It takes almost no space at all – just sun and some beautiful pots – to grow all the herbs you need. Herbs thrive in containers; being mostly bushy perennials that like good drainage and not too much care. They also don’t need much space to grow. Four or five herbs planted together in a large pot can be kept in shape through regular picking and pruning. That makes it easy to grow herbs wherever there is a sunny spot and move them when it suits you; to decorate a corner, brighten up a kitchen courtyard or change the look of an outdoor living area.
If you are wondering where to start, choose herbs that you’ll use, either in the kitchen or as herbal teas or as simple first aid remedies, for sorting out stings and insect bites.
The following three themed herb containers will give you an idea where to start:
Herbs for Salad
- Purple basil: add spicy-sweet leaves for colour, or use in herbal vinegars for salad dressing.
- Sweet basil: complements the flavour of tomatoes and sweet peppers, tear leaves, don’t chop.
- Perennial basil: use the stronger tasting leaves sparingly in winter for that basil flavour.
- Lemon thyme: strip the leaves off stems, add to salads or use in salad dressings to add a subtle lemon flavour.
- Golden oregano: add the leaves for colour and piquancy, use in dressings.
- Pineapple mint: chopped leaves add a fresh taste to salads. Also, use spearmint or garden mint in salads.
Good to know: Encourage tender new leaves by picking regularly; Remove basil flowers (add to the salad) to prevent plants going to seed and cut back pineapple mint to prevent it overgrowing the other herbs.
Herbs for Fish
- Chives: Harvest leaves by cutting them off at ground level, and snip with kitchen scissors as a mild onion-flavoured garnish.
- Dill: pairs very well with trout and salmon; use fresh as a garnish (also with steamed veggies) or in dressings and sauces.
- Basil: use in herb butters, sauces, and in herb-infused oils and vinegars to flavour fish dishes.
- Lemon thyme: use when baking, grilling or braaing fish.
- Parsley: use in sauces accompanying fish, or together with dill as a garnish.
Good to know: chives and dill are indicator plants for aphids so use this container to also alert you to insect infestations; spray with an organic spray, mild soapy water or let the ladybirds have a feast.
Herbs for Meat
- Parsley/ Italian parsley: chop the leaves finely and add at the end of cooking. Italian parsley is tastier and can be cooked for longer. Pick the outer leaves.
- Oregano: is a robust herb used mainly in Mediterranean meat and pasta dishes, complementing tomatoes and basil.
- Thyme: flavours slow-cooked red meat and chicken dishes, strip leaves off the stem and chop or add sprigs at the beginning of cooking and remove before serving.
- Rosemary: use sprigs to flavour roast chicken and lamb; as well as in marinades for grilled or braai meat.
- Garden Mint: pairs well with beef and lamb, helping to temper the richness of the meat, especially home-made mint sauce.
- Perennial basil: supplies basil flavoured leaves in winter for use in chicken and beef dishes.
Good to know: Although their water needs differ, oregano, thyme and rosemary have shallow root systems that occupy the top two-thirds of the container, while parsley and mint, that need more water, send their roots to the bottom of the container where they take up all the water that drains through.
Growing Tips for Herbs in Containers
- Be aware that a container is a closed system, depending entirely on the gardener for water, nutrition and the introduction of beneficial soil organisms, through the inclusion of organic fertiliser (or worm compost) in the potting mix.
- To ensure a consistent supply of nutrients, include slow release organic fertiliser in the potting mix. Liquid fertiliser or tonic, applied once a month is simply a supplementary feed.
- How often pots need water depends on their position, temperature, and rainfall. A rule of thumb is when the surface appears dry, give them a good soak. This may be three times a week in summer but less in winter.
Article courtesy of our friends at Healthy Living Herbs