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Potty about herbs
Kitchen Garden Magazine

Potty about herbs

Posted Thursday, 21 May 2015   |   1502 views   |   Family & Home   |   Comments (0) Joe Maiden has always had a soft spot for herbs.

This month he’s looking to see how well he can get them to perform throughout the year by growing them in containers

During my lifetime as a gardener I have had the pleasure of growing herbs. Most types have come my way in city parks and commercial horticulture and demonstration areas. Once, in Golden Acre Park in Leeds, we set up a paved area where different herbs were grown very successfully.

Every two metres we took out a flagstone and cultivated the soil, and plants of each variety were grown in isolation – a very good way to grow herbs. Then, in another park, we set up a herb garden, but this was very difficult to maintain due to the plants becoming tangled. Weeding was also a problem, as were fallen leaves in autumn and winter.

At my nursery I grew herbs in a narrow border close to a hedge thinking that the south facing slopes would be ideal. It turned out to be a disaster due to the hedge roots drying out the soil and stealing all the goodness.

HERB CHALLENGE
Over the years I have had good results growing herbs in pots without taking it too seriously. So I have challenged myself in my new garden to grow herbs on the patio in large pots.

The aim is to grow the most popular varieties to see if we can pick herbs all season long, which types produce leaves/shoots over a very long period and how long they will last in the pots. The plan then is to re-propagate by splitting and dividing, thus keeping the potted herbs fresh year in, year out.

Having fresh herbs near to the kitchen has got to be a great bonus as, when the meal is almost ready, you can nip out for a sprig of mint, some parsley or chives or, at Christmas time, some sage to stuff the turkey.

The well-known herbs I am growing for my patio herb pot garden are:

PARSLEY
Parsley is a biennial plant which will also produce good leaves in its second year before going to seed. My way with parsley is to sow the seed in seed trays in March using a good multipurpose compost in a heated greenhouse at a temperature of 18?C (65?F).

Germination usually takes about three weeks. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, pot on into individual small pots or six-cell trays and grow on in a cool greenhouse or cold frame. As it is a biennial, it will have finished its cycle by June/July the following year.

To keep a good supply going, in October move the pots from the patio into the greenhouse – the extra warmth will keep young foliage coming. Parsley will thrive well in sun or partial shade and likes plenty of moisture. Make sure the pots are not allowed to dry out and when  full of roots, liquid feed at regular intervals.

CHIVES
Chives attain the height of 15-30cm (6-12in) with a spread of 23-30cm (9-12in). They smell and look like young onion plants without the bulbing and produce fine, tubular leaves followed by pretty, edible purple flower heads which normally appear in July.

If the flowers are left on the plants, however, you do not get as many fresh leaves. Chives like a well-drained soil in full sun at times but with a bit of partial shade. They are very easy to propagate by splitting the clumps into six to eight stems. Chives go well when used in potato salads, salads, and egg and cheese dishes.
ROSEMARY
The fragrant leaves of rosemary have an attractive blue-silver appearance. Rosemary is also a wonderful plant when in flower, with pale blue flowers during April and May; very mature plants can flower at most times of the year.

Rosemary can often attain the height of 1.8-2m (6-6?ft) with a spread of 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) when planted in the ground. It is much easier to control, however, when pot grown on the patio. It grows very well as a container plant once it is established in the pot. Feed occasionally with liquid fertiliser and never allow the pot to dry out. Saying this, it does like a well-drained soil.

Propagation is quite easy by cuttings and I have seen pieces just pushed into the ground that have grown. Normally, all that is needed are 7.5cm (3in) long cuttings inserted into a 50:50 mixture of peat and sand and placed in a cold frame to root. Sprigs of rosemary are good for flavouring roast lamb, pork, rabbit, veal and grilled fish. Dried leaves are also useful in stuffing, whereas sprigs are good in bouquet garni.

SAGE
Sage has a height and spread of up to 60cm (24in). This hardy, evergreen shrub has slightly wrinkled leaves and comes in different varieties – tricoloured, blue-purple, yellow, variegated and plain green foliage. The leaves are very pungent or aromatically scented. Sages enjoy a well-drained soil. When in flower in June and July they form whorled spikes which are blue, purple and white.

Propagation is easy: take 7.5-10cm (3-4in) cuttings and insert them into a mixture of peat and sand between August and September. When rooted move on into small pots. Alternatively, seed can be sown in March or April using John Innes compost.

When seedlings are large enough to handle, pot on into small pots and move to the cold frame. Fresh or dried leaves are mainly used for stuffing in pork, chicken and duck, and friends have told me the strong flavour goes well with liver.

BAY
Bay trees are often bought as large, decorative plants adorning driveways outside front doors. They are thus bought as shaped specimens, either as standards or pyramids, and grown on for many years in large pots or barrels.

Bay can also be grown as unrestricted plants and can easily have a height and spread of 3m (10ft) or more. Bay loves to be grown in well-drained compost, but which is also moisture retentive. North east winds can play havoc with immature foliage in early winter causing die-back and discoloured leaves.

New plants are made from lateral shoots 7.5-10cm (3-4in) long in September or March/April. Insert the cuttings into a growing medium of equal parts peat and sand and place in a cold greenhouse or cold frame. When rooted, pot into small pots of John Innes No 1 compost.

Bay leaves are used to flavour almost any dish: fish stews, sauces, milk puddings and custards and, of course, are the main ingredient for bouquet garni. Trim bay during the summer to maintain shape.

MINT
Mint is a great herb but be aware, it is very invasive. Growing mint in pots, therefore, is an ideal situation as the roots are contained. It is very easy to propagate; just break off some of the strong white roots, 7.5-10cm (3-4in) long, replant and they will quickly grow into strong specimens.

I have also propagated mint in jam jars of water. Take fresh shoots, 10cm (4in) long, cut below a leaf joint and set in the jars. It takes approximately three weeks to get white hair roots established, after which the cuttings can be potted up singly into small pots.

After growing on a sunny patio for a few months, mint can look a bit tired. To rejuvenate a mint plant, simply split it into two pieces – regeneration is very swift after repotting.

Mint has many uses and there are many different mints to choose from. The more common ones are spearmint, which has a very strong aroma, and ap
CORIANDER
Coriander can reach a height of up to 45cm (18in). Classed as an annual, it grows very quickly from seed so is ideal for pot culture. It likes a well-drained, fertile soil, responds well to frequent sowing but can run to seed quickly. Sow thinly and keep moist.

Many varieties are now available, such as ‘Confetti’ with unusual carrot like foliage, ‘Cilantro’ which is good for Indian curry and Chinese dishes and ‘Green Aroma’ which is fast growing, slow to bolt and does well in hot sunny weather.

TARRAGON
Tarragon is a fully hardy perennial which is very aromatic. There are two types, the French which is generally preferred by cooks and Russian which is hardier. I opted for the French form.

It thrives in well-drained soil and a sheltered position. It generally dies back in the winter and benefits from cloche protection, but in a pot can be moved inside to the protection of a cold greenhouse or polytunnel. I have never grown tarragon in a pot so this was a first for me.

The flowers, which are white and green and borne in clusters, appear in August, though I have always found it best to pick the young leaves before this. These young leaves are tooth shaped and good for freezing.

Tarragon stems and leaves are used to flavour vinegars and it is one of the essentials in fines herbes. Tarragon is propagated in April by dividing and then replanting the roots.

THYME
This herb is ground-hugging, forming masses of wiry stems with fine leaves and small lilac flowers appearing midsummer to autumn. Common thyme and the variegated yellow thyme have very strong flavours and scent and can be used for flavouring soups, meat dishes, poultry and fish.

Thyme is an ingredient in bouquet garni and often used when making stuffing for poultry. Like most herbs it prefers well-drained soil and a sunny position. It is very suited to pot growing but needs to be watered well in dry weather.

May is a good month for taking cuttings 5cm (2in) long inserted into a peat and sand mixture. Pot into John Innes number one when rooted. Thyme can also be propagated by division in March and April or grown from seed in the greenhouse in spring.

GARLIC
(JOE’S WAY)
Usually considered more a vegetable than a herb, nonetheless I like to grow some garlic in pots and group it with the above for ease of harvesting.

Using a well-drained, moisture retentive compost, fill the pot to the rim. Break off the individual cloves from the main bulb. Push these in close together in the pot and after a matter of a few weeks you can start to use the young garlic plants.

Pull out of the pot, trim off the roots and first skin from the tiny bulb. Then dice the bulb, the stem and the young leaves and use as normal garlic. You will find it very sweet and juicy. As weeks go by, keep thinning and using as baby garlic. You can plant young garlic cloves like this for many months of the year and can be self-sufficient.

This is a similar method to the way I grow spring onions for sets – plant close and four weeks later start to use as baby onions.

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Kitchen Garden is Britain's best specialist magazine dedicated to those who love to grow their own fresh fruit and vegetables.??Every month our expert team of writers - all of whom are highly experienced kitchen gardeners - bring you in-depth features on all aspects of growing your own produce whether on an allotment, a veg patch in the garden or even a patio or balcony.

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