Great Kitchen Herb Garden Ideas for Growing Herbs
The use of herbs seems to have become surrounded by an aura of mystery, or worse still, misplaced sophistication. Yet once every good garden, including little plots, had its herb patch or kitchen herb garden — until recently almost a rarity, but now returning to favour.
These aromatic, attractive, useful and quite often health-giving plants deserve their rightful place in every garden. Whatyou grow will depend upon your tastes in food and cooking, even if you do not use all of them you will find many which are worth growing for their scent and character.
Well-planned, a herb plot can be as pretty as a picture, not so flamboyant as a herbaceous border, but with a charm of its own. Almost all herbs have, and many are evergreen. You can either set aside a definite patch (perhaps where the evening light from the open kitchen door falls on them, so you will have them at hand when the unexpected guest stays to a meal), or use grouped herbs as a border along the path. In a small garden you can grow them in a mixed or shrub border with cushiony, bushy plants like thyme in the foreground. Some, like rosemary, fennel (that handsome feathery plant in green or bronze with green-yellow umbells that look so good with blue delphiniums or autumn flowers), borage (as blue and hazy as a summer day), sage, coriander, marjoram, may be planted in the mixed border to save room and provide interest, while the gardener with a collector’s instinct can create a patch full of character, pungency and subtle colour. Most herb flowers are green, lavender or pink. Nearly all provide winter decoration in the garden.
If, on a country walk, you have found wild herbs, such as purple thyme growing, you will know that these plants like a hot sun-baked situation. This applies to most garden herbs too. They like light, well drainedthat’s not very rich. Heavy soil affects their pungency! Exceptions are the mints or mentha, including peppermint and penny royal, which seem to do almost anywhere, and angelica, which likes moist shade. Parsley and chervil like moist, fertile soil.
Like other garden plants, herbs are annual, biennial or perennial. Some are best grown from seed, and although most of the others may be grown this way also it is often more practical and economical in the long run to buy one mature plant rather than to spend roughly the same money on one packet of seed which will give you so many plants to care for that they prove an embarrassment.
Best grown as annuals in the kitchen herb garden, are anise, basil, borage, caraway, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, parsley, sweet marjoram, sorrel and summer savory. Most of the shrubs, including those like sage, rosemary and hyssop, can be grown from heeled cuttings. So many others, like lavender, are grown for scent, not eating.
Herbs which are used in quantity are best grown in rows, either along a path or across the vegetable patch or in good-sized groups (sow the seed inside a circle) in the border. Such herbs include parsley, chervil, chives, Florence fennel and sorrel. Allow plenty of space between the plants, so that you can gather them easily or group very dwarf growing kinds among the taller ones.
Some, especially mint, are inclined to wander by means of string-like over-exploring roots. To confine these, plant them in a bottomless bucket or a box sunk in the soil, its rim on a level with the surface.
Mints, or mentha, are more varied than many people realise. M. spicata is the one most widely grown and offered for sale yet it is nothing like so good in flavour as the woolly leaves of M. rotundifolia. Beg a root of this if you see it growing anywhere. It is quite unmistakable.
For drying, herbs should be gathered when the flowers have just opened fully and are at their best. Annual green and evergreen herbs may also be dried, but are best used fresh. By protecting them with cloches, by sowing seed in succession, or by lifting one or more of a certain kind and growing them in a or in pots or boxes in a greenhouse, or even on a sunny window sill you can have fresh herbs in the winter.
You can force mint for winter sauce. Fill a box or some large pots with roots which look like (and are) underground stems. Cut them in pieces and just cover with soil. Bring into a warm greenhouse or a warm window sill in relays. If warm enough, sprigs can be cut after three weeks. Keep moist.
Parsley seed needs to be sown every other year for a continuous supply, although you can, of course, make a fresh mowing each year.
There are three recommended seasons for sowing, February, May and July, but you should use your discretion and sow according to seasonal conditions. I find that August is often a good time, July sometimes being cold and wet.
The seeds take a long time to germinate so do not worry if they do not appear for five or six weeks. Sow a few radish seed in the shallow drills along with the parsley seed. These will come up quickly and so keep you reminded that there is a crop to come.
Sow the seed thinly. You may need only a small packet; a quarter ounce, for example, is sufficient for a 5o foot row. Thin out to 2 or 3 inches apart when the parsley plants show their first curly leaf. Later on thin plants to 6 to 8 inches apart. You can transplant the thinnings. Keep the leaves continually cut to induce the plants to keep growing.
We expect parsley to be green and curly. Fine Moss Curled in fact is a seed catalogue term. The French parsley is nothing like so attractive in appearance yet its flavour is far superior; it is good for drying and keeps greener. Hamburg parsley has similar foliage to French which can be used in the same way but its succulent roots may be cooked like parsnips. They are smaller but finer in flavour and make a good crop for the small.
Chervil is similar to parsley in appearance. It goes to flower much more rapidly, being an annual and for this reason should be sown in succession. I sow it at fortnightly intervals through summer, demolishing one crop when the next is ready. A pinch of seed gives many plants. They can be transplanted, but this checks growth.
Chives are like many other, best lifted and divided frequently. Given a good soil and plenty of sun, they will grow surprisingly well and provide leaves until late autumn, so long as these are cut frequently. Flowers can be eaten. Lift and divide plants in spring pulling them apart and replanting smaller portions. You can grow chives in a pot outside on the window sill but remember to water it often.
Thyme will grow anywhere, except in heavy clay. The plant loves sunshine and looks delightful scrambling over the edge of a sun-baked stone, or even cement, path. Plant in spring and replant every three or four years.
Sage, too, will grow in ordinary soil, but given a sunny, dryish spot, it will grow into a fine bush. It should be planted in late spring. I have one three years old and three feet through.
It pays to fuss over a sage plant in its first year, watering well in hot dry weather and nipping out the young tips to encourage bushiness. Old plants sometimes become very leggy. When this happens, the plant should be renewed by seed sown in heat in March or by cuttings taken in a frame in April. Or, if like me you have “green toes”, try pulling off a shoot from the plant and firmly heeling it into the soil.
Originally from the tropics, Sweet Basil is a half-hardy annual. Seeds should be sown in a greenhouse, pricked out and hardened off before planting outdoors as with any other half-hardy annual. When they are first put into the soil, see that the young plants are shaded from the sun or they may quickly dry up. Keep them well watered. Gather the tips and leaves when coming into flower, dry and powder.
Pot Marjoram, another labiate, will grow anywhere, but like the others really needs sun to do its best. Plants need not be divided each year, but they do benefit from an annual dressing of manure.
Rosemary is a delightful shrub which, in a sheltered garden, will grow high, wide and handsome, as visitors to the Channel Islands and all points south will know. In winter and early spring, the stems are studded with blue flowers. It will grow in ordinary soil and, so I have found, in a windy spot, but in hot weather it should never be allowed to become dry. Plant in April.
Summer Savory is a hardy annual. Seed may be sown in a sunny spot directly into the soil. Thin the seedlings to six inches apart. Give plenty of water in dry weather. Pull the plants when they are in flower and hang for winter use.
Tarragon is related to Lad’s Love, wormwood and other pungent, artemesias. Ordinary soil will do so long as it is dry and in a sunny spot. Plant in spring and divide each year. Cuttings may be taken and struck in a temperature of 55 deg. F. The leaves should be cut at the end of summer and dried. From an infusion of these, we can make tarragon vinegar. Like the mint, a few roots may be boxed or potted and brought into a warm greenhouse in October to produce succulent shoots (luring winter.
All these plants should be gathered for drying when the plants are in flower, for then the leaves will be quite mature. Young shoots are too succulent for drying. Choose a fine day to gather them. I like to feel them sun-warm. Divide them into small bunches, cut off dead and dying leaves and any pieces of root. Wash thoroughly, later drying off with a cloth. String the bunches on sticks for easy handling. Hang them in a hot greenhouse, in a still-warm oven, before a fire or in an airing cupboard.
When the leaves are dry enough to be no longer soft to the touch, tie each bunch in a paper or polythene bag to protect it from dust, stems at the open end, fastened tight by an elastic hand and hang in a dry place.
Borage is mainly used in its fresh state, the sprigs are used to flavour fruit cup or individual leaves can be dipped in batter and fried. Once sown in March in a sunny spot, it will reseed itself every year. You will need to thin out the young plants rigorously. The plant is a pretty one with really blue flowers.
Some herbs grow very large and some can become a nuisance. You can take advantage of the size of some of them. Angelica, for example, is such a handsome plant architecturally that it really deserves to be grown where it can be admired towering against the skyline. If you have a water garden, it will look well in this vicinity. It will also look well in a courtyard; and you can be happy that if the children want to use its hollow stems as pea shooters, they will be quite safe. Unlike many wild plants of this family this is not poisonous. The umbelliferaea provides us with many vegetables and herbs, but do not assume that because one part of the plant is wholesome all parts are. This is not the case. Parsnip roots are good but their leaves and seeds should not be eaten. Coriander, caraway, dill, parsley seeds can be used as flavouring but one should not try the others. They may not be poisonous but it is best to be sure.
Horseradish is much esteemed but do hesitate before you plant it in the garden because it can become a troublesome weed. Don’t allow perennial fennel to drop its seed or plants will pop up unexpectedly in the wrong places.