cooking remove the leaves from the woodier stems by running your fingers backwards down the stem.
Thyme as a tea is also good for the digestion.
Try it with meat dishes, particularly lamb and to flavour roast potatoes.
It’s also good for memory, sitting my exams as a herbalist I had sprigs behind my ears.
- Oregano or Marjoram.
Oregano is more aromatic and stronger than Marjoram and is traditionally used in pizzas and pasta dishes.
You can sow in pots or trays, barely cover the seed with compost and water sparingly. Propagate at 15-20C.
- Basil under cover or in a polytunnel.
The most common is Sweet Basil. Basil needs heat and protection. Sow in small pots, cover lightly and water. Propagate at 15-20C. As soon as the seedlings emerge place on a warm bright windowsill.Transplant into a bigger pot to increase the size of the clump. As soon as the plants are big enough, pluck the leaves as you need them. It is important to snip off the growing tips to encourage growth. Keep the plant moist but avoid water on the leaves it there is hot sun.
Can be made into Pesto or eaten fresh with homegrown tomatoes and homemade cheese!
balm, Dill and Sorrel. But that’s for another time.
And for beauty, I always grow some edible flowers as well.
They are easily grown from seed and can be either grown in a pot and planted
in the garden. I like Calendula, borage, nasturtiums, violas and pansies.
Last tips – Keep a garden diary to monitor your progress. You will have success and failure, but you always learn.
A good reference book is Jekka McVicars “New book of herbs".
One of my favourite pocketbooks is Collins “Herbs and Healing Plants”.
If you like this article, you will surely like Gaby’s favourite recipes that can be found at Neantóg Cook Book. It offers a selection of recipes of soups, salads, mains and sides that work well with them along with ideas for breakfast and drinks, baking and desserts. If you have food intolerances you will find recipes that are glutenfree, dairy-free, yeast-free and vegan.