• Herbs need sunlight, good drainage and regular water during dry weather.
  • Potted herbs need daily watering in really hot weather, and sometimes twice a day.
  • Continually harvest herbs to keep them trim and shapely.
  • In autumn, collect the seeds set by annual herbs, store them and re-plant in spring.
  • Parsley, sage and thyme continue to grow during winter.

Fresh, zesty herbs are a must in the modern kitchen. And fortunately, you don’t need green fingers to grow tasty herbs from seeds and cuttings.

There are many benefits to growing your own herbs — these edible plants emit intoxicating fragrances, which attract bees and butterflies to the backyard or balcony and, because they don’t need improved soils, they’re perfect for the novice gardener. Best of all, though, is the delicious flavour that freshly picked herbs lend to your cooking.

What are herbs?

Herbs are scented plants used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The herb’s scent comes from the etheric oil found in its leaves and flowers, and you’ll find the fragrance is more potent on warm days when the amount of volatile oils is highest. Rub the leaves between your fingers to release the smell — you’ll soon get to know them.



An evergreen shrub, rosemary likes hot weather and lasts a number of years, even if the soil remains dry. It makes a good hedge and will grow happily in a container — trim it into shape at the end of summer. Rosemary is the perfect complement to lamb, and its woody stems make great skewers.


An essential ingredient in potato salads, this perennial herb is a member of the onion family and looks a little like grass or a slender green onion. Chives grow happily in the garden or in pots, and need a sunny spot with slightly moist soil. Simply snip off the outer leaves as you need them. Chives have pretty pink flowers in summer, which make a lovely (and edible) addition to salads.


One of the most versatile herbs, parsley is the main ingredient in tabouli. It’s rich in vitamins and is said to be a good breath freshener. The most common varieties are curly and flat-leaf, which you can grow from seed in autumn and spring — or you can cheat by buying seedlings! Parsley needs semi-shaded conditions and good, moist soil. Collect the seeds in autumn and sow them in the spring.


Spearmint, Vietnamese mint, apple mint and pineapple mint are just some of the many varieties available. Mint is easy to grow in shady, moist areas, and in pots. You can harvest the leaves as needed and use them in drinks, Asian salads and sweets. Mint-infused tea is said to relieve anxiety and tension.


This herb is easy to grow from seed — sow basil in spring and summer, then collect the seeds in autumn, as the plant will die off in winter. Key in Mediterranean cooking, basil is also used for medicinal purposes — it is said to relieve headaches, anxiety and mild depression, as well as aid digestion and stomach upsets.


A groundcover that likes to creep over the earth or spill out of a pot, thyme needs a sunny, sheltered position. Available in many varieties, including lemon, woolly, caraway and common, this herb is great to walk on. A delicious flavouring for chicken, thyme also has antiseptic and antifungal properties, and is said to counter the effects of ageing.


One of the prettiest herbs, borage leaves taste like fresh cucumber.
It will grow from seed and, as its blue flowers attract bees to aid pollination, plant it near citrus trees and passionfruit vines to increase their harvest.

In the kitchen

Use your mortar and pestle to pound fresh herbs to make dressings, marinades and rubs. What a lot of people don’t realise, is that not only a herb’s leaves can be eaten — the flowers, too, are delicious in salads. Use the blooms from chives, nasturtiums, borage, lavender, fennel and marigolds to brighten up a leafy green salad.

Garden care

Herbs need sunlight, good drainage and regular water during dry weather. Most prefer good soil, but don’t be tempted to add too much compost or manure, as you’ll get rapid growth at the expense of flavour. (A good rule of thumb is to add one bag of compost or manure for every square metre.) Some Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary and sage, prefer poorer, lime-rich soils. Mulch the soil around the herbs, taking care not to build the mulch up against their stems — about 5cm of sugarcane mulch is adequate.

When planting herbs in containers, use a good-quality potting mix and add water crystals to help the plants survive the summer heat. Instead of feeding herbs with chemical fertilisers, use a light mulch of cow manure and a weak watering of seaweed solution. That way, you can enjoy the leaves and flowers you’re eating, knowing they’re free of nasty residues.

Summer jobs

Continually harvest herbs to keep them trim and shapely. When it comes to thyme, mint, sage and lemon balm, regular pruning — by shortening the stems by more than half — will rejuvenate your herbs when they’re looking tired. Most herbs planted in the garden will last the summer well, but potted herbs will need watering every day, and sometimes twice a day, when the weather is really hot. Take cuttings of herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender throughout the summer.

Autumn jobs

When the weather becomes cooler, annual herbs, such as basil, coriander and dill, will begin to flower and set seed. Never fear, once mature, these seeds can be collected by hand, then stored in paper bags in a cool, dry spot until next spring, when you can sow them and start the cycle all over again.

Frost-sensitive herbs like rosemary should be brought into warm spots, while herbs such as parsley, sage and thyme will carry on through the winter cold.

Related: 8 kitchen herb gardens