Tuesday, 5 June 2012

urban jungle - grow your own herbs

Whether you're an experienced gardener, or a complete novice, growing your own herbs is a must. For the beginner, they are easy to grow and look after, so they're a perfect way to start gardening. They look good, they smell good and they taste great, growing practical plants is a particularly rewarding pursuit as you can transform your cooking as well! The other big plus point in herbs favour, is that you don't even need a garden to grow them, a tiny patio, balcony or windowsill will be enough to produce these tasty plants in the quantities needed for cooking. Plus, imagine the scent on a summers day as the breeze wafts through the rosemary and basil into the house.

When growing herbs, there are two main options, from seed, or from plant. I have to say, I haven't had much luck growing anything from seed (runner beans aside) and so it might be better, especially for those with underdeveloped green fingers, to buy small plant 'plugs' from a garden centre. There are many kits available though, that contain everything you need, seeds, pot  and compost included, but I've never tried one, maybe you guys out there might have better luck?

Here are my pick of the best commercially available herb pots and accessories, although you can grow herbs in anything... how about cleaning out some food cans and punching a few holes in the bottom for example?

1. Three tiered planter, £12.49 from Greenfingers - perfect for balconies and small gardens, it's a real space saver and it's lightweight.
2. Herb stand, £31.99 from Bodie & Fou includes space for keeping scissors, brilliant idea!
3. Handmade nickel herb markers, £18.74 for 4 from Nina Gibson Designs on Etsy Smart, slightly industrial looking and made to order.
4. Self watering herb pot, £9.83 from StrawberryField - perfect for any kitchen window or counter top.
5. This windowsill herb box, £14.95 from Primrose will sit happily inside or out.
6. These wooden herb markers, 85p each from SarahRaven add a splash of colour
7. Herb wheel, £38.99 from GardnersWorld - for those with a bigger bit of outside space and who want to grow lots!
8. This indoor herb kit, £9.99 from Greenfingers includes everything you need to grow herbs from seed.
9.Terracotta herb wheel (7 pieces) £24.99 from Weston Mill Pottery Smart, modern, but using a tradtional material, individual pots can be bought inside as needed.

So, which herbs to grow? It depends on what you like and what you cook with... although I'd say the basics are chives, basil, rosemary, sage and mint. You might notice that herb containers tend to be segregated, it's because some have roots that spread quickly, mint for example will get in everything if left unchecked. Plant separately, or within a container buried in a larger pot to control the roots. 
  • Use a soil based compost as most herbs don't like peat.
  • Water early in the morning, especially if the herbs are in a very sunny spot, so they don't wilt during the heat of the day.
  • Thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary and tarragon prefer a sunnier position.
  • Salad leaves and parsley prefer a little more shade.
  • Be adventurous, did you know there are over 20 types of mint?
  • Trim and use regularly to encourage fresh growth.
And finally, some ideas for using your herbs:

Garden Mint or Spearmint are good for using in drinks (Mojitos and Morrocan teas) and for adding to the cooking water of new potatoes. Make your own mint sauce.

Use in salads, sandwiches, sauces or make your own pesto. Grow a few basil plants if you use it a lot! Consider Thai Basil for asian cooking or flowering African Basil, that will survive all winter if bought indoors, and be ready to go out out again in the spring.

Great in salads, or used as a garnish and invaluable for making home made potato salad.

Worth growing for it's fantastic scent alone, but my favorite use is for making herby potato wedges, or for making garlic roast potatoes. It also goes really well with tomatoes and if you're feeling brave, make your own foccacia!

Great in veggie dishes (it totally transforms a vegetable lasagne) use it to make sage butter (excellent on gnocchi or ravioli) or add to eggs for a herby omelet.

Perfect for putting in carrot soup, curry dishes and goes well with fish.

Also goes well with tomatoes, try sprinkling some in a fresh tomato sauce or on pizza (add towards the end of the cooking time to maximize flavour)can also be used to make pesto.

I have to confess, my bay trees are largely ornamental, but occasionally I use the leaves when making a sauce, especially in vegetable lasagne. Remember to fish them out before serving though!

Great with vegetables and fish, or how about carrot cake with thyme icing?

Whatever you grow, wherever you grow it, or however you use it, enjoy your plants!


  1. loving number 3 - simple and elegant herb labels!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment! I love them too... it's the little details isn't it?