Planting delicious herbs: The top 10
Bay leaves give such a comforting savoury flavour to dishes, making it popular and well worth growing. Left to its own devices, this herb can become a tree up to 12m tall! However, it is quite slow growing and with regular pruning it can be kept to a manageable size. Bay can be a wonderful feature in the garden as a shaped topiary or even as a hedge. They don’t mind a bit of frost so are perfect for adding to any garden. Bay requires full sun but will also cope with a bit of shade. Plant it in an area with good drainage, as it does not like soggy soil. It also grows well in a container, so choose a large pot for this tree to thrive long term outdoors.
As a member of the onion family, chives give a lovely mild onion flavour to dishes and can offer a tasty vibrant green finishing touch as a garnish. Chives grow as a clumping collection of individual plants and enjoy full sun or a bit of shade. They don’t mind if they are in the garden, in a pot or on a windowsill so long as they get 4–6 hours of sunshine a day. Give chives a rich soil with plenty of organic material, only watering when the soil begins to dry out. Harvest your chives often with sharp scissors to encourage new growth. You can also use the pom pom-like pink flowers in cooking.
This can be difficult to grow, especially in warmer weather as it is renowned for quickly bolting to seed. However, it is worth the effort for the distinctive flavour it adds to Asian and some South American cuisine. Interestingly though, not everyone is able to enjoy the wonderful flavour of coriander, with some instead describing it as metallic and even soapy! Coriander plants need to be well watered so keep the soil moist. They don’t enjoy the heat, so provide shade from the midday sun, if you can. The key to getting the best out of this herb is to sow fresh seed every 3–4 weeks. This will give you a continuous supply of young tender-leafed plants perfect to grow on a sunny windowsill, in containers or in the garden. Once coriander bolts it can become a large plant, however the dried seeds are also edible, so if a plant or two bolt, allowing them to set seed may be good for your pantry.
A beautiful feathery-leaved plant that is great with fish or in pickles, dill is easy to grow in conditions similar to coriander. It appreciates full sun out of the wind and can grow quite tall – around a metre - so isn’t really suitable as a windowsill herb. To encourage plenty of leafy growth, remove the flowers as they appear, however if left, the flowers can attract beneficial insects. Dried dill seeds have many uses in the kitchen.
With its fresh and cooling flavour, mint is a delightful addition to many drinks and dishes. However, mint can be an invasive spreader and is best grown in a large container to keep it in check. Mint enjoys rich fertile soil that needs to be kept constantly moist, so don’t skimp on watering. Like basil, if you pick mint just above a leaf joint by the stem rather than harvesting only the leaves, you will have a bigger, bushier plant. Don’t forget to remove the flowers as they appear.
This herb is biennial, which means it lasts for 2 years. In the first year it puts out its desirable leafy growth and in the second year is sends out its flower and sets seed. It is best to plant a new parsley every year to ensure a good supply of leaves to add to your cooking. Parsley likes a good fertile soil and needs to be kept well-watered. A healthy plant can get quite large, but it doesn’t mind being grown in a good-sized container.
When allowed to grow to its full potential, this herb can almost be considered a shrub. It can be used for hedging and responds well to pruning into various shapes. Regular pruning can help encourage vigorous, bushy growth. Plant rosemary in a fertile soil that won’t become soggy, and it will last in the garden for many years. The delightful blue flowers on a rosemary plant are very attractive to bees.
A great flavour compliment for chicken dishes, sage is a useful herb to grow. It is a perennial that generally needs replacing every 3–4 years as the plant becomes woody. Over time sage can grow into quite a substantial plant. It doesn’t mind a poor soil but likes it to be free draining. Sage is quite hardy and drought tolerant, so only needs watering as the soil dries out. Removing the flowers can promote more lush leafy growth. As a member of the Salvia family, sage’s bluey purple coloured leaves are pretty and will attract bees to your garden.
Thyme can make a great companion for sage as they enjoy similar conditions. Thyme grows like a ground cover, though it is not a vigorous spreader like mint. Thyme will grow well in containers and should thrive on neglect - to a point. The plants may need replacing after a few years if they become too wayward but they are easily keep nicely pruned. Thyme’s delicious flavour is widely enjoyed in casseroles, stews and many other meat and vegetarian dishes.