There’s nothing quite as tasty as using your own fresh-grown herbs in cooking. Even if you don’t use them in food they’re often lovely to look at and smell great, too. Here’s how to grow herbs outdoors in your backyard.
Most herbs are perfect for growing in containers. They’re easy to grown from seed but you can also pick them up from nurseries and garden centres, online and offline. It’s a good idea to avoid the pots of living herbs you get in supoermarkets, simply because they’re grown under glass so are nowhere near hardy enough to survive outside. And they’re often grown in wet compost, when they much prefer very well-drained sandy or gritty soil.
You can plant tender herbs like basil, marjoram, coriander and French tarragon indoors in the spring, then plant them outdoors once the risk of frost has gone. Hardier herbs can live outside for good once they’re safely established: mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage can all be grown inside them transplanted out in containers during May.
A list of annual and biennial herbs
- Sweet marjoram
- Lemon Grass
- Mexican Marigold
- Russian tarragon
- Lemon Balm
Where to grow herbs outdoors
You can grow herbs outside in either a special herb garden, raised bed, veggie plot or go wild and simply dot them around in your flowerbeds – there’s no law says you can’t. You just need the right conditions, namely well-drained soil with plenty of sand or grit.
If you are growing herbs from seed, your best bet is to grow hardy annuals or biennials, all of which you can sow between March and August. You need to sow them every 3-4 weeks so you get a constant supply once they mature. Planting out direct into the garden is best of all for herbs that don’t like to be transplanted, and rarely survive if you try.
Herbs with colorful leaves look lovely planted in flowerbeds, adding extra texture and interest. You can use low-growing herbs like chives and thyme to edge a pathway and provide gorgeous scents. You can stuff thyme and creeping savory into the gaps in between paving stones, and you can even stand on them without causing too much harm, which releases a glorious scent. And fennel is a beauty, tall and feathery, a marvellous addition to an herbaceous border with vivid yellow flowers that bees and butterflies adore.
Sow fast-growing herbs like parsley, coriander and dill amongst your veg, oruse them as flowerbed edging. With luck they’ll grow throughout the winter as long as you protect them from frost with a cloche.
Herbs you might like to try growing – And their origin
As you can see, most herbs come from hot places. That’s why they usually dislike being cold and wet. It’s interesting to see how almost all of them were originally used for medicinal purposes. Maybe it’s because of their strong scent. You can imagine ancient people giving them powerful properties just because they smelled powerful!
- Basil – Native to India, used to make pesto sauce
- Bay – Comes from the Med, used widely as a medicine in times past as well as to flavor food
- Cardamom – Native to India, also used as a medicine as well as flavoring
- Chilli – Comes from South and Central America, used to flsavor food for thousands of years
- Cinnamon – Native to Sri Lanka and widely used in ancient China, Egypt and Rome, used to treat colds and flu and once a seroius luxury, madly expensive
- Cloves come from Indonesia, widely used by the ancient Romans and Chinese, used to treat toothache in Europe because of its anaesthetic properties
- Coriander – Once thought to be an aphrodisiac, used by the Greeks and Romans and popular throughout Medieval Europe
- Cumin comes from the Mediterranean region, used as a spice and a medicine
- Dill comes from West Asia, also used as a medicine in times past in Egypt, Rome and Europe
- Garlic comes from Central Asia, a strong antiseptic used as a medicine for centuries and believed to be an aphrodisiac
- Ginger comes from south east Asia, only eaten in Europe from the 1500s but widely used in ancient China and India
- Horseradish was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and has been used for medicine as well as to flavor food
- Mint has long been used as a medicine as well as a flavoring, and grows all over the place
- Mustard has been used for hundreds of years, as a medicine as well as in food
- Nutmeg, an Indonesian native, had many medicinal uses and was widely exported from south east Asia to Europe
- Parsley comes from the Mediterranean, long grown for food and medicinal purposes
- Pepper is native to India, used as a spice and to cure digestive problems
- Rosemary comes from the Med and was once used to boost the memory. It weas also burned in sickrooms in the Middle Sges, believed to prevent the spread of disease
- Sage also comes from the Mediterranean area, used for medicine much more often that food until relatively recently
- Tarragon hails from central Asia. It’s name comes from the Latin for little dragon
- Thyme is another Mediterranean herb, used widely as a medicine before it became a popular flavoring for food