Herbs for every taste

Various forms of sage and golden marjoram in a raised bed in full sun

Every one can grow herbs, no matter how small your garden. Herbs are a varied bunch of plants ranging from quick-growing annuals to large shrubs and the only thing they have in common is that we use their leaves to flavour our food. The annuals, including chervil, summer savory, coriander and basil all need rich, fertile soil. The shrubby herbs, which are largely Mediterranean, need full sun and warmth and thrive in dry, poor soils. They include sage, rosemary, bay and thyme. Basil is the King of herbs and needs sun and warmth to thrive and never grows fast enough for me. And then there is mint, so essential in summer, but a bit of a thug that will take over your garden if you let it.

All herbs will grow in pots so even if you have a small patio or just a window box you can grow some herbs and you never need to buy plastic-clad bunches of wilted herbs from a supermarket again.

Rosemary is great for cooking and the flowers are loved by bees. You can get various forms including low, creeping rosemaries to trail over raised beds

The shrubby herbs!

These aromatic shrubs all need well-drained soil and thrive in a sunny spot. If growing them in pots they should be planted in John Innes compost because they will potentially live for many years. The most useful in the kitchen are thyme, rosemary and sage. You can easily grow one of each in one 30-40cm pot on the patio. Look for more interesting kinds such as creeping rosemary and coloured leaf forms of sage. The common culinary thyme is less showy than the coloured, creeping kinds but it still has lots of pink flowers that bees love.

Even ornamental thymes with variegated leaves can be used in your dishes

In common with lavender, which is a herb more used for fragrance than culinary purposes, all these herbs benefit from being trimmed lightly every year to keep them compact and ‘young’ or they get bare at the base. So picking shoots for the kitchen is good for them. The best time to pick them, for the most intense flavour, is in summer and you can preserve any excess in oil, frozen butter and by drying.

Buy a selection that you like and plant them now and you will have a beautiful pot of foliage and flowers and useful herbs to use this summer and for years to come.


Mint is something of a troublesome plant. I would hate to be without it but it is a dangerous plant to let loose in the garden. It spreads by creeping stems that wander (well sprint) across the soil, rooting as they grow. The best way to grow mint is in pots. But mint needs to move on and it will decline rapidly if restricted to a pot and old compost for more than a year. So it is best to replant every spring. Take the plant out of the pot, chop off part of the plant and repot in fresh compost. You can use multipurpose compost or John Innes. Mint loves lots of water and feeding and you should liquid feed throughout summer. There are many forms of mint, some better for cooking than others but all smell wonderful. If I had to choose just one for a patio pot I would plant variegated apple mint. It is great for cooking and makes good mint sauce and it is also pretty and the small mauve flowers are good for pollinators.


Surely the most popular of all herbs, parsley is easy to grow. It can be slow to grow from seed but it is not really difficult if you have fresh seed. But you can easily buy young plants and these will crop until next spring. Parsley is a biennial, which means that it grows from seed and then flowers and dies in the following year. You may be wondering what is wrong with your plants right now as they quadruple in height. They are flowering and will die. This is normal.

So now is the right time to buy and plant new parsley plants. I love the look of curly parsley foliage and think it perfect for any patio pot with flowers. It is ideal for combining in a herb pot with either annual herbs or those herbs that need moisture and lots of feeding. Grow a pot with parsley, chives and golden marjoram and perhaps some annual violas for colour and a few edible flowers.

Some say, or believe, that plain-leaved parsley has better flavour than curly parsley. It is a matter of taste but I am not convinced about this and curly parsley is such an attractive plant that it is the one I grow.

Annual herbs

Coriander is best sown little and often

The annual herbs include chervil and coriander. These are fast-growing plants, related to carrots, that make a rosette of leaves and quickly send up a stem with small white flowers. They are more likely to run to seed in hot, dry conditions so they are best in rich, moist soil and in part shade. But even so, if you want lots of leaves you should sow every month or so.


There are many kinds of basil and some are strictly perennial but we treat them as annuals. Basils love warmth and sunshine and they can struggle outside. But you can grow them in pots of multipurpose compost on a warm, sheltered patio. I grow mine in a greenhouse in pots. Keep them well watered and well fed and pick off the flowers, or eat them, to encourage sideshoots and more leaves.

When buying herb plants it is best to buy young plants that are designed to grow on. Supermarket pots of ‘ready-to-cut’ herbs can be carefully divided and grown on but this can be tricky in summer. In their own pot the crowded seedlings don’t stand much chance of growing well and maturing because they are just too crowded.

Young plants for sale at Nags Hall will be perfect for growing on and give a long season of flavoursome leaves.

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