Thursday 23 January 2014

Perennial Herbs

We use a lot of herbs in our cooking, and it is so much more convenient to have what you need, growing just a few yards from your back door, rather than having to plan ahead and make a trip to the shops to buy them. So much more spontaneous too! Sometimes I am in the middle of cooking something and I think to myself "This needs a Bay leaf", or a sprig of Parsley, or a couple of leaves of Sage, and I can just nip outside and get it.

In the middle of Winter the soft herbs like Parsley, Marjoram and Mint are less likely to be available (though this year I have surprised even myself by having a reasonably plentiful supply of Parsley), but the woody perennials are there all the time. We use lots of  Bay leaves, but then we have a plentiful supply of those too. This is only one of the two "small" Bay trees (the Big one - their parent - is about 10 times as big!):

Right now the Bay is covered with little tiny flower buds, which will eventually open out into spiky cream/yellow coloured flowers:

The Rosemary plants have gone beserk, and are now so luxuriant that they are in danger of taking over one of my raised beds:

That is just two plants! I have taken cuttings from these, and planted them elsewhere, so there is no danger of us being short of Rosemary for culinary use any time soon. I think the plants pictured above will have to be drastically pruned before long, since their presence is making it hard to get at the next-door bed.

Sage is another herb which we always like to have available in the garden. We don't use it in big quantities because it is very strongly-flavoured and can easily overwhelm other flavours. One time when we do use a fair bit is at Christmas, when it is an essential ingredient for the Sage-and-Onion stuffing that traditionally accompanies the roast turkey. I have three different types of Sage. The purple one and the variegated green and yellow one are mainly ornamental:

The "ordinary" grey-green one is the one we use for cooking. Frustratingly, it also seems to be less vigorous than the others - or maybe it's just because mine is sited in a North-facing border where it doesn't get enough sun?

A short while ago I was tidying up the border, trimming the shrubs, removing dead leaves etc, and I realised that last year my culinary Sage supply had dwindled dramatically. I think this is mainly because the Dogwood shrubs have got so big that the Sage is overshadowed and deprived of light and rainfall. I have therefore taken lots of cuttings and pushed them into the soil near the parent plants, dipping them first in hormone rooting powder to help them form roots. With a bit of luck some of them will grow. Certainly they can't currently complain of lack of moisture - and just look at all those soggy leaves which have already built up around them.

The sticks are to deter cats from digging the plants up!

Although technically one of the soft herbs, Fennel is more like a Herbaceous Perennial. It dies off in the Winter but it springs into life again the next year. Mine is just waking up:-

I love the look of the new shoots. They are like little tiny bottle-brushes!

You can use the Aniseedy-flavoured tender young fronds as a herb, in much the same way as Dill, but we generally don't do this, preferring to leave the stems to mature to produce flowers and then seeds. 

Just for the record I want to show you some of my Parsley. I have had a few plants covered with plastic bell-cloches, which have helped to keep the plants in good condition.

We never seem to have enough Parsley - a herb we like to use in "industrial" quantities - so I have recently sowed a load more in some pots which are currently basking in the warmth and light of the Growlight House. Let's hope they soon grow to look like this:


  1. Oh how I wish I could have a Bay tree in my garden. But they aren't hardy here. I do think occasionally about having it as a house plant, but I'd just kill it. Rosemary isn't really hardy here either. I do have a hardy rosemary planted, but it could die any year as they can barely live here. I'm a little worried about this year as we have seesawed in temperature and we have had some bitter windy winter storms. Often the windy side dies off. I'm thinking I ought to protect them over the winter with a wind break, but some years the wind comes from one direction and some years from another.

  2. I do think I use more bay & rosemary in the winter. The lack of frosts has made sure I have a nice supply of parsley in the garden.

  3. Nice. Of what you mentioned only the sage over-winters here. You're fortunate!

  4. My parsley is doing quite well, but then we haven't had any frost. Hope it stays that way. I wonder if it will continue to produce during the summer or if I have to sow some more.

    I also planted some sage last summer. It's in a half shaded position, and the soil is quite poor. It's doing well, as I don't fuss over it at all. :) The leaves have a strong smell so I don't know if I'll use it in the kitchen, though.

    Funny you mentioned chives in your last post. Mine are planted in a bed and have started sprouting as well . I dug them up last weekend and moved them to a different spot in my garden. Hope they'll like it there.

    One herb I didn't have any luck with at all last year was coriander or cilantro. It went from stalk directly to seed without nearly any leaves to pick. I wonder if I didn't water it enough;

    1. I have not had much luck with Coriander either - I had the same problem as you. I don't think it can be lack of water, because I was always very careful about that. They say that transplanting it is to be avoided - best to sow it in the site where you want it to grow.

  5. A lovely post Mark, it is nice to be reminded of herbs, I overlook them a little. I've got lots of bay, mostly because I love it as a plant, and I plan to get some rosemary this year.

  6. Jealous of all your herbs. Surprised about your sage though, mine's taking over the whole garden! It's the purple one, same as you, it's far too big.

    1. Ah, but I said the purple and green-and-yellow ones were both more prolific than the grey-green one, which has gone leggy and hasn't got many leaves.

  7. It's been a good winter for herbs here too, Mark - although your parsley is looking great! Those little cloches are obviously doing a good job! My sage is now looking a bit ropey but it picks up again in spring (it's probably feeling a bit waterlogged!). A good idea to take some rosemary cuttings - I accidentally pulled off a piece a couple of years back and just stuffed it into the ground and it's taken really well. The Garden Museum in Lambeth has a rosemary plant that's been pruned over the years into a 'standard' - it had a wonderful gnarly old trunk - maybe you could do the same when bringing yours under control!

  8. Herbs are wonderful aren't they! I love my herb garden so much... they go into everything we eat as well :)


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