Monday 22 January 2018

Herbs for the kitchen and flower borders

By Andrew Coyyer - Practical Gardening

Be vigilant with your weed control

Choisya 'White Dazzler'

I have always thought of herbs as quite decadent. This is probably a throw back to my childhood when , because of my fathers particular liking for 'plain' food, such exotics as parsley and thyme didn't even make it to the table. Coriander and basil were unheard of. These were foods for the weathly, sophisticated socialites of our nearest town, population five thousand, yes I had a rural up bringing.

But despite this I have a great fondness for herbs myself. For their fragrances as much as their flavours. This is largely due to the fact that they bring back holiday memories of Mediterranean food markets. Huge lush bundles of thyme, sage, basil and coriander that look like they have grown faster than they can be harvested. All giving off their fresh appertising smells.

Unfortunately unless you grow in a polytunnel or under glass in Ireland our herbs look a little stunted by comparison and basil is not really successful at all without some protection and extra heat. This is quite appropriate though considering its natural life partner, tomatoes, also need a greenhouse to perform at their best.

Companion plants growing in harmony from greenhouse to plate. There are three types of herb, shrubby, herbaceous and annual and all like sunny dry conditions. Given these conditions herbs tend to be extremely easy to grow putting up with quite a bit of negelect.

Herbs can be very successful in pots and for mint which has a tendency to be invasive it is desirable. Many people grow them close to their kitchen doors which seems to make a huge amount of sense for their easy access. If you have a shaded kitchen area think again and give them the sun they crave.

Shrubby herbs which have a woody structure include thyme, sage and rosemary. I grow these as part of my border planting schemes as all are quite decorative as well as culinarily useful. Purple sage is a particularly attractive border plant with blue flowers and a soft purple foliage. There are many types of rosemary available.

The common Rosmarinus officinalis makes a 4-6 foot shrub with blue flowers but there are low varieties like R. prostratus which can be grown hanging over the wall of a raised bed. R. 'Severn Sea' is between the two size wise making a compact 80 cms. Thyme can be useful as a low ground cover or again to soften raised bed walls. Thymus vulgaris the common thyme is green leafed but T. x citriodorus, lemon thyme, comes with yellow and variegated foliage.

Herbacous herbs include fennel, chives and I also include parsley here as mine always over winters. Fennel can also be grown as a border plant with bronze fennel being particularly attractive as a garden plant. It makes a tall four to six foot upright specimen with feathery foliage that contrasts well with other plants like delphiniums and foxgloves. It dies to the ground each winter. Chives are of the onion family and produce lovely pink flowers in early summer. They are extremely easy and I again plant them at the front of a border.

Parsley seems to grow for fun for me, it seems quite indestructible. Although short lived I consider it perennial as I easily get three or four years from a plant. It can also be grown as an annual there is no doubt. I grow the common parsley and the flat leafed variety which I think has a sweeter flavour.

Annual herbs that can be grown from seed include the afore mentioned basil and a great favourite of mine, coriander. Coriander seems to split opinion down the middle some love it others detest it. One thing is for sure it is easily grown and can be sown and harvested like a salad crop along with rocket and lettuce.

All these herbs are very successful in containers which often suits peoples needs better that growing in the open ground. If growing in pots provide good drainage use a no peat based compost, John Innes composts are soil based and better draining.

Wexford People

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