You can be self-sufficient in many herbs from just a few pots or a large trough conveniently placed in a sunny spot near your kitchen door. As well as providing sprigs for the kitchen, they produce a profusion of small flowers which bees and butterflies love.
What you need
- Plants: sage, thyme, rosemary, marjoram or oregano and winter savory all like the same growing conditions
- Container: at least 20cm (8in) deep, and with plenty of drainage holes in the base
- Multi-purpose compost
- Drainage material: such as gravel, broken-up polystyrene or small bits of terracotta pot
- Place the container in a sunny, sheltered spot and put at least a 2.5cm (1in) layer of drainage material in the bottom – this helps ensure that the roots of the plants are not sat in waterlogged compost.
- Fill the container part way up with compost, and put in the plants so the top of their roots are about 2.5cm (1in) below the top of the container; plants should be about 15-20cm (6-8in) apart.
- Fill in around the plants with compost, firm it gently, and water thoroughly.
- It is not essential, but mulching the surface with a material such as gravel or bark will help keep in moisture and keeps the foliage clean; it looks attractive, too.
Water the plants when the compost dries out, but don’t overdo it. They grow naturally in hot, dry places, and don’t like to be waterlogged. After a couple of months, start giving them a general-purpose liquid feed every two or three weeks.
Pest problems are rare. The herbs’ tough aromatic foliage, which we value for its pungent flavour, usually puts off slugs and leaf-eating insects.
Harvest young fresh sprigs as you need them, starting as soon as the plants are large enough and carrying on through autumn. The plants are perennial, and should survive winter to produce further harvests next spring.
Other perennial herbs such as chives and mint also grow well in containers, but prefer more luxurious conditions – add garden compost or slow-release fertiliser to the compost and water them more frequently. Mint needs its own separate pot, otherwise its roots will quickly spread to among those of other plants. Tall, vigorous herbs such as lovage, fennel and sorrel flourish only in large, deep containers: keep clipping off flower spikes to stop the plants getting too tall and to encourage fresh young growth.
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