Saturday 31 March 2012

Herbs resurgent

Since we had a generally mild Winter this time, most of my herbs have survived and are now experiencing a burst of new growth. It is sometimes surprising how resilient some of the so-called Mediterranean plants cope with cold conditions.

I had thought that Greek Oregano might perhaps not take kindly to Winter conditions in the UK, but it has positively thrived on them! In 2010 I grew several plants of Greek Oregano from seed (aren't the seeds TINY?) and they have all done really well. I have four pots of the stuff now, as well as a few plants in the open soil (grown from seedlings I could not bear to destroy once I had filled the pots). Although I like Greek Oregano, this is probably more than I really need. However the bees and butterflies love it so I'll keep it all.

This year I have not re-potted the Greek Oregano plants, I have simply topped-up their compost.

This one is growing in open soil - and doing very well by the look of it.

I really love Oregano. It has such a warm flavour. I like Oregano in meat sauces for with pasta; I like olives steeped in Oregano-flavoured oil; I like Mozarella cheese smothered in chopped Oregano; I like Oregano any way it comes!

Mozzarella cheese marinating in olive oil with fresh Oregano

Lemon Balm (Melissa) is another one of those herbs that will survive pretty much anything you throw at it. I keep finding new self-seeded plants all over the garden. It's not a herb we use for culinary purposes (although you can), but I grow it because the insects like it. When it is mature, the plants are rather dull and straggly, with indivdually-insignificant flowers, but the young plants have deeply-serrated glossy green leaves with a rather appealing wrinkled texture. After the plants finish flowering in late Summer I cut down the main stalks. The following March or April they spring back into life once more, with luxuriant green growth soon hiding the woody brown remains of last year's flower stems.

Down at the bottom of the garden I have a couple of Bronze Fennel plants that have lived for many years now. They die right back in the Winter, with only a few hollow dry stalks and raggedy yellow leaves remaining, but at this time of year they begin all over again.

Here's a close-up of a new "bottle-brush"-shaped Fennel frond (seen also in the pic above, at bottom left):

This type of Fennel is essentially ornamental. It doesn't produce swollen stems or "bulbs" like the Florence Fennel and I don't pick the leaves either, although they are edible. I sometimes harvest some of the seeds in the Autumn.

My two oldest potted Sage plants were replaced a couple of weeks ago with younger plants grown from cuttings taken the previous year, which are a lot more vigorous. I find that Sage is comparitively short-lived and is best replaced every three years or so. Having said that, I do have one really ancient Sage plant that is inextricably entwined in the branches of a Philadelphus tree. It must be about 20 years old because I think I planted it not long after we moved into this house in 1991.

With the exception of the one plant in a pot that was killed by the frost, my Rosemary bushes are looking strong. This is an arty photo taken in the late afternoon, attempting to capture contrasts between light and shade, and there are some Rosemary bushes highlighted in a narrow shaft of sunlight.

And here's a Thyme plant in similar conditions, with a few of the top spikes catching the last of the evening sun:

The Chives have already been cropped a bit, but they grow very rapidly, and I have four pots like this, which is plenty to keep the kitchen well-supplied.

The gravel is to suppress the growth of moss, whilst conserving moisture. Chives enjoy damp soil.

Likewise Mint thrives in damp conditions. I have four pots of this too. It's Moroccan Mint -very tasty; just what you need for a nice Tabbouleh.

Finally, the Winter Savory. It performs much like Rosemary or Hyssop, being hardy enough to survive the Winter conditions. You can see the little tufts of bright green new leaves appearing at the end of each stem:

As you will have gathered, we are very fond of fresh herbs for culinary use. They are good things to grow if space is limited because a little bit goes a long way, and they are always expensive to buy. So they have an excellent VSR.


  1. You must absolutely love Spring. Our season change is never quite so dramatic, but I still love Spring & Autumn the most.

  2. Beautiful. I love herbs too. I have three different rosemarys that all survived the winter (whohoo - but I'm sure one will die when we get a normal winter). And three different thymes. My last garden had five thymes. I do love thyme whether I eat it or not. I also grew my Greek Oregano from seed. I have two plants the are doing well. Of my three sage plants one died last year so I'm thinking of transplanting one to its old spot but I'm not sure yet. I've kept my sages for a long time though. I do cut them back hard before they start growing in the spring. Sometimes I cut them down to the ground. They do tend to like to grow into big scraggly bushes though.

  3. I have several herbs growing this year, some from plants and some from seed. Your rosemary is wonderful. Ours usually lives through several winters and then we will have a hard winter and it will die off. I have never been able to keep thyme more than one season, usually by the end of summer my thyme has died. Now I usually don't have any problem with sage living through the winter but mine died last year during the summer so I have started some from seed this year. The lemon balm I will have to get a picture of for you. It is huge and spread all down the end of the house.

  4. No French Tarragon Mark? My favourite herb, comes up year after year.

  5. They're all looking really healthy. I don't really grow many herbs as I don't use many in cooking. I think I should get in to them more.

  6. Hi Mark,
    Spent the day at Jekka McVicka’ Herb farm on Friday-you would have loved it!!-I’ll try and do a post to fill in the details...

  7. Fennel is a devil to dig up if it takes a hold in the wrong place. I bought a sprawling rosemary last year after hearing on a TV programme that it was hardier than the upright variety but guess which one is looking great and which very sorry for itself?

  8. Your lemon balm looks so green. I guess mine is completely matured plant because the leaves have no longer got the lush green. I am thinking of giving it a prune. Hope it encourages new growth and not kill the plant altogether.

  9. Thanks for the great post on herbs. I love them and your pictures are wonderful. You obviously are ahead of us!! My mint is tiny and oregano is just starting to grow again. Do you know what zone you are in?

  10. I'm really enjoying using oregano at the moment - I put it in my spinach and riccota gnocchi yesterday and they were delicious. I have to admit I struggle to tell the difference between it and marjoram though. I use lemon balm to make tea - really enjoyable, both on its own or combined with mint.

  11. You have a great collection of herbs. I often forget to use herbs from the garden (I only have a few growing at the minute) but they sure do enhance food and can quickly give a wow factor!

  12. Your post is making me hungry! I am especially envious of that beautiful rosemary!.

  13. I love your blog and your photos of the herbs are wonderful! I love mozzarella with olive oil and normally use basil but will try some with oregano! Thank you for sharing your photo's

  14. Lovely post, I have an oregano plant that survives winter after winter. It comes into it's own when served with ripe chopped tomatoes, olive oil and salt! Also, you may be pleased to know I bought some chilli and herb seeds which have now sprouted on my window sill! Also picked up a small pvc greenhouse to put on the deck. Assembled it yesterday. A.


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