Growing Herbs – Essential Perennial Herbs

Essential Perennial Herbs

Culinary herbs and saladings

growing herbs - essential perennial herbs Perennial herbs are the most valuable crops, not demanding, yet attractive and useful. Thus the herb garden is ideal for the lazy perfectionist, needing little labour to maintain a good appearance. Herbs are the easiest of plants to grow organically as most are little bothered by pests and diseases.

Although we rarely use them for medicinal purposes, herbs are still health giving and many are bactericidal. Indeed, most herbs are packed full of vitamins and minerals and are tasty additions to salads and cooking. What cuisine is complete without fresh herbs?

Although expensive and sometimes difficult to buy, most are so easy to grow and many of the perennial herb types even suppress weeds. Herbs have pleasant if not strong scents -after all, that is why we use them – so grow them where you can smell them, near windows, at corners and on patios. Most also have attractive foliage, so are easy to incorporate in ornamental areas. Many are good companion plants with beneficial effects on other plants as well.

Furthermore, in summers with droughts and hosepipe bans it is possible to pick a cool succulent salad almost solely from herbs growing in soil that would be too dry for most vegetables. Lettuce is certainly not the only salad base, many mild herbs and annual leafy crops are more tasty and succulent and these are well worth cultivating.

I have divided the culinary herbs and saladings into two groups: perennial and annual, as these really benefit from being grown apart. Most perennial herbs are happiest grown in their own sunny bed, as edging companions to fruit plots, vegetable beds, or as permanent features in ornamental areas. The annual herbs are mostly best used fresh during the summer and better grown as salad vegetables on their own bed or planted out amongst sturdier vegetables. Some gourmet saladings I rate highly are thus dealt with early on in these lists, with the annual herbs and salads amongst which I suggest they should be grown, rather than later with the vegetables, where they are usually found in both the garden and the home. Latin names are given only where these may help you find the right plant.


Perennial herbs

Most perennial herbs will tolerate – indeed often prefer -drier, poorer soils than annual herbs. Many of the perennials come from the Mediterranean region and need some shelter or a cloche to come through our worst winters. It is the combination of damp and cold which kills them, so growing them against a wall is usually sufficient help. In well-sheltered or town gardens most perennial herbs will last for many years.

Almost all are good at suppressing weeds, suffer from few pests and diseases and need little maintenance apart from cutting back dead, overgrown and excessive growth. The majority are best bought as young plants rather than grown from seed -though most will come true from seed, it will cost as much as a plant, and cuttings from that will produce many more plants more quickly and for free. Many are very easily propagated from cuttings or dividing existing plants, so visit your friends’ gardens with something to trade. Do not divide or move most herbs during autumn or winter. In particular, buy and plant up a new herb bed during spring, so that if there has been a hard winter the nurseryman lost the plants not you. It is the tender young tips and leaves we use for the most part, so cutting back most herbs each spring removes withered growths and produces a flush of new shoots. Leave pruning till spring, so that the old growth protects the new against bad weather. Care needs to be taken not to- cut back too far or the plant may die; go no further than the point where live green shoots emerge from older wood.


The following are used mostly for their leaves:

growing bay leaves Bay (Laurus nobilis) is a rather tender shrub especially suffering from harsh winds while small and is easily lost, but once established it becomes a tough medium sized tree. It can be grown in tubs and taken under cover in winter, but is then more prone to pests, especially scale insect. Bay is difficult to propagate and expensive to buy — you could have several packets of the leaves for the cost of one plant. Use the leaves in savoury dishes especially with tomatoes and garlic. I find carefully dried leaves taste better than the fresh. The leaves preserve grains and seeds from weevils and the burning leaves are poisonous to us and insects. They can be attractive as specimens if trimmed neatly, so it’s worth having one if you can protect it while small.

Chives can be started from seed, or any bits from the side of existing clumps. They benefit from being divided every other year so can be multiplied rapidly and used as edgings. Left to flower, they attract beneficial insects and are pretty but self-seed and give less useful leaves — I cut back alternate plants hard every other year. Being an allium, chives are probably the best herb to grow to reduce the incidence of fungal diseases. Use them to ward off blackspot on roses and scab on apples by planting in large patches underneath. You’ll need to be patient, though, as it takes three years to have effect. Chives discourage aphids on chrysanthemums, sunflowers and tomatoes and benefit carrots. Chive sprays have been used against downy and powdery mildew on cucumbers and gooseberries. Add chives to savoury dishes especially with cheese, and put loads in salads. Grow plenty of them and have some under cover as well!

Fennel is a large herbaceous plant with an aniseed flavour which goes well with savoury fish and cheese dishes as well as in salads. The seeds are used with baked products. The plant is upright and stately growing to shoulder height. It is ideal for ornamental areas and the bronze form is particularly attractive.

Propagate the green from seed or both by division in the spring. Keep fennel away from tomatoes, caraway and dill. It self seeds viciously unless you deadhead in time!

Garlic is the most pungent of the onion family and a most effective accumulator of sulphur which may explain its very ancient reputation as a fungicide. Garlic emulsion has also been used against aphids, carrot rootfly, onion fly, codling moths and snails and peach leaf curl. Garlic is a good companion for roses and fruit trees, but keep it away from beans and peas — though it may follow them in rotation.

Plant the garlic cloves in autumn for the biggest yields, and be careful to plant them neither too shallow nor too deep. The planting holes should be between one and two inches deep, and up to a foot apart. Fill in afterwards with gritty sandy compost. Garlic can be planted till late spring, but the earlier the better. Dig the crop up before the leaves totally wither and blow away. Dry them in a warm airy place. Any garlic bulbs left in the ground will show their position when they start to sprout, and can be dug up, split and replanted for the next crop. Garlic can be fitted into any spare site and can be used to mark the corners of beds. Rocambole is similar, smaller bulbed and more disease resistant, producing an edible cluster of bulbils in place of seeds.

Growing Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is hard to eradicate once established: any bit of the root will grow vigorously anywhere. Horseradish accumulates calcium, potassium and sulphur. In the USA an infusion has been used against brown rot in apples and against blister beetles and Colorado beetles. Horseradish is traditionally grown with potatoes, both in the UK and in China, but as it is almost impossible to get rid of it is best confined in a container. I use a perforated stainless steel drum from an old washing machine buried to its rim in a bed.

The root is grated for use in sauces and even in minute amounts for salads. Mixed with garlic, chilli, mustard and cider vinegar, horseradish makes a warming sauce.

Lavender (Lavandula spica) is rarely used in cooking nowadays, but is such a lovely flavour everyone should try a little once in rice pudding — and lavender biscuits are heavenly. There are large and small varieties to suit any garden with a sunny spot.

Lovage (Levisticum officinale), love parsley is propagated by root division or seed. This monster of a plant is not for small gardens as it towers way above head height. It needs moist soil and is believed to aid most other plants by its presence, though not too close! The leaves are used moderately in salads and for giving a rich flavour to savoury dishes and it adds ‘body’ to vegetable stocks. It is also claimed to be a substitute for salt. The stems can be eaten raw if blanched tender like celery, and the seed used with baked products and in salads.

Lemon verbena (Lippia citriodora/ riphyla) has an exquisite lemon-sherbet scent that stays with the dried leaves for many years. A lovely flavour for salads, fruit salads, sweet dishes and teas. It is not very hardy and gets killed above ground by hard frosts, so plant against a warm wall, protect the roots from damp and cold, and it will sprout again the following spring. Easily grown from cuttings, it can be kept in a pot under cover overwinter. It can even be used as a house plant, but it is then prone to aphids and spider mite.

Marjoram and oregano have many varieties, all of which are similar to oregano and essential for Italian food. The leaves can be added to salads, but the flavour goes exceptionally well with savoury dishes. Marjoram has good flavour fresh, dried or frozen and can be grown in a pot under cover for winter use. Grow as annuals and propagate by seed to get the best flavoured plants. Perennial forms can be propagated by root division, are nearly as tasty and tend to form low mounds which make them useful as informal edging or to go under fruit trees and bushes. There is a particularly attractive golden form that turns a butter cream yellow during summer and reverts to green in winter. In flower these attract many bees and butterflies.

growing mint Mints love rich, moist soil. They detest wood ash and are more than somewhat invasive. Any bit of root grows almost anywhere anytime. Never put mint in with other herbs, as their roots interpenetrate everything. To minimise their expansionist tendency grow them in containers plunged to the rim in the soil or in beds surrounded by concrete or regularly cut grass.

Mint is one of the few plants to grow under walnuts and they thrive near stinging nettles. They make good companions for cabbage and tomatoes before they overwhelm them. The odour can be used to repel rodents, clothes moths, fleas and flea beetles. Spearmint also discourages aphids by putting off ants.

Mints are famous for sauces and teas and go well in salads. Best used fresh, they can be potted up for winter under cover. Cool, refreshingly scented forms such as ‘Eau de Cologne’ and ‘Spearmint’ suit ornamental areas, as do golden and silver variegated, yellow, grey and curly forms which are mostly less vigorous. Mints make cheap, low-maintenance groundcover for large areas, especially under trees, and their late flowering is attractive to bees and beneficial insects.

Rose petals are wonderful in salads! They can also be used with apple, milk dishes and baked products. Highly recommended especially the thornless ‘Zéphirine Drouhin’ which flowers longer than most and smells and tastes divine.

Rosemary is not very hardy, but usually survives to be had fresh all year if given a warm spot against a wall. It will grow in a pot under cover. Easily propagated from cuttings in the spring, it is loved by bees. Delicious in moderation with almost all savoury dishes, the leaves and the flowers go well in salads.

Sage is the traditional stuffing herb but also goes well in moderation in salads and with savoury dishes. The red form has a finer flavour, the more compact multicoloured sages are not very hardy. Easily grown from cuttings or seed, sage needs replacing every few years as it gets straggly and resents pruning.

Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) has aniseed- or liquorice-tasting leaves like chervil and is excellent in salads. The stems, seeds and roots can also be cooked. The plant is very decorative; I use it freely, and chew it for refreshment on drying days.

Winter savory – Summer savory tastes better, but winter savory is shrubbier and survives hard weather. Small amounts improve salads, the flavour of beans and the smell of cooking brassicas. It grows easily from seed; small and compact, it will crop most of the year, and longer in a pot under cover.

Tarragon – Do not confuse the real French with the poor Russian version. Taste the leaves, the French is sweet and piquant, the Russian rank and sour. Unfortunately, the Russian which is hardier, comes from seed and root division and is more common. The French needs a warm spot and extra protection from cold and damp. It is propagated only by root division — which must be carried out every third year or it dies out! Tarragon flavours vinegar, is wonderful with eggs and fish, and in salads I use it liberally.

Thymes are wonderful, they all smell divine and can be used in salads and savoury dishes. The bees love thyme and it is low-growing so is ideal under fruit trees and bushes if it’s sunny enough. Different thymes offer varied scents, colours and forms and will thrive in poor dry, sunny situations and lime—rich soils. Try the caraway-flavoured ‘Herba Barona’.

04. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Featured, Organics, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on Growing Herbs – Essential Perennial Herbs

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