How to grow a herb garden

How to grow a herb garden

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

47 guides

Herbs such as chives, coriander, mint, parsley, bay leaves, tarragon and basil are essential for flavouring your favourite home-cooked meals. Grown in the vegetable garden or in pots, herbs are great for sprucing up meats, fish and sauces. Read on for our tips on how best to grow herbs at home.  

Important features

  • Perennial
  • Sun exposure and soil type
  • Characteristics of common herbs
  • Annual and biennial
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Two types of aromatic plants

Herbs are aromatic plants that feature a least one edible part (usually the leaves) that can be used to add flavour to food. On the whole, these plants are easy to grow in the garden, in planters or in pots, provided that you meet their individual needs.

There are two main types of plants according to flowering frequency and life span. The first group includes annual and biennial plants and the second is perennials.

Annual and biennial plants


Annual plants last only one season, from sowing to harvest (basil is a good example). Biennial plants tend to only produce leaves in the first year before going to flowers in the second and then perishing (parsley and chervil, for example). 

If the leaves are what you are after in these plants, it's best to sow them every year as you would any annual plant as the leaves of these plants are have much less taste in their second year.

Perennial plants


Perennial plants live for many years. They can be woody, like bay leaves, and generally feature evergreen leaves. Otherwise, they can be non-woody, but will still be able to live out the winter underground in the form of a bulb, tuber, or rhizome. Chives and mint are excellent examples of such plants.

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Pots

Sunshine and soil requirements for herbs


There is a wide range of different types of herbs. Be sure to choose plants that are suited to the climate where you live and the type of soil you have. Pick a spot that leaves enough room for the plant to mature and grow.

As a general rule of thumb, the soil should be well aerated and well-drained – even when it comes to plants that prefer a bit more moisture. While most herbs require a sunny spot, some can get by with partial shade (parsley, for example). With that in mind, it's entirely possible to grow different plants in the same planter. You can even put your planter in full sun as the taller plants will create shade for smaller plants that prefer partial shade. 

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Planter

Characteristics of common herbs

In cooking, we use far fewer herbsthan we do other ingredients. It's important to keep that in mind when sowing or planting. Rather than buying a big bag of seeds – most of which will never get used – you may be better off purchasing a single young plant in a pot.

Plant

Propagation method

Life cycle

Exposure

Soil type

Edible parts

Main uses

Dill

Direct sowing in April-May

Annual

Direct sun, sheltered from the wind

Cool, well drained

Fresh leaves

Fish

Basil

Sowing in pots in April or planting in May

Annual

Direct sun, sheltered from the wind

Slightly moist, rich in humus

Fresh leaves

Pesto, tomato salad

Chervil

Direct sowing in May

Annual

Direct sun or partial shade

Any kind of well-drained, cool soil

Young fresh leaves

Salad, omelettes, soups

Chives

Sowing in March-April

Perennial

Direct sun

Any type of well-drained soil

Fresh leaves

Salad, omelettes, steamed vegetables

Coriander

Sowing in spring or september

Annual

Directly in the sun

Any type of soil

Fresh leaves and seeds

Salad and fish, soups

Tarragon

Sowing or in clumps in the spring

Perennial

Direct sun or partial shade

Light and well-drained soil, rich in humus

Young, fresh leaves

Eggs, chicken, various cold sauces

Bay leaves

Planting

Perennial (shrub)

Direct sun

Any type of soil

Dried or fresh leaves

Sauces, stock

Mint

Sowing in spring, dividing plant

Perennial

Direct sun or partial shade

Cool soil enriched with compost

Fresh or dried leaves

Tabouleh, drinks

Parsley

Sowing or planting from March to September

Biennial

Partial shade

Cool and light soil, rich in humus

Leaves and stem

Raw vegetables, omelettes, sautéed vegetables

Rosemary

Sowing in the spring

Perennial (shrub)

In sun, sheltered from frost

Dry, preferably limestone

Young leaves, fresh or dry

Sauces, baked or grilled fish

Sage

Sowing, dividing plant

Perennial

Direct sun

Dry or even very dry soil

Fresh or dried leaves

Sauces (pork, lamb, etc.)

Thyme

Sowing in the spring

Perennial (shrub)

Direct sun

Dry soil, preferably limestone

Fresh or dried leaves

Grilled meats, stock, meats with sauces

Savory

Sowing in March in pots or April in the ground

Annual or perennial

Direct sun

Dry soil

Fresh or dry leaves

Grilled meats, stews, ragouts

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    Guide written by:

    John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 47 guides

    John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

    When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.   At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.   I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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