In your herb garden in June 2013
Herbs are growing strongly now in most parts of the UK. Take time out in your deckchair on a sunny day, as the warmth will release oils produce by plants such as rosemary and thyme, and your garden will be filled with their heady scents.Herb flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies and many other beneficial insects. If you don’t have a dedicated herb garden, you can still grow individual plants here and there – or in pots.
Herbs grow well in pots
Things to do in the herb garden this month
- Plant out pots of basil and other tender herbs. If your garden is in a frost pocket, or prone to chilly winds, keep some fleece handy to cover new, tender plants until they harden up a bit. Snails seem to love basil, so use plenty of deterrents and controls round new plants.
The Organic Gardening Catalogue has a wide range of controls for snails and slugs. Use as many methods as you can to keep these hungry molluscs at bay. The soil is warm enough by now for the slug nematode too.
- Keep basil indoors,on a sunny windowsill for larger, lusher leaves. ‘Lettuce leaved’ basil is one of the best for larger leaves. Basil is a thirsty plant, so regular watering is necessary when grown inside.
- Harvest herbs for drying while they are growing strongly and there’s a good supply. Cut evenly around a plant, to retain an attractive shape.
- Freeze fresh leaves of basil, dill, tarragon and mint. Open-freeze on a tray to keep leaves intact. Once frozen, store in containers in the freezer until required.
- Grow French tarragon - find out how to grow French tarragon here.
- Thin seedlings that have been sown direct in the garden.
- Keep sowing seed outside to provide continuity of supply. As seeds germinate, protect from cats scratching by a barricade of twiggy sticks. These can be removed once the plants have become sturdy. Remember to hoe and remove weeds regularly; competition will be great this month.
- Bees love herbs and growing the herbs that bees love will help these valuable creatures survive. Try some of the following in your garden this year and watch the bees at work: borage, chives, dill, fennel, marjoram, savory (summer and winter), tansy, thyme, Check out the Bee Campaign to see what else you can do to help bees.
- Some herbs will have succumbed to the harsh winter weather. Thyme is often a casualty. Discard plants that have shown little if any signs of re-growth. It’s unlikely they will recover now. Start again with fresh stock.
- Save space in a small herb area by growing large plants, such as angelica or fennel, in with the ornamentals. These architectural giants have delightful foliage each year, and their height makes them ideal specimen plants for the back of an ornamental border.
- Take softwood cuttings - Instructions on how to take softwood cuttings below
- Begin gathering petals of damask rose for drying
- Gather elderflowers for making cordial. They are best picked early in the day. Shake off any insects and remove as much stalk as possible before use.
Replace plants severely damaged
by winter weather.
The feathery leaves of fennel look
wonderful, but put this tall plant at
the back of a border
Elderflower cordial recipe
15 elderflower heads
1 litre (1 and 3/4 pints) water - boiling
1kg (2.25lb) sugar
40g (1and 1/2oz citric acid)
2 lemons, sliced
Put the sugar in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over and stir until dissolved. Add citric acid and stir. Add elderflowers and sliced lemons. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to steep for 5 days. Stir once a day. Strain through muslin, and bottle. It will keep refrigerated for 12 months.
Flavour from the garden this month
- Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) Perennial
Long spikes of purple flowers in the summer provide lovely aniseed scent. Leaves are aniseed flavoured and can be used in teas as well as in recipes with fish, rice and salads. The flowers can be added to fruit salads for a splash of colour.Bees and butterflies love the large, purple flower spikes.
- Borage (Borago officinalis) Half hardy annual
A very pretty Mediterranean addition to the herb garden. Fresh young leaves can be cut for salads. The flavour is reminiscent of cucumber. A full-grown borage plant in flower is quite spectacular and is a magnet for bees. Self seeds very easily.
The bright blue flowers can be frozen in ice-cubes to add colour to summer drinks. See how to make Borage ice cubes below
- Catnep (Nepeta cataria) Perennial
Be aware – cats love this plant. They will snuggle up to it – or even sit on it! Try growing in an area away from tender herbs. The fresh leaves add a light, minty flavour to salads.
The scented dried leaves can be sewn into cloth balls. These make a popular toy for cats and kittens. They are also claimed to discourage rats in a hen house.
Clary sage in flower
at Audley End
- Clary (Salvia sclarea) Hardy biennial
A very attractive pink/mauve flowering member of the sage family. Grows to a height of 90cm (3ft). With a slight vanilla/sage flavour, the leaves are used for soups and salads.Organic clary seed is available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Perennial
Well-known, mild onion-flavoured herb. Easy to grow and tolerates most soils, even heavy clay. Use snipped in mashed potato, over salads, as garnish over summer soups and in many other dishes. If chives develop rust (orange pustules appear on leaves) cut hard back. Fresh growth will appear rapidly. Young flowers can be used in salads.
Organic chive seed available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
Grow horseradish in a pot
Use young fresh leaves in salads and sandwiches. They are delicious with smoked mackerel. Grate the root into mayonnaise and use with roast beef, cold chicken or hard-boiled eggs.
Horseradish can become a problem as it tends to become invasive and is almost impossible to dig out. Grow in a pot to keep under control.
- Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) Annual
Mediterranean native. Sow in situ in an area of full sun. Will grow in most soils, unless really waterlogged. Flower petals make good culinary dye for rice, scones or butter. They also look great in salads and omelets.
Organic pot marigold seed available from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
A popular addition to barbeques and soups and stews. Use woody sprigs as barbeque skewers.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Usually associated with stuffing and roasts in winter, but also found in sausages. Mix in with organic sausage meat, and make your own sausages. Enjoy the aroma as they cook on the barbecue.
(photo by Gemma Sutton)
How to make borage, and other flower, ice cubes
- Pick fresh flowers when they are fully open.
- Fill the ice cube tray with water. Use boiled water that has been left to cool as this will help to keep the ice cubes clear.
- Add a single flower to each cube. Use tweezers if you find the flowers difficult to handle.
- Place in the freezer for at least 12 hours.
- Add to drinks and fruit salads.
Other flowers can be added to ice cubes, such as;
- Chicory, pick the blue flowers when they are fully open
- Heartsease, perfect for fruit salads
- Pineapple sage, beautiful red flowers are great in cocktails
- Primrose, lovely yellow flowers.
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Other herbs looking good now.
- Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) Perennial
NOT grown for its flavour as it is, in fact, poisonous. It is, however, a sweetly scented, attractive, cottage garden herb. The tall ruffles of pink flowers can sprawl, so stake early in the season. The roots are still used today to make a gentle wash for ancient tapestries.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) Perennial
Attractive herb with delicate, sweet-scented flowers. Flowers are white, often tinged pink. Historically used as a sedative or relaxant.
Herbs to propagate this month
- Arnica (Arnica montana) Perennial
Sow in trays or modules of multipurpose compost, adding some gravel to aid drainage. Place in cold frame as heat can inhibit germination. It can take up to two years to germinate!
- Borage (Borago officinalis) Half-hardy annual - See information above about borage
Hoverfly on fennel flower
Chives – easy to grow inside or out
Broadcast seed on prepared site. Borage does not like to have its roots disturbed. Prefers well-drained, nutrient-poor soil. Grows especially well in chalky, sandy sites. Self seeds well. Should be ready to harvest at about eight weeks.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Hardy perennial
Chive seed needs temperatures of 19°C or more to germinate, so now is the ideal time to sow. Chives need a rich, moist soil and a sunny position.
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) Hardy perennial
Sow directly into well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position. Thin to 50cm apart. Do not grow fennel near dill as cross-pollination will reduce seed production.
- Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) Annual
The aromatic leaves are a popular addition to bean dishes. The tiny seed can be sown direct or in seed trays and planted out. Do not cover the seeds, as they need light to germinate. Prefers well-drained soil in a sunny position.
- Winter savory (Satureja montana) Perennial
As with summer savory, winter savory prefers full sun and a poor, free draining soil. It makes an interesting edging plant, but keep trimmed to maintain shape and promote new growth.
Herbs for shady places
It is generally assumed that herbs need full sun, but this is not always the case. And if you’ve got an area of dappled or partial shade in your garden, why not try one or more of the herbs listed below. Extra watering may be needed; shaded areas can tend to be dry too.
Mint varieties (Mentha spp) Perennial
Borage (Borago officinalis) Annual
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Perennial
Yellow-leaved lemon balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea’) Perennial
Golden oregano (Oreganum vulgare ‘Aureum’) Perennial – trim after flowering to keep bushy
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) Biennial– very tolerant of partial shade
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) Annual – keep moist and sow frequently as it tends to run to seed.
Cuttings to take
Soft new growth is ideal
Cuttings root easily at this
time of year
June is a perfect month for taking cuttings. Herbs are producing lots of lush fresh new growth, ideal for 'softwood cuttings' from mints, rosemary, sage, variegated lemon balm, French tarragon, thymes and marjoram.
'Softwood' is the term given to the type of cutting taken from young growth in the spring and early summer.
Here are the main points to follow:
- Take cuttings early in the morning.
- Take cuttings, 10 – 12cm (4” – 5”ins) long, with a knife rather than scissors (which squash the stem).
- Place cuttings in water immediately and keep in the shade while you deal with each cutting.
- Prepare pot or seed tray with good organic potting compost (or at leastpeat-free I you are unable to source organic compost) mixed with horticultural grit. 1 part grit to 4 parts compost.
- Trim the cutting to just below a node (where leaf joins stem) and remove any leaves from bottom third of the stem. This will reduce water loss as well as the possibility of fungus on leaves touching the soil.
- Make hole with a dibber and push cutting in. Make sure bottom of cutting touches bottom of hole. Firm compost around cutting.
- Water, and drain well. Do not leave pot standing in water.
- Covering with a plastic bag or cloche can aid in rooting in some cases. Be careful that the compost is not kept too wet, as cuttings can rot. Remove the covering daily for 5 minutes or so, to give the plants some air. Grey-leaved and furry-leaved plants should not be covered with plastic.