Most herbs are easy to grow once you understand their habits and the conditions they prefer. Herbs can be classified into six main plant types.
Annuals live for only one growing season. They die after flowering and producing seed. (eg. dill, coriander, salad rocket). Some plants that would be perennial (ie. everlasting) in their native conditions, but cannot tolerate our Irish winters, are treated as annuals (eg. basil, lemongrass).
Biennials live for two growing seasons. In the first year they provide plenty of green leaves, in the second year they flower, produce seed and die. (eg. parsley, chervil).
Herbaceous Perennials are long lasting plants that die back in winter.
(eg. chives, lovage).
Evergreen perennials are long lived plants that retain their foliage all year. (eg. oregano, clove pinks).
Evergreen Shrubs also retain their foliage throughout the year. Most shrubby herbs are of Mediterranean origin (eg rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender).
Generally, trees are not thought of as herbs, but many of them are important medicinal plants (eg elder, hawthorn, gingko).
Contrary to the popular opinion that all herbs need a sunny site, many thrive in moist, semi-shaded conditions. Plants that produce lush, green leaves (eg parsley, chives, chervil, sorrel) will do well in partial shade. In full sun the leaves will be tougher & tend to scorch. Plants with small or narrow, tough leaves generally need full sun and well-drained soil, to thrive (eg lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme).
All hardy annuals, biennials and hardy perennials can be sown directly outdoors, from about the middle of April through to October, into a well-prepared seedbed. Rake in lightly and keep well watered and weeded, until the plants are established. Plants produce seed after they have flowered, so in natural conditions they self-seed from late summer through to early winter. Alternatively, the seeds of hardy plants can be sown in pots or plug trays from March through to October.
Autumn sown plants will need to be overwintered in a greenhouse, polytunnel, conservatory, porch or windowsill, and they will be ready to plant out the following spring, after being ‘hardened-off’ (see below). If you use this method the young seedlings will need some extra care. It is important that you don’t over-water them and equally important that you don’t allow them to dry out. If the weather is exceptionally cold it may be necessary to protect them from severe frost with horticultural fleece. If you are new to propagating plants from seed, I would suggest that you wait until spring to sow them, as they will grow more quickly and therefore require less care.
Tender annuals and perennials are best sown in spring, in pots, plug trays or modules. Use a fine, seed grade compost. Fill pots or trays to the brim with compost. Tap the pot or tray to settle the compost, and top up if necessary. The compost needs to be neither too loose or too compacted. Water the sowing containers well and allow to drain.
Sow seed sparingly on the surface. Cover larger seed with its own depth of compost or vermiculite. Cover the container to retain warmth and moisture and check every few days for signs of germination. Do not allow the surface of the compost to dry out. If necessary, use a hand mist sprayer to gently water the surface, without dislodging the seeds. When the seed has germinated, move the trays into the light, but protect from strong direct sunlight.
When the young seedlings have produced two true leaves (or are about 4cm in height) it is time to pot them on. Water the pots or trays and allow to drain. Transplant the seedlings into small pots. (I use 8cm square pots). Treat the seedlings gently. Rough handling of stems or roots of the young seedlings at this stage will set them back. It is really important to ease the seedlings out of their pots or modules. Squeeze them from underneath to loosen the root ball of the the young plants. It is best to handle the leaves only and preferably without using any gloves. If you need to use gloves, (and many people do due to skin conditions or allergies) you can buy surgical gloves from most pharmacies.
When the seedlings have been potted on, they need to be watered. Use the finest watering setting on your hose or watering can. Keep the young plants out of direct sunlight for a week or so, until they are perking up and looking happy.
Before planting out into the garden, containers on the balcony, window boxes or hanging baskets, the plants need to be ‘hardened-off’. This means you gradually acclimatize them to their final growing positions. If the weather is nice, warmish, and not too wet or windy, put the plants outside during the day and bring them back into shelter overnight. Do this for a couple of weeks. When all danger or frost is over, plant your herbs into their final position.
If you are growing them in the garden, you just need to remember to keep them well watered in the first few weeks, especially if the weather is dry. They will establish very quickly and thrive. In no time they will need very little care apart from a tiny bit of weeding. You will have herbs for life!
If you are growing in containers, your herbs will need a little more attention. When the weather is very dry they will need regular watering. Placing a tray under the pot will help to retain water. I will add more to the container growing section of this page soon.
Late-summer and autumn sown seedlings may need some protection over winter, ie. an unheated polytunnel, greenhouse or cloche. Horticultural fleece is also very useful.
Further advice on propagating from stem and root cuttings will be added soon.
PLANNING YOUR HERB GARDEN
The most important thing to consider when planning your herb garden is its location. It needs to be as close as possible to your kitchen, so that it only takes a minute to run out and pick some herbs, even if you are in the middle of cooking. It is also a good idea to grow your favourite herbs beside a path, or patio, if you have one. I don’t, but I have a few stepping stones placed among my kitchen herbs, so I can still access them quickly, even in awful weather, without putting on rain gear and wellies.
The next thing to consider is the aspect and the soil. A reasonable amount of sun and a little bit of shade is ideal. Refer to ‘Situation’ above.
In most cases, the actual design and structure of the garden will be determined by cost and how much you can afford, or are willing to spend. Ideally, I would love to have old brick or stone paths linking separate beds that are surrounded by box hedging. Gravel paths are cheaper and look good but they require some maintenance. Bark mulch is another option. Grass paths are inexpensive and look fine but they need to be mowed and edged regularly. For a small kitchen herb garden, paving slabs or stepping stones interspersed between the plants are a cheap and practical option.
When working on the planting plan for an herb garden, the first thing I try to imagine is how it will look during the winter months. In winter there won’t be too many pretty flowers or lush green leaves, so it is important to position your evergreen shrubs and plants first, making sure to allow them enough space to mature. These plants will form the structure of your garden, particularly in winter, when annuals and herbaceous perennials have died back.
Herbaceous perennials can then be planted in the spaces between the evergreen plants. These plants can spread very quickly, so make sure to leave adequate space for them. Lastly, use annuals and biennials to fill in the spaces between the permanent plants.
For a pleasing arrangement, height, foliage shape and colour, flowering time and colour, must all be considered. Complimentary colours placed next to each other will provide a gentle, calming effect, (eg. pink works well with blue, purple or lavender tones). Contrasting colours will create a more vibrant picture, (eg. blue with orange or yellow, red with green).
We offer a specialist Herb Garden Design and Consultancy service. If you need some advice or help with creating your own customised herb garden, contact Denise here..
Herbs will grow quite happily in containers, once they are given adequate care and attention. Make the most use of available space by using large decorative pots, window boxes, strawberry planters and hanging baskets. Use an organic potting compost. Keep containers well watered in hot, sunny weather. Place a tray under the container to retain moisture. Container grown herbs need to be potted on each spring into a slightly larger pot, using fresh compost.
FRAGRANT AND DECORATIVE HERBS
Herbs are beautiful plants in their own right and deserve a place in the decorative garden. They provide flowers and foliage of outstanding beauty, colour and fragrance. Many also have decorative seedheads which add height and structure to the winter garden. Herbs also attract birds, butterflies, bees and many beneficial insects to the garden. Most herbs dry well and retain their scent when dried, making them useful for winter arrangements and pot-pourri.
|Decorative Flowers||Columbine, Echinacea, Elecampane, Foxglove, Hollyhock, Honesty, Meadowsweet, Monkshood, Poppies, Loosestrife, Rocket, Sweet Rocket, Telekia, Vervain|
|Decorative Seedheads||Artichoke, Columbine, Elecampane, Poppies, Teasel, Telekia, Thistle|
|Chamomile, Clove Pinks, Evening Primrose, Honesty, Lemon Balm, Meadowsweet, Muskmallow, Pinks, Stock, Sweet Rocket|
|Anise Hyssop, Balm of Gilead, Chamomile, Dill, Fennel, Feverfew, Lovage, Marjoram, Oregano, Pelargoniums, Sage, Savory, Southernwood, Thyme|
|Artichoke, Elecampane, Fennel, Teasel, Thistle|
Attract Butterflies and Bees
|Anise Hyssop, Aquilegia, Borage, Campion, Comfrey, Elecampane, Hemp Agrimony, Loosestrife, Mallow, Marjoram, Nettle, Oregano, Salad Rocket, Sweet Rocket, Teasel, Telekia, Thistle|
|Attract Birds||Dandelion, Fennel, Teasel, Telekia, Thistle|
THIS PAGE IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION.
MORE DETAILED INFORMATION WILL BE ADDED SOON.