How to grow herbs...

In her weekly column Olive Ryan shares advice on how to grow your own herbs at home - indoor and out
How to grow herbs...

Chives emerging through curly parsley

GROWING your own herbs is a most rewarding and useful undertaking and it can be done with limited space to good effect.

Herbs bring great fresh flavour and goodness to meals using just a small amount, and we all have certain one that we prefer using in our cooking.

Parsley, thyme, chives and basil are commonly used staples in the kitchen and pots of these plants often reside in the kitchen. It is beneficial to grow new plants from seed and replace them regularly as they can be prone to greenfly, over-watering or under-watering when kept indoors all year round.

It is a good idea to place them outside when the weather allows. Basil in particular is very fussy about warm and sunny growing conditions and it will not tolerate wind so it is mostly kept indoors. It is an annual plant, native to India, and will die once it completes flowering so the objective when using it is to keep pinching out the growing tips to put off flowering for as long as possible.

The warm weather we experienced recently would have been favourable for growing basil outside, so when we get these windows of opportunity put plants outside where ventilation is better and this will help to prolong the life of the plant when brought indoors again.

THYME

Thyme is a low-growing woody perennial and has an attractive mound-forming habit, making it a good ground cover plant. It is native to the Mediterranean so likes full sun and good drainage. There are many different types — green, golden, variegated and lemon, all having different foliage and flavour.

Thyme can be grown easily from seed but it will take some time to establish and cuttings can be taken from fresh new foliage also.

The plant does tend to flatten out over time and become woody at the centre. It will benefit from a trim after flowering with a hedge clippers to encourage new growth from the centre of the plant.

Herbs are often kept indoors on a kitchen window...
Herbs are often kept indoors on a kitchen window...

CHIVES

Chives produce attractive purple globe-shaped flowers among their grassy leaves from late spring into summer and are a member of the onion family. They are bulbous perennials and can make an attractive edging plant when planted in a row.

As well as using the leaves in salads and garnishes with their distinctive onion flavour, the flowers are also edible. Chives are grown easily from seed or can be divided in the autumn. The foliage dies back into the ground over winter and will reappear the following spring.

These plants are native to Europe and Asia and prefer a soil with some moisture retention and full sun or partial shade.

PARSLEY

Parsley is a biennial plant which means that it flowers in its second year so it is most useful for eating in its first year of growth. Like basil, to maintain a fresh supply you need new plants each year.

It is also native to the Mediterranean region and grows well in full sun with a moisture retentive soil but will tolerate drought.

Their are two better known types, curly or flat (Italian). Flat parsley has a stronger flavour, with the curly type having a milder flavour and frequently used for garnishing dishes.

They can be grown easily from seed, germination can take up to four weeks, and soaking the seeds overnight or pouring boiling water over them after sowing can hasten germination by helping to break down the seed coat.

Herbs can be placed outdoors in a herb trough.
Herbs can be placed outdoors in a herb trough.

They can run to flower quite quickly so it is best to sow seeds every few weeks to ensure that new plants are coming on all the time.

There are some easy-to-grow herbs that are useful to make teas and provide a refreshing alternative to Barry’s on these summer days.

It is a great feeling to pick a few leaves, put them in a cup and add boiling water, producing a tasty drink with many health benefits, from calming effects to better digestion.

LEMON BALM

Lemon verbena, lemon balm and many different types of mint produce flavour-infused leaves which can be picked fresh and used to good effect. The leaves of lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) are a tender perennial or sub shrub that gets to about two metres in height. It produces leaves packed full of flavour, which make a delicious addition to strawberries and ice cream at this time of the year with their fresh and citrusy taste.

It does require shelter in the winter months from the worst frosts as it is native to south America. It looses its leaves for winter and when they do re-emerge in late spring they are worth waiting for.

Mint Flowers during summer.
Mint Flowers during summer.

Plant of the week

Staying with the theme of herbs, this weeks plant of the week is a mint used frequently for making teas. It is Mentha spicata or English lamb mint.

Mint is notoriously invasive in the garden and it is advisable to grow it in pots or plunge planted pots in the ground as once its roots settle in, it will run and run.

I planted a particularly vigorous mint in the ground next to the polytunnel, its growing tips now stab the plastic to make its way into the more clement conditions inside!

Once the roots are controlled adequately from the outset then there should be no problem. They prefer a moisture retentive soil in full sun or partial shade.

Getting to up to a metre in height, they bear purple flower spikes during the summer months (left) which are good for pollinators. The leaves are good for making teas and adding to salads.

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