So what herbs should you grow? The best place to start is by collecting a range of herbs that match your favourite cuisines. If Mediterranean style cooking is your thing, then you need to grow sage, oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay, flat leaf parsley and basil. If you like to prepare Asian style dishes, be sure to include herbs like coriander, lemon grass, makrut lime, mint and Vietnamese mint.
Don’t stop there! If you love many styles of cooking, then consider adding dill, fennel, tarragon, chilli, mint, turmeric, ginger and galangal. Herbaholics might like to search out some of the less common herbs and spices like chervil, cardamom and curry leaf as well as lemon verbena, lemon balm and peppermint for herbal teas.
Most herbs like plenty of sun. There are exceptions - plants like mint and parsley will benefit from the protection of dappled light. Special garden beds dedicated to herb growing look good, but it’s not necessary build one. Herbs can be planted anywhere where you have the space - in the vegetable and ornamental garden. Just make sure that any location you choose is well drained. One thing you should always consider is planting your herbs as close to the kitchen as possible, that way, it’s easy to nip out and grab what you need even when you’re in the throws of creating something special. You might even grow your most used herbs in pots, right at the back door or on your kitchen windowsill.
Many herbs share particular growing requirements. Plants like basil, dill, parsley, coriander and chives are a bit like vegies – they like a compost rich soil with regular feeding and watering – so it makes sense to grow these together where they can share in the benefits of your feeding and watering efforts. Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano are far less demanding. They will grow perfectly well in less fertile soils and once established can pretty much fend for themselves with little or no additional water and fertiliser, so group them together too.
Most culinary herbs and spices are perennial plants. That means that they can continue to grow and be productive for many years. Other herbs, like sweet basil and coriander are annuals plants – they complete their life cycle within a period of 12 months. Most vegetables are annuals too, and just like vegetables, these annual herbs have a preferred growing season, so it’s important that you plant them at the right time of year. Basil loves the heat and will grow all year round in warm zones, but in temperate to cool zones, you need to plant in spring to take advantage of the warmer months. Coriander prefers cooler conditions, and will grow for most of the year in cooler areas, but in tropical to warm temperate zones needs to be planted in autumn to benefit from a long cool season.
Tender young shoots at the tips of the plant often have the best flavours and are easier to work with in the kitchen. Older stems tend to be too woody. The way to keep plenty of fresh growth coming on is with regular trimming. If you use a lot of herbs, then you’ll always be trimming, but if you are growing a herb that you don’t use often, give it a light trim from time to time. That way, your plants will remain compact and vigorous, and there’ll always be plenty of the best young shoots available for harvest when you’re ready to use them.
Most herbs are well suited for growing in pots and they look great on a sunny balcony or courtyard. It’s important to always use a good quality potting mix. Make sure you add some kind of fertiliser too. Controlled release types are specially formulated for container growing and provide continue feeding of your plants for a specific period, usually 3-4 months, after which they need to be topped up. Hungrier herbs like basil and dill will benefit greatly if you supplement this feeding with liquid fertilisers (see Week 2 – What to plant). Potted herbs need to be watered more often than those in the ground because pots dry out more quickly. Still, they don’t like to be waterlogged, so don’t leave your pots continually in saucers full of water for days at a time – this will rot the roots and eventually kill them. Always make sure you tip the excess water out of the saucer once your pots have drained.