To ensure long lasting supply of herbs make sure you pick your herbs regularly during the growing season, and make sure you pick the tips of each stem – about the top inch or two (depending on the size of the herb), just above a pair of leaves. Two new shoots will grow from below where you have pinched the stem, producing a more bushy plants.
Secondly, feed all your herbs in containers with Maxicrop, liquid seaweed while they are growing. This can transform weak specimens into strong, lush plants. Liquid seaweed is packed with trace elements and minerals that will help the herbs retain good flavour too.
Here are 10 herbs that I wouldn’t be without. I’ve chosen them for how easy they are to grow in containers, and for how useful and versatile they are in the kitchen.
A fantastic container crop, and so versatile. You can use it for everything from tea to mojitos, to mint and coriander chutney. Its also easy to grow – it’ll even cope with difficult shady spaces that only get a little sun.
It’s a greedy beast though, and needs regular feeding to grow well. Put each plant in its own 20cm pot, keep it well watered and pick it regularly. It will soon grow into a large bushy plant that will give you a constant supply of leaves from April to November, year after year. Once your plant is established, take it out of the pot each spring after its winter die back, and divide it into halves or quarters, and re-pot it with fresh compost. This helps it to keep its vigour – and provides you with new plants to expand your mint collection or give away.
There are many varieties – some are more suitable for tea like Moroccan Mint and Garden Mint is ideal for more general cooking.
Brilliant in salads, snipped up over soups, or added as garnish to many dishes. The flowers are cheerful in the spring, taste yummy – and the bees love them too. This is another easy one to grow and only needs four or five hours’ of sun. Make sure it doesn’t dry out, as chives like damp soil.
- Sage 4. Bay 5. Thyme and 6. Rosemary
All have flavours that taste of the sun. Easy to grow with unique flavours, these classic herbs are excellent for soups, stocks, meats, pastas and more. They don’t like wet roots – so grow in well-drained soil, in a sunny position and take care not to over-water. Best pruned in spring when plants are in growth. My favourites are Thyme Silver Posie with its delicate silver edged leaves and Lemon Thyme which adds a fragrant zing to dishes.Rosemary o. prostratus will hang over the side of a wall or cascade from a pot and flowers in early spring.
I like a lot of parsley, and of both types-flat leaved and curled. Plant in spring for late spring and summer harvest and then plants again in July/August for plants that will produce leaves through the winter. In cold winters fleece plants to protect foliage.
Planted in the spring, coriander quickly flowers and goes to seed. You can try and delay this (by keeping it well watered and fed, growing it in a more shady space, and cutting the leaves regularly), but it will happen eventually, whatever you do. Don’t worry: the flowers are magnets for hoverflies (whose larvae eat aphids) and the green seeds are delicious.
August through to September is the best time to sow coriander, when it is much less prone to bolt. You’ll get leaves throughout the late autumn, the plants will survive most winters, and it’ll grow back strong and lush in the spring.
This loves the warmth. It’s best grown in a warm, bright, sheltered spot (it thrives in green houses) and sown when the weather warms in June. It also doesn’t like going to bed with wet roots – so grow in well-drained soil and water in the morning.
Despite having its profile raised by Ottolenghi (who uses it in several recipes), sorrel remains a stranger to supermarket shelves. It has a strong, sour flavour with a lemony bite. Cooked, sorrel forms classic combinations with eggs and with salmon, or you can chop up a few fresh leaves and add to salads. It is easy to grow in a container. Plant six to eight plants (which are easy to start from seed) in a window box with at least four hours sun and it will give you a flavour hit all year round. Pick the outer leaves and it will keep producing new leaves.
With a few more pots, I’d add in lovage (to add depth of flavour to risottos and stocks), dill, tarragon (wonderful but temperamental to grow – it hates getting its roots wet), lemon verbena (brilliant for herbal tea), winter savory and oregano.
You can grow herbs in pots together as long as you remember two rules: avoid mixing those that like plenty of water (such as chives, mint, chervil, coriander) with those that like a well-drained soil (such as rosemary, thyme, sage, bay, and oregano). And choose herbs of similar sizes for the same pot – a large rosemary will swamp a small thyme plant, for example. So if you want to mix rosemary and thyme, look for a small, compact form of rosemary.
I find 20cm pots are a good size for most herbs (bay, rosemary and lovage may need something bigger) – big enough to support decent-sized plants, but small enough to fit in a small space. You can grow herbs in smaller pots but they do dry out quickly.
It’s easy to continue growing in pots throughout winter.