Herbs are some of the most rewarding plants to grow in your garden. You transform a steaming bowl of tomato soup with a snip or two of chives. You enliven a take-away curry with a scattering of coriander. You don’t need to stuff a chicken if you can roast it with half a lemon and some sprigs of thyme inside. Although many herbs tolerate some neglect, they’ll reward you if you tend them at this time of year. Most people have space for a few herbs and some do very well in pots. If you have them close to your kitchen door, you’re more likely to dash out to pick them fresh to add to your meal. If you want to learn more about growing herbs, register for ‘the fresh food garden‘.
If you cut back woody herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay, lavender and sage now, you’ll get fresh new growth to pick in summer. If you want to dry some of the leaves, put them in the airing cupboard in a paper bag for a couple of weeks and then store in glass jars in a dark place. These herbs grow well from cuttings in Spring. I find it’s usually easier to divide off pieces with a few roots attached from the base of the plants when I cut them back, then pot them up ready for spring.
I don’t cut back my pineapple sage until spring because it’s still flowering well and the bees love it on a sunny day. You can use the blossom in salads or freeze them in icecubes to add to drinks. If you get a heavy frost you might find it dies back in winter.
Chives, mint and tarragon will also die back at this time of year. Chives are one of my staple herbs for the summer and it’s a good time to divide up clumps of them if you need more next year. Add some compost when you replant them and cover them with mulch.
I keep my mint contained in plastic flower pots with the bottoms cut off sunk into the ground, otherwise it can take over very quickly. Try a few different mints to find one you like the taste of. You’re more likely to get a continuous supply with a few different varieties. I dig up the pots of mint in winter and chop back the woody stems to level with the soil surface. Usually there’s a few runners with roots on, that have escaped. I pot these up for new plants next year. I re-bury the pots in holes filled with some compost and top them off with mulch.
I find I have to mark where I’ve planted my french tarragon with a plant label. Otherwise when it dies back in winter I dig it up or plant something on top of it before it regrows in spring. Spring is the time to lift and divide clumps of tarragon.
Vietnamese mint will continue growing through the winter if you don’t get a frost, but spreads like the other mints so keep it in a pot too.
Marjoram and oregano can be cut back now too. I’ve found mine has taken over this year, so I’ve dug up the whole plant and replanted a few pieces.
Coriander is a herb you either love or loath. It’s springing up prolifically where I let it go to seed last year. It does better at this time of year as it doesn’t go to seed as quickly as in the warmer months. It’s another herb that does well in pots but doesn’t like being transplanted; sow the seeds where you want the plants.
Try a few new herbs in your garden. Take cuttings from a friend, sow a few seeds or find a pot of something appealing in your local garden centre. My favourite book about growing and cooking with herbs in New Zealand is ‘the cook’s herb garden’ by Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne.