18 Mar 2018

Six hero herbs for an evergreen kitchen herb garden


For two days this week the weather here was gloriously uplifting - warm air and spring sunshine - and about time too, you might think! But with settling snow falling over London again today, I'm appreciating six herbs that seem to simply shrug off the worst of the winter weather. These six evergreen herbs can be grown on a windowsill, balcony, or garden and provide freshly picked flavours for my kitchen all year round.

I confess I've never had much luck growing herbs indoors; there's simply not enough good light in my flat - it switches from shade to full sun or vice versa depending which window I'm looking out of. I'm lucky to have a small balcony though and if I didn't have that, I'd anchor planters onto the window sills. Of course I also have herbs in the veg patch garden but when it's cold and dark, it's much nicer just to reach through a door or window.

Tried and tested over the years, I've successfully grown these particular kitchen herbs year round on my third floor balcony, with no extra heat or protection. This past week I've had to clear my balcony completely before it was thoroughly jet washed as part of ongoing building works so all plants have been temporarily removed to the garden downstairs for safety. They’ll withstand ice and snow but not the blast of a powerful water jet!

So these are my six hero herbs; the trick with all of these is to make sure that the compost they’re in is kept just moist but well drained. Waterlogged or parched plants will not survive!

Parsley (Petroselinum)



With more vitamin C in its leaves than an orange, this is the herb I’m never without. The curly leaved variety is what I grow on my balcony. The seeds can be slow to germinate so I buy a supermarket herb and transfer it straight out of its pot and into good quality compost in a planter. It needs to acclimatise/recover from its hothouse start in life but, if the weather's warm enough, it can go straight outside. Watch out for those night time temps though! The roots are free to grow and the plant thrives. Parsley is biennial, so tries to flower in the second year, at which point I replace it.

Celery Leaf (Apium graveolens)



Assuming you like the taste of celery (I do), this is a perfect alternative to celery for the windowsill  or container gardener. This biennial herb is hardy down to -12°C so will happily sit through all but the harshest winters. I add a few leaves to salad but mostly use it in stocks and soups. Edible seeds follow pretty spring time flowers and are delicious ground with sea salt when dried. Sow seeds in spring for a continuous crop.

Bay (Laurus nobilis)



Over time, these can grow huge when planted in the ground so I prefer to keep mine contained in a pot to restrict its size. I bought a small lollipop bay some years ago, repotted it into a similar sized beautiful terracotta container and now replace the top inch of soil every year in spring. Bay likes its roots to be pot bound so it's a perfect container herb. Adds a subtle flavour to casseroles, a classic addition to bouquet garni, and intriguingly good in rice pudding.


Sage (Salvia officinalis)



I love having aromatic sages in the garden but, on my balcony, I grow Common Sage for cooking with. As a Mediterranean herb, it’s well suited to the rigours of life on the edge - the crosswinds of an urban balcony can be very damaging to plants - but sage, as with other grey/green or silver leaved plants, takes these conditions in its stride. Growing in a container keeps it at a manageable size, and it makes a tasty addition to vegetable dishes - I particularly love it with squash. It’s also reputed to have anti-aging properties, need I say more?


Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)



It looks and smells amazing in a winter wreath but that’s not why I grow it. I have an Italian friend who makes a delicious pizza topped with thin slices of potato, chopped rosemary and cheese. It’s one of the classic ‘Scarborough Fair’ four and is excellent for aiding digestion which is why it’s so great with lamb or other fatty meats. It’s versatility extends beyond the kitchen and I love fresh sprigs steeped in warm almond oil to make a muscle soothing rub.

Thyme (Thymus)



The natural habitat of this hardy evergreen herb is paths, rockeries and cliffs so it’s not only a classic culinary herb but perfectly suited to balcony or container life.  My favourite is the low growing creeping thyme in the veg patch garden which I pick from regularly; on my balcony, for ease of access, a small upright thyme is grown in the window box at the edge for maximum light.  This summer I'll switch that out for an orange scented thyme (Thymus 'Fragrantissimus') which I've read is wonderful with sweet dishes, and possibly also cocktails! All thymes can be used for cooking but also medicinally - an infusion of the leaves makes a soothing tea for sore throats because of its antiseptic properties.

And, last but not least, soil for containers:

Good soil is at the heart of every successful garden. Because the substrate that I grow these container herbs is rarely changed, I use a soil based compost such as John Innes No.3 mixed with perlite for added drainage and, during spring and summer, water in an organic liquid fertiliser every few weeks.

What are your hero herbs at this time of year?

18 comments:

  1. I plan to enter the world of herb-growing this year so this was a useful post - thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jules, so pleased you found it useful. I love growing and using herbs, having started with the basics and now about to create a large herb garden! Good luck with your herb growing this year!

      Delete
  2. Last year I grew flat leaf parsley, sage, thyme, three types of mint, chives, and tarragon in my back garden. All in pots. And I saw that herbs really struggled. In the middle of the autumn I relocated them all directly into the soil. And of course because it wasn’t warm and light anymore the herbs had remained dormant since. With an exception maybe with chives and parsley, the latter serving as a nice treat for our rescue rabbit. This year rosemary will follow for sure. And of course warmth lover coriander.
    Also there is a quite tall bush (tree?) of bayleaf that was already there in the back garden when we moved in three years ago. All thriving and green.
    I have a question about the celery leaf. When I was given seeds I was told that it is particularly hard to get them germinate and grow. And it appeared so. I tried placing them on a damp cotton pad and some of them germinated and grew. When I placed them in the soil after they all just died. Is there any other way to get successful with them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Alina, no need to worry, your herbs would have been going into dormancy in the autumn anyway - even the evergreens. Mint dies back completely overwinter, as do chives. Tarragon is very tender and can be killed by cold so best put under cover in winter. Mint, btw, can be very invasive so best planted in a bottomless pot into the soil so the roots are contained. Plants like a garden to be like their native habitat so rosemary and sage like a bright spot outside and soil to be very free draining and without added fertilisers. You don’t say where you live so I don’t know what your growing conditions are.
      With regard to celery leaf, the seeds can take up to 3 weeks to germinate. They need to be sown onto the top of seed compost and covered with a thin layer of perlite or sprinkle of compost. Keep the soil warm and moist (damp not wet!) until germination. Fresh seed is also important. I have some growing in the garden where it self seeds every year in autumn and new plants appear in spring, often in the most surprising places (a bit like fennel!). Hope this helps. Caro x
      PS. Fresh seed can be bought from Johnson seeds who are very reputable.

      Delete
    2. Thanks Caro! I will definitely follow your advice on celery leaf as it is something I really want to have growing. As for mint so yes invasive as they are I don’t mind them taking over some particular part of the garden where a very peculiar weed is growing. I don’t know the name of it but it is like a ground cover with a very long tangly roots. It basically grows from nothing, even the smallest piece of root. So I wish mint can take it over as it almost did in my allotment where I placed it along my beloved peonies. Luckily I spotted the onslaught in time and took measures.
      We live in West London, Hounslow.

      Alina x

      Delete
    3. Sounds like your weed might be bindweed on the allotment - if so, the mint won't control it. Bindweed is a pain and just needs to be pulled out whenever you see it. It grows back from the tiniest bit of root left behind but if you keep on top of it, you'll eventually control it. Takes a bit of time though! Peonies are definitely worth looking after, I can't wait for mine to bloom! Cx

      Delete
  3. I really struggle with herbs. The Devon climate is probably too wet for them, even in outdoor containers. I do better in the greenhouse but don’t have much space. But I dug up a clump of chives last autumn and they’re more advanced under glass than the garden ones. And I still have coriander.. just! In the garden the slugs devour it. Same with parsley.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a puzzle; I'm sure you've tried raising the containers onto pot feet for drainage ... and added some horticultural grit or perlite to the soil for the same reason. It depends what you try to grow, parsley, mint, celery leaf can take a bit of wet. Chives like moist soil and a bright spot and soil substrate if growing in containers. Now coriander eludes me. I've read that it will bolt early in the season so I'm sowing early and late this year - I'm amazed you still have coriander after the winter we've had! Are you sure it's slugs eating your herbs and not pheasant or deer? :D

      Delete
  4. Great idea, a balcony herb garden, & you've got all the best herbs. Be sure to drop over the #sixonsaturday host, https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/six-on-saturday-17-03-2018/ & post your link in his comments so everyone can give you a big welcome! Hope to see you next week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lora, and yes, I'd forgotten to do that and will pop over to add a link. Hope to find you there!

      Delete
  5. I froze some basil, coriander, chives and parsley last year. Coriander soon goes to seed if it isn’t used immediately and I like to use it in winter recipes when there are no fresh supplies other than the supermarket. it worked really well and I’ll freeze more this year,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sue, did you chop and freeze the herbs in (as?) ice cubes? I don’t have much freezer space so have never tried but it’s really good to know that tender herbs like basil and coriander freeze well. I miss them in winter. Have you tried drying herbs?

      Delete
  6. I've never tried celery leaf, but the others are all favourites. I did have a bay tree many years ago but it needs to be overwintered indoors & my thumb isn't very green when it comes to indoor plants, so it didn't last long. I may try again one of these days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They’re tough little trees that really prefer to be outside! Mine sits in its pot on the edge of my balcony and gets bashed by all weathers and has only suffered this past winter when it was slowly covered in dust and dirt from the building works. I’ve had to repot, clean all the leaves and put it down in the garden, with fingers crossed for survival. Like you, I’m rubbish at indoor plants; as Alys Fowler says “your plants don’t want to live with you!”. 😩
      Can you try again but put the pot very close to your house walls, sheltered if possible, and cover it in horticultural fleece during the winter? Cx

      Delete
    2. Our winters would be too harsh - even by a sheltered wall, the temperatures would still be too low. Bay is hardy to USDA zone 8 (min. of -12C) but we are way below that in zone 4 with a min. of -31C - I can hear you shivering now ;). When I push the limits, it's usually by only one zone & even then it's hit or miss. BTW that's a great quote!

      Delete
    3. Oh my goodness! Now that's cold! I can quite see the challenges that you face now, Margaret. I'll never complain about a teensy bit of snow in London again!

      Delete
  7. Good post and pictures. I don't grow or use any herbs. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Flighty. I think it rather depends on what we grew up with. My mum loved to cook and was happy to experiment with new ingredients, although I have to say parsley sauce over broad beans for school dinners put me off both for many years! xx

      Delete

Thank you to everyone who leaves a comment, it helps to know that my scribblings are being read! If you have a question, I'll answer it here or contact me via the 'Contact Me' form at the top.

Comment moderation is on to avoid spam nonsense getting published. No offence to genuine commenters who are very welcome!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...