Plant list

Aloe vera
Aloe vera
Not a herb, admittedly, aloe vera is a succulent. Break open a leaf and you can see its gel-like sap, which is used extensively in the cosmetic industry for its soothing, moisturising and healing properties. The sap can be applied directly to burns and stings to take the heat out of them.

Best grown indoors and in a pot in the UK, it likes sandy soil and is happy in dry spells. Water very sparingly in winter, when the plant is dormant. When it develops shoots at the foot of the mother plant, carefully remove these and plant up to produce new plants.

Bay
Laurus nobilis
Bay trees are often grown in pots to keep them compact. A full-grown tree in the open ground can reach 8-12m high and as wide – although it will take decades to get that big.

Bays are unfussy plants which will grow in most soils so long as they are well-drained and is happy in full sun or in semi-shade.

Bay trees can be affected by scale insect and bay suckers. Scale insects look like little brown and white buttons on the main stem. A blast of water will dislodge them.

Bay suckers are tiny mites which will make the leaves curl over – you’ll also see what looks like little bits of white wool on the leaves. Remove all the affected branches and burn them – don’t put them in the compost. You may well have to do this more than once to get rid of the suckers. Think of it as a good pruning.


Dwarf comfrey
Symphytum ibericum
One of the ancient common names for comfrey was ‘knitbone’ because it was applied to wounds and also fractures in the olden days to help set them. Comfrey tea used to be taken as a remedy for coughs and colds, although ingesting comfrey these days is discouraged - an overdose can cause damage to the liver.

Currently it is perhaps best known for the liquid manure you can make from the leaves. Put a sackful of comfrey in a porous sack into a water butt. Fill the butt with water (if it isn’t full already). Leave for 4-6 weeks, then draw off the resulting liquid from the tap. This makes a great feed for your plants, high in nitrogen and with god levels of potassium too.

Coriander
Coriandum sativum
We don’t have coriander growing out in the garden at the moment and it’s a must-have herb if you like it.

The problem with coriander is tat it will bolt so readily: that is, instead of growing slowly and developing lots of luscious leaves, it will grow very fast and set seed. When the plant does this the flavour goes out of the leaves as the plant’s energy is focused on getting through its life-cycle as quickly as possible.

As a broad generalisation, plants bolt if there is a check in growth. Regular watering, the right soil, good weather conditions should all prevent bolting. But coriander is particularly prone to it.

This year for the first time, I am trying out Coriander Calypso, a variety which claims to produce leaf and be resistant to bolting. I’ll be reporting back on that on the blog. 

Another solution is to grow coriander as microleaves and pick them when very young. There are details of how to do this on the blog.

Echinacea
Echinacea purpureum Magnus
Echinacea is a native of north America and has long been used by native Americans as a general remedy: for coughs, sore throats, headaches and pain relief. It's very popular today as a herbal remedy to ward off the common cold. It’s popularly believed to be an immuno-stimulator, giving a general boost to the body’s immune system.

Echinacea purpurea, grown here, is primarily an ornamental plant. It’s easy to maintain and likes either sun or partial shade, with spectacular purple flowers in July and August.


Fennel
Foeniculum vulgare
This type of fennel is grown for its leaf fronds and seeds – it doesn’t develop a swollen bulb like Florence Fennel.

It's an easy plant to look after, although it’s said not to like heavy clay soil. Let it grow tall at the back of a bed so that it will set seed which you can then collect.

Leaves, stalks and seeds are all full of anise flavour: great in salads. The seeds are a common ingredient in curry powders and pastes and the plant is a primary component of absinthe.

Seeds make a flavoursome tea which is good for colicky babies – mother drinks it and bay ingests it through breastmilk.

French marjoram
Origanum onites
There’s a lot of confusion between oregano and marjoram, which are closely related. What we call wild marjoram and common oregano are the same plant - Oreganum vulgare.

Marjoram likes a sunny spot and light well-drained soil – good in and under hedges. Mature plants will happily withstand dry conditions, and will spread out as well as up. 

French tarragon
Artemisia dracunculus
Strong-flavoured variety. Likes warmth and is happy with dry conditions. Protect in winter – not frost-hardy.

Propagate by taking cuttings in early summer or by planting root nodules in spring.

Japanese parsley
Cryptotaenia japonica
Also known as Mitsuba, the leaves taste like a cross between celery and parsley. Use seedlings or torn leaves in salads; blanch the stems and eat like celery. Likes a rich soil and sunshine.

Lavender
Lavandula augustifolia
No garden is quite complete without lavender. Its silvery grey leaves and violet-blue flowers are so beautiful and hum with bees during the summer. That quintessential English lavender fragrance rises up every time you brush past a plant.  

Lavender oil is calming – great for an evening bath, and a few drops on the pillow is said to help you get a good night’s sleep. See the blog also MsMarmiteLover's gin and lavender cocktail.

It's easy to turn one lavender bush into a whole hedge: propagate with softwood cuttings in May-June. If you leave it late, take semi-hardwood cuttings – instead of cutting the new growth, cut in summer from the non-flowering, slightly woody shoots.

Lemon balm
Melissa officinalis
Related to mint, with a distinctive citronella-like scent. The plant is also very attractive to bees (there’s a clue in the Latin name Melissa which means honey bee).

A native of the Mediterranean, it likes warmth, and the seeds need warmth above 20 degrees to germinate but once established it will happily self-seed. You can easily propagate with stem cuttings but you probably won’t need to.

Crush the leaves and rub on to your skin to act as a mosquito repellent (that’s the citronella). While researching this Secret Garden Club workshop I read that people on thyroid medication shouldn’t ingest lemon balm as it inhibits absorption of thyroxine. As someone on thyroid medication I was surprised by this – never come across it before.

Mint
Mentha spp
Mint is a huge and diverse family of plants with a long culinary and medical history.

There are two varieties currently in the Secret Garden, Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata') and Moroccan Mint (Mentha spicata). These are in two separate pots: it's not a good idea to mix different varieties of mint close together. They will hybridise and lose their distinctive characteristics and flavours.

Mint should definitely be grown in a container, though, otherwise it will spread everywhere, sending out root runners. The root runners are useful, however, for propagating the plants. You can sink the container into the ground so that it doesn’t dry out so quickly – don’t place it in full sun.


Oregano
Oreganum vulgare
In the kitchen, common oregano is commonly used dried rather than fresh – think dried oregano sprinkled over pizzas or Greek salad.

Pick the leaves in the morning and hang them somewhere dark, dry and fairly warm until the leaves are all completely dry. Carefully transfer the leaves into jars and keep out of direct light. They’ll keep their flavour for three months or more.

Golden oregano (Oreganum vulgare 'Aureum') however, is a low spreading plant, good for ground cover.

More delicate in flavour than other oregano and marjoram varieties. Grows happily in poor soil, then use the fresh leaves in a meat rub, or chopped and sprinkled over steamed vegetables.

Parsley
Petroselinum crispum
There are many varieties of parsley but most people distinguish between curly-leaved and flat-leaved. These days flat-leaved parsley seems to be used more often for cooking. Curly parsley seems to have been pushed to the side to the plate, good only for garnish.  This seems unfair: it would be impossible for instance to make a traditional parsley sauce with the flat-leaved kind.

Whichever type you use, the best way to get the most of the parsley flavour in a stew, soup or casserole, is to use the stalks, chopped finely.

Parsley is a biennial plant, flowering in its second year. Ideal for growing in pots so that you can move it: it likes to be somewhere cool and even shady in summer, somewhere sunny and out of the wind in winter.

Seed germination can be slow – most books quote 4-6 weeks although I’ve found it’s usually a bit quicker than that at 2-3 weeks. It likes a rich soil and plenty of water during the growing season.

Rich in vitamin C, with a diuretic effect, hence it was used to treat bladder infections and to alleviate fluid retention. It’s also a well-known disguiser of garlic breath: chew raw parsley leaves to neutralise the smell.

Rosemary
Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary is surprisingly hardy. It will withstand the cold but it does not like the wet. Make sure soil is well-drained, adding grit and sand to heavy clay soils will help.

It's easy to propagate rosemary with softwood cuttings in May-June. Cut cleanly & trim the cutting. Insert in seed compost, cover with a plastic bag with holes & place somewhere warm & sunny. Cuttings should root in 4-6 weeks.

Plants will stay compact in pots, but given the right conditions will grow very large in the open ground.

Rosemary twigs make good kebab skewers: strip most of the leaves and soak for 20 minutes or so before threading the meat or vegetables. Rosemary branches on the barbecue or in the firepit will give off aromatic smoke.

Rosemary is renowned as a hair tonic and is used in lots of hair shampoos. Rosemary oil can be rubbed on to the skin to help with poor circulation. You can drink an infusion of rosemary leaves as tea (good for digestion and bad breath) but don’t ingest the oil.

Rosemary beetle has become a problem pest recently. It’s an attractive insect with a metallic green sheen to the upperside of the wings. Both the adult beetles and the larvae will eat rosemary leaves and flowers.

They are best removed by hand: on a small plant pick them off, on a larger one, put sheets of paper or plastic under the bush and shake it vigorously to dislodge the insects, which should then fall on to the sheeting.

Thyme
Thymus aureum
Rubbing a thyme sprig between the fingers never fails to remind me of Greece or Turkey – anywhere on the Med. The distinctive fragrance is produced by thymol. Extracted from the thyme this has antiseptic properties, also found in oregano.

So thyme is a Mediterranean  plant: to grow successfully in the UK, it will need sun, warmth and well-drained, not-too-rich soil. Our heavy wet clay will kill it off much quicker than the cold.

So it's good to grow it in a pot where you can control the soil more easily. Or add sand and grit to the compost. Don’t manure it, don’t feed it, don’t water it.







No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment, it means I am not shouting into the void!