If potatoes and other root crops are the tummy-fillers, it’s herbs that pack the flavour punch, and I for one, couldn’t do without them. Perennial herbs are perhaps the handiest as, once established, they need little attention. In the perennial line-up I have rosemary, which I grow myself from cuttings and plant in the best-drained, sunniest spot in the garden. This bushy herb, which comes in prostrate as well as upright habit, will very likely turn up its toes if offered a damp home. If you can’t provide excellent drainage, pop it into a pot and be sure to prop the container off the ground during winter to encourage moisture to drip through. Garlic chives (also known as Chinese Leeks) are great herbs for multiplying and are tolerant of almost any old soil you give them providing they have plenty of sun. If you’re not using them regularly, it pays to lift and divide them during autumn. Chives are another perennial and so handy because they are one of the earliest herbs to make an appearance in spring. They, too, readily multiply and can be lifted in late autumn, divided and passed on to friends to plant in their own gardens. Marjoram is another perennial that I couldn’t do without, especially where pasta and pizza is concerned. Being a Mediterranean herb, it also requires a hot, well drained spot. It tends to almost die right off in my southern winter conditions so I keep a second plant of it in the glass house where it manages to retain a few green leaves through the colder months. In a pot under the eaves of the house, I grow a sage bush. This herb really won’t tolerate wet ground and I have lost more than one plant before getting the situation right. Tuck whole sage leaves in with roasting potatoes or dice them up finely and add to traditional stuffing mixes.
Perennial herbs tend to become ‘woody’ after a year or two with the centres of bushes dying off. The best course of action to prune back shrubby herbs, such as rosemary and sage, at the end of autumn, especially cutting back their centres. Take root cuttings of smaller herbs such as marjoram for replanting in other areas of the garden.
Annual herbs are flavoursome plants which grow for a season and then die, often successfully self-seeding before they do so, and germinating in spring. Although I don’t practise permaculture, I do believe in leaving some annual herbs to self-seed as the progeny from these plants is usually growing long before any seed I deliberately sow. The seeds of coriander, borage, dill, fennel, chervil, parsley and celery-parsley inevitably end up in the compost pile with the autumn cleanup and when the compost is emptied out onto the vegetables beds in spring, up come the welcome plants. As I live in the cool south, I grow my basil indoors on a sunny windowsill. As well as being used fresh, many annual herbs can be harvested, snipped up, and snap frozen for use over winter.
While herbs often give the appearance of being able to ‘grow themselves’, some require feeding, and others require a lot of feeding. Consult your garden guides and don’t be surprised if herb-growing gets under your skin.