How to plant and maintain a herb garden from scratch

Many of us have limited outside space, but even if you only have a window box you can plant and enjoy a little herb garden. Fresh herbs add a new dimension to recipes – you can chop basil onto fresh pasta, stud roast chicken with rosemary or add a little mint to your gin and tonic. Here’s what to do.

Growing herbs in pots

If you don’t have access to a garden, then you can grow some herbs indoors on a sunny windowsill or outdoors in pots on a balcony. All you need is pots, compost and …erm…some herb plants! Anyone can have a go at planting your own herbs and it’s a fun and rewarding activity to do with children.

Terracotta pots look good, but they do dry out quickly once the sun gets on them so you’ll need to keep plants well watered. If pots are outside, then there’s a danger plants could get waterlogged – to avoid this, put some pieces of broken pot in the bottom before adding the compost. Water them regularly, enough to keep the plants moist but not waterlogged.

Herbs can be prone to ‘bolting’ (going straggly) which spoils the neat shape of the plant. If you’re regularly taking clippings for cooking with, make sure you take them equally around the plant. If a plant is growing faster than you can use it, you may need to give it a quick trim with the secateurs!¬†Easy plants for beginners include rosemary, chives, basil, thyme and parsley.

Rosemary grows into an attractive plant with small blue flowers.

Growing herbs outside

Chives are hardy and easy to grow.

If you have space, then you can create a herb garden outdoors. It’s best to have it somewhere near the house, otherwise you’ll be running around the garden when you want herbs for cooking with! Dig the bed over and remove any weeds then dig in some compost.

‘Woody’ herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme will happily winter outside and grow into quite large bushes, so plant those towards the back of the bed. Chives and marjoram should grow all year round, as well. More delicate herbs such as basil and coriander won’t survive an English winter and will have to be planted freshly each year. Keep the soil moist, and keep plants trimmed as above to prevent them getting straggly.

Storing and preserving herbs

One of the nice things about growing your own herbs is that sometimes you’ll have more than you can handle! You can preserve any overflow for the future. Rosemary, thyme and sage all dry well. Pick sprigs of the herb and wash them. Remove any damaged leaves and insects, then tie the herbs together in bunches by the stalks. Hang them in a warm place (somewhere sunny, over an AGA or in the airing cupboard all work well) until completely dry, then strip the leaves off the stalks and put them in an airtight jar to preserve them.

For more delicate herbs such as chives, you can pick and wash them, cut them into little pieces and put them in sections of an ice cube tray. Top up with water and freeze, then just add to your cooking as you need to.

Where to buy herbs

Sage is hardy and dries well for storage.

Supermarkets generally have a few herbs in pots for sale. Make sure the plants look healthy before you buy them, as they’re not always brilliantly looked after! For a better selection, you could try DIY stores if you’re combining it with other purchases. Otherwise, lots of garden centres and nurseries are offering local delivery at the moment so you could try contacting your usual outlet.

If you prefer to shop without contact, several suppliers are offering online plants. Check delivery times before you buy and make sure it’s going to fit in with your timetable. Available sources of online plants include:

Norfolk Herbs – they currently have a good selection including some more unusual ones

Pepperpot Herb Plants – currently have plenty of 9cm pots ready to go

Jacksons Nurseries – currently running a daily limit on orders so you might have to try over a couple of days. They’re offering local delivery near their Stoke-on-Trent postcode.

Good luck, and happy growing!

All images: (c) 2020 Pixabay

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