Plucking home-grown herbs straight from the garden is one of life’s simple pleasures. Here’s what to consider when you plan your plot, writes Helen Young.
Pots or plots?Most herbs grow as well in pots as they do in the garden - just avoid little pots as they will dry out too quickly. Choose pots at least 30cm in diameter, long rectangular troughs, or perhaps a wide, shallow bowl that holds a mix of your favourite flavours. Good-quality potting mix really does make a difference to how plants grow, so look for the Australian Standards ticks or use price as a guide.
Herbs generally need a sunny spot and good drainage. But if your garden or balcony is a little shady, some of the best herbs to grow are mint, coriander, rocket, parsley and chives. Low herbs such as thyme, oregano and prostrate forms of rosemary can be used as groundcovers or spillovers in a sunny spot. Rosemary makes a lovely hedge or can be clipped into a ball. Bay and kaffir lime, both used for their leaves, are trees that need a large pot or a spot in the garden.
Growing partnersIt's a good idea to group herbs with similar needs together. Mediterranean herbs such as sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram and rosemary revel in hot, dry conditions. They thrive on neglect and have the most intense flavour when they're treated a little harshly. By contrast, soft green herbs such as parsley, rocket, basil, coriander and dill are best with regular watering and fertilising to keep leaves tender and sweet. Mint of all varieties - Vietnamese, common, spearmint and peppermint - is badly behaved, running freely if unchecked. Grow it in a pot on its own, or make a barrier around it in the garden by cutting the bottom out of a large plastic pot and sinking it into the ground.
Seasonal careSome herbs grow, flower and die within a short period, and need to be replanted seasonally. These include basil, rocket, coriander, dill and French tarragon. Pinching out any flowers will help prolong their life. Basil is the classic summer herb, planted in spring to grow and eat through summer before dying with the cold weather. Rocket and coriander are better in mild weather rather than high temperatures that make them 'bolt' to flower and an early demise. Chives die down over winter, but shoot again in spring. Parsley can last for two to three years. All herbs can be picked as needed, leaving the plants to keep growing. For basil, mint, rosemary and tarragon, regular picking doubles as pruning, keeping the plants bushy and compact. Herbs are rarely troubled by diseases but a few pests find them tasty. Non-toxic solutions are essential for edible plants. Treat caterpillars with Dipel, a biological control or use Yates Success. PestOil or Eco-oil will treat most sucking insects while snails and slugs can be trapped in a saucer of beer dregs or kept out with a barrier of sawdust or coffee grounds.
Get decorativeLook out for forms of common herbs that taste the same but offer foliage colour and interest. Variegated oregano and variegated apple mint have cream and green leaves. Sage is available in purple-leafed and tricolour (purple, cream and green) versions. Silver posie thyme has silver-variegated leaves and there are gold-leafed versions of thyme and oregano. Basil comes in purple, frilled or tiny-leafed varieties.