Kim Wilde's guide to growing a herb garden, good enough to eat.
When I designed my garden, my priority was to establish a herb garden near the kitchen. Taking the lovely pattemed knot gardens of the 17th century as my inspiration, I used the hardy evergreen Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa' to edge beds filled with all my favourite herbs.
My herb garden has several purposes, the most obvious being cu1inary. Mint is a favourite in summer punches or as an after-dinner tea; rosemary tastes great with roast chicken or saut potatoes and marjoram seems to taste good with almost everything! Herbs also attract butterflies and bees, as well as beneficial insects, such as hoverflies, which help to combat aphids. Last, but certainly not least, herbs look lovely. Whether as a small garden or in containers, it's worth making room for herbs to ensure a vibrant and aromatic display.
Some of the easiest herbs to grow are those &om the Mediterranean. They thrive in dry conditions, which help produce the highest concentration of essential oils and the best flavour. Rosemary is a tough evergreen with clusters of blue, pink or white flowers. It's a good plant for trimming and makes an alternative to box as a formal edging plant. Grow in well drained, preferably sandy soil in full sun. The Prostratus Group of tumbling rosemary is ideal for growing over low wal1s, but needs a sheltered site. When cooking, use with lamb, chicken or baked with saut potatoes.
There are more than 40 mint varieties, most of which prefer a degree of shade. It's a good idea to plant mint in containers - as most are invaslve in the open garden - making sure you use a good soil-based compost. Plant in spring and keep wen watered throughout the growing season. Divide and repot mint annually or every second year in SpriIlg, and top dress with fresh compost each spring. Apple mint, peppermint and spearmint grow up to 90cm high. Spearmint is generally used for mint sauce, but all add a delicious taste to fruit salads and most dishes with vegetables.
Parsley is a biennial herb, but the leaves taste best in the fust year, so sow fresh seeds each spring. They can take up to six weeks to germinate, but you can speed things up by soaking them overnight in a bowl of warm water before planting. Parsley is best grown in a partly shady spot. Keep moist and cut regularly for a constant supply straight to the plate. Grow the French flat-leaf parsley for flavour -it tastes wonderful in omelettes and fish dishes.
All thymes are evergreen and thrive in a sunny, well-rained position. They're ideal for growing in containers, as they look so decorative. Thyme tastes great, too. There's a wide range of types and flavours to choose from, including Thymus vulgaris, the most cornrnon1y grown species.
Thyrnus x citriodorus 'Aureus' (lemon-scented thyrne) is often used in stews and stUffing, and tastes absolutely delicious rubbed over chicken before cooking. Thyrnus vulgaris 'Silver Posie' grows up to 30cm high and has lovely, decorative silver edges. Thymus serpyllum (creeping thyme) is perfect for growing between patio slabs or stepping stones where it can spread out, and daesn't mind being tradden on. For an eye-catching display, choose a diverse selection of small thyme plants and arrange them in a wide terracotta pot for a giorious patchwork of colour and texture.
Sage (salvia officinalis) grows in the same conditions as rosemary. It has soft, felt-like leaves and grows to around 60cm, with flower spikes appearing mid-sununer in the second year. Trim plants back after flowering to encourage growth. Varieties include the red or purple sage, Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens', and my favourite, Salvia officina1is 'Tricolor'. You can leave summer flowers for bees, who love them. You can batter the leaves and fry for a savoury snack.
How to grow a fragrant herb garden
Other herbs to grow as annuals include basil, coriander and dill. The majority of herbs need little more than a sunny position and gritty, free-draining soil. If you have heavy soil, prepare the area with plenty of coarse grit and compost. Raised beds are ideal for creating the right conditions for growing herbs. Do a bit of homework before planting your herb garden as some, such as fennel, angelica and lovage, can grow up to 2m high. Edge your herbs with low hedges of clipped box, such as Buxus sempervirens or cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecy-parissus). For a slightly more informal look, plant chives (Allium schoenoprasum) with its small, mauve flower heads, or feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), with its very pretty, white, daisy flowers.
Herbs can look straggly at the end of each growing season, so cut dead sterns right back to promote vigorous growth. Spring is a good time to trim back most herbs to encourage new shoots and healthier growth for the coming season.
A mulch of stones or bark chips will help conserve moisture around young plants, as well as deterring weeds, although herbs are such rampant growers that weeds pose few problems. Most varieties of herb can be propagated by semi-ripe cuttings taken at any time from late spring to early summer. To do this, select undamaged, healthy young growth and remove the lower leaves to expose the stem, leaving the tip leaf buds and two leaves beneath. Cut through the stem where the wood is beginning to harden and pot using an open, gritty potting mixture.
Grow the perfect lawn from seed
Lawns are best sown when soil is warm and moist, so spring or autumn are ideal times. Growing a lawn from seed is cheaper than laying turf and is far more satisfying. Prepare the ground well in advance, digging it over and breaking it down to a fine consistency. Remove any stones, then rake the soil level and make sure you have removed all weeds. Scatter the seed evenly over the whole area, following the instructions on the seed packet. Gently rake over the soil to cover the seed and put a net over your new lawn to keep birds off. Keep watering the grass until it becomes established and avoid the temptation to cut it until it's at least 5cm tall. For the first few cuts, don't cut it shorter than 2.5cm. It's also a good idea to be gentie with new grass in its first year and not to overuse it.
I love this new book by John Cushnie, called simply How to Garden (Kyle Cailiie, 19.99, tel: 020 7692 7215). It's full of useful, practical advice on the basics of gardening.
Q: I've grown tomatoes from seed, which are really thriving. When should I remove the sideshoots?
Sideshoots (the ones which sprout from where the leaf joins the stem) are best removed from tall varieties as early as possible. Otherwise, they take essential nutrients from the main growing stem. Just pinch them out with your fingers as soon as they appear, and remember to do this every week. However, if you're growing bush varieties, it's best to leave those shoots alone.
Things to do in April
- Plant evergreens and conifers
- Feed roses and shrubs with general purpose fertiliser
- Weed borders and flowerbeds
- Plant gladioli corms
- Dig over the soil in your greenhouse
- Sow French beans, sweetcorn, courgettes and pumpkins
Garden of the month
Chenies Manor, Chenies, Rickmansworth, Herts WD3 6ER
(01494 762888). Don't miss the beautiful spring bedding and tu1ip displays in this lovely three-acre garden.
What's in bloom
- Ribes sanguineum, the flowering currant (above), has clusters of pink flowers and is ideal for hedges.
- Fritillarla Imperialis, the crown imperial, has exotic looking, orange bell-shaped flowers.
- Primula 'Wanda' produces striking deep magenta blooms and can grow in sun or shade.