Make room in your garden for a selection of herbs. They add a lovely sensory aspect to the garden and are essential in the kitchen. Growing your own herbs saves money and there's no more throwing half-used bunches away, since you pick only what you need. Whether in the ground or in pots, herbs are most useful planted close to your kitchen for easy to access to regular watering and harvesting.
Planning your herb garden
Before you plant your herbs, consider their different growing requirements. Herbs like parsley, basil and coriander need regular watering and fertilising and will benefit from a little shade in the afternoon. Mediterranean-type herbs such as thyme, oregano and rosemary prefer hotter, drier conditions so bear this in mind when grouping different herbs in containers. Herbs in containers will need more care with watering as they can quickly dry out.
Plant annual herbs throughout spring and summer. They are fast-growing but tender, so they will usually not survive the cold of winter. Coriander and basil grow best from seed directly planted into the prepared soil. Keep the soil moist and the seeds should germinate in a week or so. Once the plants reach a good size, pinch out the tops to encourage side shoots. Plant seeds every couple of weeks for a continuous supply of tender young herbs. Allow some plants to go to seed so you can collect it for planting next year. Annuals include:
Coriander - look for slow-bolting varieties as coriander can go to seed quickly. Add to dishes just before serving to maximise the flavour.
Basil - there are numerous varieties of basil, all highly aromatic and full of flavour. Sweet basil is used in traditional Mediterranean dishes whereas Thai basil has a more spicy flavour that's suited to Asian cuisine.
Parsley - lives for two years but is usually treated as an annual for the best flavour. The flatleaf variety has a stronger flavour than curly parsly and both are very versatile as flavouring and garnish.
Dill - used for adding flavour to fish and goes well with lemon. Dill develops a deep taproot so bear this in mind when planting in containers.
Perennial herbs come back year after year. Some are evergreen, such as thyme and rosemary, making them great landscaping plants. Others like fennel, mint and tarragon will die back in winter. Protect plants with a thick layer of mulch over the cooler months and they will sprout new growth in spring - always place marker labels where they are planted so you don't forget about them in winter and accidentally dig them up!
Many perennial kitchen herbs can be propagated from cuttings which is a great way to share your favourite herbs amongst friends. Take cuttings in the cool of the morning. Cut a 10cm section and pinch off the bottom leaves. Plant cuttings in a pot of seed-raising mix and cover with a plastic bag to keep them moist. Roots should form after 6 weeks.
Tarragon - plant in a sunny position and keep trimmed for best flavour. Look for French tarragon, which has a superior flavour.
Mint - there are many different mint varieties to choose from, all have their own distinct flavour. Mint can take over your garden if it's not contained so plant in its own bed or in pots.
Rosemary - rosemary is a great landscaping plant. Evergreen and very hardy, it is a must for any garden.
Thyme - a useful herb with a strong flavour. Thyme is very easy to care for once established as it doesn't need much water. It will spread to form a lovely groundcover with flowers in spring and summer.
Chives - with their mild onion flavour, chives are useful in salads and sauces. They are very easy to grow. Remove flowers to encourage more leafy growth.
Sage - sage loves full sun and well-drained soil. Use the leaves to flavour pork and stuffing.