Herbs, flower seeds and gardening accessories on table in garden

Herbs at home

Being able to pop out and take a snippet of something fresh to cook with, or make tea from, is a simple pleasure. Homegrown herbs look and smell great, and they could help attract some garden wildlife.

Herbs are pretty resilient, and many of them don’t need much attention.

Getting started

If you’re starting from scratch, it’s worth doing a bit of research to make sure you’re planting in optimal conditions: while many herbs are tough and will flourish just about anywhere, others are quite fussy about the amount of sunlight they require. They all, however, require a degree of shelter.

Herbs that prefer sun

  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Oregano

Herbs that prefer partial shade

  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Coriander
  • Tarragon
  • Parsley
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Anise hyssop
  • Lemon balm
  • Angelica

Pots of herbs on indoor window sill

Quick Tip

If you’re new to herb gardening, a great shortcut is to start with seedlings rather than seeds. That way, you’ll get a clearer idea of what each species should look like, and how they should grow, as a young plant.

Soil

Small mint plant growing in soilMost herbs prefer soil that’s well drained and fertile, with plenty of organic goodness. If yours is clayheavy, incorporate some compost or grit to improve the drainage. Or get round the problem of dense soil by creating a raised bed.

Herbs tend to be happier in soil that’s neutral to alkaline, but can take a little bit of acidity. If there’s too much of the latter, counteract it with some lime.

Annual, biennial and perennial herbs

If you are growing from seed, you should first distinguish between annual/biennial herbs.

Annual and biennial herbs

As the names suggest, annual herbs have a life cycle of one growing season, and for biennial herbs two growing seasons. They tend to grow fast and might need to be resown regularly.

Both annual and biennial seeds can be sown from March to August, and can be resown every few weeks to ensure a fresh regrowth.

Perennial herbs

Perennials have a much longer life span, consisting of multiple growth cycles. These grow more slowly and need a more permanent home.

Most perennials, should be sown in covered seed trays and then planted in their final positions when their roots seem strong enough. Some need a transitional period of getting used to lower temperatures outdoors, so it’s best to follow the instructions on the seed packets.

Annuals and biennials

  • Basil
  • Coriander
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Chervil
  • Chamomile
  • Marjoram
  • Borage
  • Lemongrass
  • Rocket

Perennials

  • Oregano
  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Chives
  • Comfrey
  • Sorrel
  • Russian tarragon
  • Hyssop
  • Fennel
  • Lovage
  • Horseradish

Where to plant

If you’re lucky enough to have plenty of space, you can plan a traditional herb garden with gravel walkways between sections and raised beds. This will require more of your time as you’ll need to plan your design carefully, use the right type of herbs, and ensure raised beds are kept in tip top condition.

Herb wheels, a multicompartmental planter, and raised beds are useful for keeping species separate, and you can also plant herbs as borders in existing flower beds.

Small mint plant growing in soil

If you’re pushed for space, you can plant straight into grow-bags, set up a mini in-kitchen
herb garden or make the most of your windowsills (south-facing is best).

Growing in popularity, micro-herbs, also knows as micro leaves, such as coriander and basil are harvested a week or so after germination and are flavoursome and easy to grow; all you need is a windowsill in a warm room that gets plenty of daylight.

Popular cooking herbs

  • Chives
  • Basil
  • Coriander
  • Thyme
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Mint
  • Tarragon
  • Sage

Basil and other herbs on and next to a chopping board

Herbs for attracting wildlife

  • Borage
  • Catmint
  • Chicory
  • Chives
  • Clover
  • Comfrey
  • Cornflower
  • Echinacea
  • Evening primrose
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Lavender
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Wild clary

Herbs with edible flowers

  • Lavender
  • Pot marigold
  • Dill
  • Basil
  • Borage
  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Rosemary

Basked of lavender

Pruning

Woody herbs need a light pruning in the autumn or after flowering to prevent them from getting even more woody. Softer ones should also be cut back after flowering to encourage more growth.