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Best expert advice on growing herbs

Herb Seed Collection from Suttons

It’s easy to sow and grow herb seeds and there’s a wealth of expert advice available, should you require a few tips. Here’s a collection of our favourite herb growing videos, articles and Instagram posts to provide plenty of inspiration. If you don’t have time to sow seed, don’t worry. Simply order a selection of herb plants to get you off to a running start. 

The most diverse, useful and fragrant collection of plants, herbs have been cultivated for centuries, not only for their aromatic flavours, but also as traditional medicinal aids for our physical and mental wellbeing. Whether you have a generous size allotment or a few pots on the kitchen windowsill, here’s everything you need to know to grow your own herbs.

Contents

Best advice on sowing herbs

Herb seed - Tarragon Russian from Suttons
Fresh tarragon can be grown on windowsills, warm patios and in window boxes
Image: Herb seed – Tarragon Russian from Suttons

In his comprehensive guide to herb growing, John at Allotment and Gardens offers detailed instructions on how to sow, and grow on virtually every popular herb variety, from basil through to thyme. He also includes tips on pests and diseases to watch out for, as well as tips on harvesting and storing your herbs.

‘No dig’ gardener Charles Dowding advocates succession planting of annual herbs to ensure a long harvesting season in his easy to follow herb growing video. He saturates the compost in his mini seed trays before sowing coriander and dill together – two herbs from different plant families that happen to share similar growing requirements. After a good initial soaking, the seeds won’t be disturbed by watering until they are germinated and developing well.

Over @mrsbeesgarden, Debbie also likes to ensure a good supply of herbs throughout the year by sowing regularly, as beautifully illustrated by her bucket full of thyme, rosemary, sage, bay, mint, parsley and chives. Another of her tips is to sow herb seeds in egg shells – her basil seedlings certainly look happy and cosy!

Urging us all to grow more herbs this year, Elaine at The 3 Growbags royally sings their praises, saying they look pretty, smell lovely, and make fabulous companion plants to keep pests off your other precious crops. At this time of year she says it’s fine to sow hardy annual or biennial herbs, like dill, coriander, chamomile and parsley, directly on the soil in your garden, repeating a couple of times at three-week intervals so you have a great harvest all summer.

Best advice on where to grow herbs

Herb seed - Thyme Orange Scented from Suttons
Perennial herbs like thyme look pretty, smell lovely and attract pollinators too
Image: Herb seed – Thyme Orange Scented from Suttons

Containers are a great choice for growing herbs and you can get a substantial crop from a limited space at home, as ably demonstrated in Kelly’s Kitchen Garden herb harvesting video. Her first harvest of the summer from a handful of pots is really impressive, and most of it will be dried for use later in the year.

Dan at Allotment Diary is another advocate for growing herbs in pots at home, alongside easy salad leaves, even if you have an allotment as he does. In an amusing video made during lockdown, he shows us how simple it is to sow some herb seeds and nurture them on the kitchen windowsill. Don’t worry if your parsley takes ages to germinate – it should get there eventually. 

Sharing lovely photos of ready-to-pick rosemary and flowering chives, Sarah @diggingtheearth recommends keeping your herb plants together in a dedicated herb patch in a convenient spot. She grows hers near the entrance to her allotment where it’s easy to dash in and grab some for cooking when she’s short on time.

Some perennial herbs, particularly mint and lemon balm, are super spreaders so it’s a good idea to grow them in containers, according to The Bridge Cottage Way in an absorbing guide to growing and using herbs. Think outside the box when it comes to herb containers – Sue grows lemon balm in a recycled tyre!

In her inspiring post on growing herbs, Ellen Mary confirms they’re an easy and versatile choice for the inexperienced gardener. Many varieties will thrive happily as indoor plants, and a sunny balcony can be the perfect location to grow a few pots of herbs as this image demonstrates well.

Catherine at Growing Family offers some great tips in her step-by-step guide to creating a herb garden on your windowsill. She says sowing and growing herbs indoors is a great gardening project for children because it’s simple to do and you can get really fast results.

Another excellent resource is the indoor herb growing guide from Dan at Urban Turnip, who offers detailed instructions on how to look after your plants in order to get the best pickings.

Best advice on planting and caring for herbs

Herb seed - Sweet Basil from Suttons
Basil can be sown directly outdoors from May, but needs plenty of water
Image: Herb seed – Sweet Basil from Suttons

Herbs are a diverse group of plants, and they need a variety of growing conditions to thrive, points out Carol at The Sunday Gardener in her very thorough herb-growing guide. For example, perennial Mediterranean type herbs, like sage, thyme and rosemary, love hot, dry conditions, but parsley, basil and chives prefer a cooler spot and need to be well watered.

For a clear explanation of the distinction between perennial, biennial and annual herbs, head over to Claire’s Allotment where she talks through the different habits and requirements of each. For example, as perennials chives can be sown and planted once, then will come back year after year, getting bigger each time. She describes them as having a little sleep in winter and starting to grow again once the weather warms up in spring.

Harvesting regularly is really important to keep herb plants bushy, and to stop them bolting or getting too woody, says Tony at Simplify Gardening. His comprehensive guide to growing herbs emphasises that you should cultivate the ones you love to eat, or if you’re a novice, the ones that are easiest to grow. Herbs thrive in free-draining, moisture retaining, organically rich soil and a sunny position. If you’ve sown indoors, transfer to their final spot on a cool, cloudy day.

Pinching out annual herb seedlings is another way to make sure you establish strong plants that will grow well throughout the season. Take a look at how @hayley’s_lottie_haven does it in her short but sweet video clip on pinching out basil. There’s no waste involved – the snipped basil leaves were, of course, destined for the dinner table!

Best herb varieties to try

Herb plant - Oregano Hot & Spicy (NEW) from Suttons
Try new varieties, like this spicy oregano, to give a warm kick to Greek and Italian dishes
Image: Herb plant – Oregano Hot & Spicy (NEW) from Suttons

Liz at Byther Farm is a great fan of perennial herbs, describing them as workhorses of the kitchen garden. She describes each variety beautifully, detailing their qualities one by one. Her pick of evergreens features bay, oregano, lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme and winter savory. 

Herbs are ancients of the cultivated garden and Matt at Grow Like Grandad delves back in time to share fascinating Medieval herb tips about the grand trio of fennel, oregano and sage. Collated in 1306 in the Italian book Ruralia Commoda, (apparently Henry VIII had a copy) these gems of knowledge have been passed down by word of mouth over thousands of years. Matt had them translated from Latin and Italian into modern English – fascinating read!

Bees and other pollinators find many herbs irresistible – another reason why they’re an important choice for every garden. Kirsty @my_little_allotment captured some delightful footage of bees busily buzzing around her fragrant lavender, and they love her flowering rosemary too.

Over at The Pink Wheelbarrow, MT selects her top ‘Plant to Plate’ herb picks – mint, parsley and chives – giving plenty of good advice on how to grow, harvest and use each of them in recipes.

Some gardeners are dazzled by one herb in particular, as Becky @sow_much_more demonstrates in her lyrical love letter to borage, even though she says this pretty, colourful plant with its edible leaves, flowers and stems can be a bit of a bully in the border.

@allotment_chef, Daniel, who always has flavour in mind when he’s choosing plants for his plot, declares that thyme is his absolute favourite kitchen herb, although his tempting image of freshly-picked herbs reveals mint, dill and parsley are also in his growing repertoire.

Since time immemorial, herbs have been prized the world over, not simply for their beauty, but also for their extraordinary culinary and healing properties. Armed with all this excellent expert advice, you can pick your personal favourites and create your own flourishing herb collection, even in the smallest of growing spaces.

Lead image: Herb Seed Collection from Suttons

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