Fresh herbs add depth and flavour to cooked dishes and salads, but those little packets of cut leaves are expensive to buy. For much the same money you can buy a whole plant or some seeds instead. Grow your own herbs at home and you can have fistfuls of fragrant flavour for your cooking every day if you want.
Herbs need very little to thrive and grow well in containers. There are herbs to suit every spot, from a sun-baked courtyard or shady balcony, to the kitchen windowsill. We’ve put together three herb container combinations so you can fill any corner with fabulous flavour.
Herbs for a sunny spot
Shrubby, woody Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, common sage and winter savory, love to bake in gritty soil and day-long sunshine. Warmth also releases essential oils in their leaves, making this a truly fragrant pot.
These herbs suffer in wet soils so mix one handful of grit for every two of compost when planting, so water drains through freely. Water just once or twice a week (more often in very dry spells). Trim stems back by a third after they finish flowering to keep them compact. After a few years, the rosemary and sage will outgrow the pot – simply plant them out in the garden. Take cuttings to grow new young plants in pots.
All these herbs have strong flavours; they’re also evergreen so you’ll be picking from this pot year round. Sprigs of peppery savory bring out the flavour of beans and casseroles, while finely-chopped sage leaves add smoky sophistication to pork. Scattering a few aromatic rosemary shoots among roasting vegetables lifts them from good to sublime.
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Herbs for cold and exposed spots
Ground-hugging, hummocky herbs such as thyme and red-veined sorrel cope well in exposed spots, while hardy natives such as salad burnet thrive even in the chilliest parts of the UK. They’re unfussy and easy to grow.
Sow salad burnet and red-veined sorrel direct, scattering a pinch of seeds across the damp compost; remove the weakest seedlings to leave plants spaced 10cm apart. Alternatively, buy plants of all three herbs. All these herbs are drought- tolerant, but sorrel and salad burnet leaves become tough if they go thirsty, so water regularly to keep them productive. Trim the thyme after it's finished flowering.
Add grit or vermiculite to compost when growing, and trim the thyme after flowering to keep it bushy.
Sorrel and salad burnet are pickable in all but the very coldest months. Sorrel tastes lemony, while salad burnet has a fresh, cucumber-like flavour. Select the youngest leaves for salads or cook sorrel into a delicious soup. You can pick richly aromatic, evergreen thyme all year round and chop it finely to sprinkle into casseroles, pasta sauce and soups.
Herbs for a shady corner
Where direct sunshine is limited, choose soft, leafy herbs such as chocolate peppermint, parsley and lemon balm, that can be scorched by harsh light. These grow best in rich, damp soil or compost.
You can sow parsley straight into the pot in spring, but be patient as seedlings can be slow to appear. Alternatively, buy small plants of all of the herbs. Next spring, trim back spent stems, then dig up both mint and lemon balm and split into two or three pieces. Replant the largest chunk into the pot; this keeps them strong and compact. Keep the pot well watered. Parsley is biennial so you’ll need to grow fresh plants every year.
This pot will give you lots of lush leaves, so be generous with them. Chocolate peppermint leaves taste like mint chocolate – chop them and sprinkle into homemade ice cream or hot chocolate. Young lemon balm leaves add a citrus tang
to fruity desserts, or simply add hot water to make tea. The mild bitterness of parsley is perfect with fish or in salads.