Growing your own produce is increasingly popular these days. If you’re keen to give it a go but are a bit apprehensive about your gardening skills, herbs are a good way to get started and they’re instantly rewarding. You can buy a small pot at the nursery, plant it and harvest (just a little bit) immediately. And if that’s not enough to convince you, the other big pluses of herbs are that they’ll grow just about anywhere and thrive with hot weather and sunshine.
You don’t need a purpose-built herb garden. You can plant your herbs in a pot, trough or window-box, or pop some in among other plants in the garden.
An evergreen shrub, rosemary likes hot weather and lasts a number of years, even if the soil remains dry. It makes a good hedge and will grow happily in a container — trim it into shape at the end of summer. Rosemary is the perfect complement to lamb, and its woody stems make great skewers. It can be grown from cuttings.
A groundcover that likes to creep over the earth or spill out of a pot, thyme needs a sunny, sheltered position. Available in many varieties, including lemon, woolly, caraway and common, this herb is great to walk on. A delicious flavouring for chicken, thyme also has antiseptic and antifungal properties, and is said to counter the effects of ageing.
An essential ingredient in potato salads, this perennial herb is a member of the onion family and looks a little like grass or a slender green onion. Chives grow happily in the garden or in pots, and need a sunny spot with slightly moist soil. Simply snip off the outer leaves as you need them. Chives have pretty pink flowers in summer, which make a lovely (and edible) addition to salads.
One of the best herbs to begin with is parsley. You can buy it in punnets or small pots, but it’s also extremely easy (and cheap) to grow from seed.
If you have a reasonable soil that holds moisture, just make a shallow furrow in damp soil, and sprinkle in some seeds. Alternatively, fill a punnet with potting mix and sow a few parsley seeds, then transplant when the seedlings are large enough to handle.
Parsley shoots in three to four weeks, so you won’t need to wait long to see results. Hand-weed and watch out for hungry slugs or snails. Also, keep the soil moist by watering gently with a watering can with a large rose, or use a gentle setting on the hose nozzle so as not to disturb the new seedlings.
Although parsley is a herb, it can also be used decoratively in the garden. It makes an attractive border plant, perfect for edging a sunny part of the ornamental garden or even the vegie patch.
When well-grown, parsley lasts for many months.
Spearmint, Vietnamese mint, apple mint and pineapple mint are just some of the many varieties available. Mint is easy to grow in shady, moist areas, and in pots. You can harvest the leaves as needed and use them in drinks, Asian salads and sweets. Mint-infused tea is said to relieve anxiety and tension.
Parsley and basil eventually flower, seed and die down, but mint is there for the long haul. Common mint spreads through the garden via underground stems, and for this reason it is usually recommended to grow it in a pot.
Mint prefers a moist patch of soil, so its spread is usually curtailed when the plant runs out of moisture. Mint also does quite well in light shade and tends to shrivel in full sun. Once you’ve conquered ordinary mint, branch out into some of the more interesting scented mints such as lemon, ginger and applemint.
Mint is fairly foolproof, but it does attract tiny caterpillars that chew the leaves, often leaving nothing more than bare stalks. Check mint regularly for these pests, particularly when you see chewed leaves and droppings. You can try to control them by squashing them, or could also apply a biological control such as Dipel. Pinch off any damaged growth and give chewed plants a good drink of water. A dose of liquid plant food encourages new growth.
This herb is easy to grow from seed — sow basil in spring and summer, then collect the seeds in autumn, as the plant will die off in winter. Key in Mediterranean cooking.
One of the prettiest herbs, borage leaves taste like fresh cucumber. It will grow from seed and, as its blue flowers attract bees to aid pollination, plant it near citrus trees and passionfruit vines to increase their harvest.
Use your mortar and pestle to pound fresh herbs to make dressings, marinades and rubs. What a lot of people don’t realise, is that not only a herb’s leaves can be eaten — the flowers, too, are delicious in salads. Use the blooms from chives, nasturtiums, borage, lavender, fennel and marigolds to brighten up a leafy green salad.
Herbs need sunlight, good drainage and regular water during dry weather. Most prefer good soil, but don’t be tempted to add too much compost or manure, as you’ll get rapid growth at the expense of flavour. (A good rule of thumb is to add one bag of compost or manure for every square metre.) Some Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary and sage, prefer poorer, lime-rich soils. Mulch the soil around the herbs, taking care not to build the mulch up against their stems — about 5cm of sugarcane mulch is adequate.
When planting herbs in containers, use a good-quality potting mix and add water crystals to help the plants survive the summer heat. Instead of feeding herbs with chemical fertilisers, use a light mulch of cow manure and a weak watering of seaweed solution. That way, you can enjoy the leaves and flowers you’re eating, knowing they’re free of nasty residues.
Continually harvest herbs to keep them trim and shapely. When it comes to thyme, mint, sage and lemon balm, regular pruning — by shortening the stems by more than half — will rejuvenate your herbs when they’re looking tired. Most herbs planted in the garden will last the summer well, but potted herbs will need watering every day, and sometimes twice a day, when the weather is really hot. Take cuttings of herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender throughout the summer.
When the weather becomes cooler, annual herbs, such as basil, coriander and dill, will begin to flower and set seed. Never fear, once mature, these seeds can be collected by hand, then stored in paper bags in a cool, dry spot until next spring, when you can sow them and start the cycle all over again.
Frost-sensitive herbs like rosemary should be brought into warm spots, while herbs such as parsley, sage and thyme will carry on through the winter cold.
Facade medium herb pot in dark terracotta, $71.30, Finnish Design Shop
Crafted from unglazed terracotta, the Facade herb pot provides a beautiful home for green herbs and will create a chic addition to a kitchen bench or windowsill.
D.T. Brown herb seeds bundle pack, $9.99, Catch
Kickstart your own herb garden with this fabulous selection of seeds which includes coriander, sweet basil, chives, parsley and peppermint.
Jackfrukt herb scissors, $4.99, Ikea
Whether you’re wanting to propagate herbs or include them in a dish, these charming and sturdy scissors will allow you to snip your favourite herbs quickly and evenly.
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