With the gardening season now in full swing, by now most of us will have filled every bed, basket and pot available with either bedding or container plants, and hopefully they’re all doing well.
But if you still find you have an area still waiting to be planted up, why not think about herbs?
These aromatic plants are an ideal choice for a sunny, well drained patch.
The great thing about herbs is that in most cases, they will fend for themselves, only requiring the minimum of maintenance, whilst rewarding you with great colour, fragrance and culinary delights.
There really are herbs for all occasions and situations, from the huge majestic arching Angelica to the tight, ground hugging Thymes.
But before you do go ahead with a herb bed, do spend a bit of time checking out the dimensions an growth patterns of the plants.
It makes sense to plant the big, tall varieties at the rear of the bed, so go for the aforementioned Angelica, which can shoot up to 5 ft and more, or the graceful Lovage, again this plants will tower up to the 6 ft mark by the end of the Summer.
The Fennels are another big, chunky plant, the bronze variety is the one I grow – but the green is equally spectacular.
Horseradish, with its big leathery leaves is another whopper. This plant forms clumps and if not kept under close supervision can in time begin to dominate your bed.
No herb bed is complete without Rosemary and Sage. These two are in fact sub-shrubs, and are a good bet for the middle area of the bed. The Miss Jessops variety of Rosemary is a reliable choice, providing superb bright blue flowers that encourage butterflies and bees into your garden, whilst the Sage family offer you purple, tricolour, golden or plain green specimens, all of which will flourish and provide you with striking colour and form.
For the front of the bed, go for plants such as Oregano, Thyme and Marjoram. These smaller varieties will bush out and give you a neat, aromatic border.
You will have noticed I have missed out a few must-have herbs. Mint and Parsley, for instance.
Parsley prefers a bit of shade, so I always grow it in a bed on its own. The direct sun causes Parsley to go yellow and fade away, growing it in dappled shade with plenty of water under a tree with plenty of water keeps it green, lush and tasty.
As for the mints, they are a very invasive family, and within a couple of seasons they can completely take over a herb bed. With that in mind I grow our mints in big terracotta pots. Applemint is the one to grow for the perfect apple sauce.
All the above herbs are perennial or biannual – meaning they come back every year, but there are a number of annual varieties that any self-respecting herb grower must have in their collection.
The tall spindly Dill is a delight to grow in a sunny spot, Coriander is another excellent choice, but perhaps the favourite is Basil.
We sell so much Basil at the nursery, we now grow over half a dozen varieties. Sweet, is the traditional choice, whilst Opal possesses the same shape and form but is a rich purple colour. We also grow the Greek form, a tight leaved specimen that looks great in a pot. All the varieties of Basil produce that wonderful smell of the Mediterranean.
Herbs like to be clipped regularly: a little often. This keeps them neat and tidy and encourages new, aromatic growth.
Any empty pot or container will be a great home for a herb as they really enjoy living in confined spaces, and don’t forget about hanging baskets.
We plant up baskets with thyme, oregano and marjormams – and they look great!
Instead of ground cover, these herbs trail down giving you a superb, different basket.
I have written about the ornamental look of herbs – but don’t forget about the culinary side of things.
French Tarragon for chicken, Dill and Fennel for fish – Rosemary with lamb, Bay and Horseradish to accompany beef – Basil for pasta, I could go on!
If you have never grown herbs before, try them this season.
They are easy on the eye and if given the occasional cut and trim will supply you with tasty treats for years to come.