Since 16 March 2020 when my own personal self-isolating lockdown began, it has been, and still is, the strangest time in my life. For many it is the worst, worst of times. For me, the only way of coping with this surreal stay-home situation (which in good moments I feel is doing something drastic for the greater good, and in the less good moments like an age-related inexplicable detention…) is to dive deep into my garden and in particular into my beloved herb garden.
I am so fortunate to have a small town garden and an allotment. The allotment is just too far to walk to with tools etc so I asked an allotment friend to plant what he wanted on the site and maybe share some of the harvest with me in time. I feel that my garden is enough for me to concentrate all my energy on… and it has become the centre of my world.
So my panic-buying extended to potting compost and ordering veg and herb plants to supplement what I was growing already. And I have had some wonderful plants. In all sectors of horticulture the lockdown is severely challenging. Fortunately many companies have been able change their working methods to embrace mail order or home deliveries (see my friends and colleagues Steve and Val Bradley’s link for garden-related home-deliveries (bit.ly/2Kn6QwY).
My first lockdown purchase was from Urban Herbs. Based in Birmingham, this family-owned company usually sells its herb plants at markets, food and garden events. But with these all at a standstill, mail order has taken off like a rocket. Andrew Perry, self-confessed foodie whose face and voice on Instagram just sing out his huge enthusiasm for herbs, told me that when he started out he was reading my herb books… what a lovely thing to know!
The hook that made my purchase was Andrew’s description of a basil-flavoured mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Basil’). It does have a strong flavour but I have yet to try it in a cooked dish where the basil flavour should dominate.
Next I chose Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) for its spicy aroma. I wanted to try orange thyme (Thymus fragrantissimus) to indulge my love of citrus flavours in herbs. Since my visit to Japan last year I am keen to grow herbs that feature in Japanese cuisine. I have grown some of them before but this year am ready to use them in food rather than as ornamentals. Japanese parsley (Cryptotaenia japonica, also called mitsuba) is one of them. I had grown it before, as an ornamental and recently I had seen it used in an ornamental way in Japanese herb gardens.
I also chose celery leaf (Apium graveolens) since I have never grown celery and do like its clean fresh taste. I was delighted to receive a plant of Oregano ‘Hot and Spicy’ which I have yet to taste.
The plants arrived in good order at the end of March and after 24 hours in a cool frost-free site I began hardening them off to get them used to outdoor life in Suffolk. They are ready for new pots and during this week I will be re-housing them.
On Sunday (19 April) I looked at them and decided that even if I could do nothing about the straggly state of my own hair, they needed a little light clipping. So I have a mini-colander of pungent herbs to use.
In February – seemingly long before the possibility of a serious lockdown had been mooted – I was seduced by an email offer from Van Meuwen of a 48-plug plant Kitchen Garden Herb Collection for £4.99. Well, the herbs offered were all basic ones: thyme, fennel, dill, sage, rosemary, chives, flat-leaf and curled-leaf parsley… but at that price I thought it was well worth it. And now I am delighted to have these new plants that will become the source of my herby additions to food in the current situation.
They arrived in early April: 48 teeny plants… all needing to be set straight out into pots and into the greenhouse for recovery. They are starting to look as if they are settling in and soon I will plant them out into containers or into the raised beds.
My next herb purchase was from The Wasabi Company. Their email saying that plants of the Japanese herb perilla or shiso (Perilla frutescens) were back in stock was irresistible. So soon two collections of the three forms (green, purple and bi-coloured) they stock were on their way to me (with a side order of delicious spicy freshly picked watercress in compostable packaging). Also pleasing was that during April 20 per cent of every online order was to be donated to the charity Hospitality Action to help workers in this sector who are facing hardship.
The plants were well wrapped in moist cardboard and in great condition. Perilla isn’t hardy so once potted up they are staying in the greenhouse overnight but coming out to harden off during the day. Eventually I will plant them out. They are growing well and soon I will harvest some leaves from these plants. They are wonderful in salads and also in cooked dishes, and they add piquancy to pickles and preserves and many traditional Japanese dishes.
There are so many great herb nurseries to order your herb seeds and plants from and at the moment they all need our support more than ever. If you know of other herb nurseries that I haven’t mentioned please let me have their details and I will add them to the list as time goes on. In any case I am keen to list as many as possible.
Delivery times vary from nursery to nursery… discuss when you place your orders. Check websites for availability.
Online shop for seeds, Seed sowing kits and Jekka’s Herb Teas
The Edible Garden Nursery
T: 016474 00301
Only edible plants
2 litre pots and a limited range of 1 litre pots
Minimum order 4 pots
The Cottage Herbery
Salad mix seeds online and providing a delivery service to local areas plus Ludlow, Leominster, Bromyard up to Clifton. Free delivery over £25 within 10 miles of the Cottage Herbery; over 10 miles orders need to be £35 or over. Payments by BACS.
Mail order deliveries are running at 7-10 days dispatch and new stock is coming in all the time.
T: 01362 860812
Keep checking the website as stock is constantly being reviewed.
The website is up each day and taken down at a certain point so that online sales can be fulfilled for despatch, so check it daily.
Check the website daily as there are times when the company suspends activity so they can catch up on getting deliveries out in five working days.
T: 01381 610352
Mail order plant sales closed until autumn but seeds available via an online order form.
Owner and lavender specialist Simon Charlesworth explained that the website is in lockdown temporarily to give him and the plants time to catch up with orders.
Herbs are great to have close by. I’ve certainly learned about so many thanks to your herb book and via Hooksgreen Herbs. The two herbs I keep failing at are angelica and dill. I have a feeling the dill would do better in a more impoverished ground. I may make a raised bed for those types of plants. Angelica I’m stumped by. Jekka suggested the fridge and an Autumn sowing I think.
Lovely article, thanks. x
Hi Lou, thanks for your comment. Yes you are close geographically to Hooksgreen and they do have a great range. I have been watching my thug angelica rising up in the garden… so now I fee your loss… If I don’t take the flowerheads off before the seeds scatter I would have seedlings all over the place. So yes, they do self sown in the autumn and then rise up in spring and summer. You could order a plant from Hooksgreen and then see what happens next year with its seedlings… Dill: I grow in shade…but in hot season it goes to flower very quickly. Your lovely furry alpacas make my day whenever you post pix of them!