Summer may have been on hold for a few months, but when the weather’s warm enough, be sure to make the most of it. Get out the barbie, invite round your friends for an impromptu party, and soak up every last ray of sun. With a gas barbeque (don’t forget to check out the great gardenwares at ACHICA) you can rustle up some delicious dishes in no time. Dress up grilled meat or fish with herbs from the garden and add a few parsley leaves and viola flowers to a salad – yes, you can eat these dainty little blooms – and you’ll be all set for a fantastic evening.
Herb growing tips
Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow and if you plant them now, you’ll have fresh leaves throughout the summer and early autumn. Small herb plants are relatively cheap and will soon bulk up, given the right conditions. Most enjoy a spot in full sun and freely drained gritty soil – they will rot in damp, waterlogged conditions. If you’re growing them in a pot, make sure it has a hole in the bottom, and stand it on “feet” to raise it off the ground so that water can drain out easily.
Alternatively, you can grow small herbs, like thyme, parsley and oregano, in wall pots or hanging baskets. Here, I’ve planted flat-leaved parsley with some annual nemesias and daisies in a terracotta wall pot. Most herbs also grow well in the ground, and if your time is tight this is the best, low-maintenance option, as plants won’t need much, if any, watering once they’re established.
Shrubby herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage make fabulous garden feature plants too. I have a couple of rosemary bushes growing beside my path and love brushing them with my fingers as I walk through the garden to release their wonderful scent. In fact, because rosemary grows into quite a bulky shrub, I would recommend moving any plants you have in pots into the ground after a year or two as they will suffer if cramped up for too long.
Herbs for shade
If you have a shady garden, parsley, oregano and mint are the herbs for you. The one to watch is mint, because if you plant it in a bed or border it will spread like a weed and before you know it, your garden will be swamped with the stuff. Instead, restrict it to a large pot, and don’t combine it with other herbs or flowers.
Despite this rather annoying habit, mint is definitely worth growing. There are many different types, including garden mint, apple mint and even basil mint, each with a slightly different flavour. Great for sauces and meat dishes, mint also make refreshing, aromatic tea – just add a few leaves to boiling water and leave to infuse.
Posh herbs for patios
For a herb that will look as good as it tastes, splash out on a bay tree. These sturdy shrubs can be trained into topiary cones or lollipop shapes like this beauty from Terrace Gardener, which comes complete with its faux lead planter. Nothing could be easier. Keep plants well watered and when picking the leaves for cooking, try to maintain the plant’s shape. Don’t cut any leaves in winter, and place your pot in the warmest part of the garden, as bays are not completely hardy. If a really hard frost is forecast, cover your plant with a couple of layers of horticultural fleece, too, just to be on the safe side.
To liven up a salad or side dish, add a few edible flowers to the mix. You could try nasturtiums, which have peppery-flavoured red, yellow or orange flowers, or violas with their mild minty taste. These dainty violas are called ‘Antique Shades’ and look really pretty in a pot with annual herbs such as basil. Other edible blooms include pot marigolds (Calendula) and borage flowers.
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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert
View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert