I continue to enjoy harvesting from my herb garden, even though winter weather is making itself felt. Protecting, using perennial herbs, sowing and planning are the activities I enjoy in the winter herb garden… oh, and appreciating frost and light snowfall on box hedges and topiary shapes.
Most of my perennial herbs are growing in the ground or in raised herb beds. Throughout winter I harvest and use foliage from rosemary, thyme, sage, bay and winter savory. I do grow some rosemary in containers and I check them to see that they are not waterlogged during winter. Lavender in containers is another herb that doesn’t thrive if its roots are waterlogged.
I am going to bring one of my mint plants into the greenhouse, cut it back and use the new growth, as it appears during the season.
I grow chervil and coriander, as well as many salad leaves in raised beds. They are protected from birds and cat disturbance with wire frames that stand up and away from the rows of plants. At this time of year I drape horticultural fleece over the wire frames to provide frost protection. My garden is sheltered, so this is usually adequate and I am able to continue harvesting chervil, parsley, coriander and other leafy salads through the winter.
Over-wintering in the greenhouse are Aloe vera, Basil ‘African Blue’ and Plectranthus amboinicus. This is also called Mexican mint and Cuban oregano. Its lovely leaves are so like oregano and it offers that sort of meaty aroma to casseroles and soups. I also have a very small specimen of one of the most aromatic eucalypts, lemon-scented eucalyptus. Even when it is just a seedling, with only one or two leaves out, its lemon aroma is a knock-out.
PLANNING AND POTTING
One of the pleasures of herb growing is deciding if there is something missing from your herb collection or planning a change in its design. Seed catalogues carry better than usual ranges of herb seed – a change from the time when you could only find the basis herbs for the kitchen in a catalogue. In particular, King’s Seeds, in partnership with Suffolk Herbs, covers wild flowers, herbs and salads, in abundance.
A particularly interesting catalogue is from CN Seeds, a specialist herb seed merchant, who sells to professional growers. They also cater for smallholders and smaller growers offering smaller pack sizes, but the quantities are still large for an individual gardener, so I usually share the purchase with another keen herb grower.
This year I have asked for seed of Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida). I first bought this as a plant from Jekka McVicar and enjoyed using it. In October I saw it in the kitchen garden of The Pig Hotel, Bath, where it looked so healthy. It is a half-hardy annual, so I will sow it in the greenhouse over winter. I may try some direct into the ground in early spring, as well.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR GROWING HERBS IN WINTER
When weather and soil conditions allow it is good to prepare the ground for planting, but only if soil is frost-free and the weather is dry. At this time of year I check the contents of my compost heap and sieve out any large un-decomposed vegetable or plant waste. The ‘black gold’ that the compost heap produces annually is put to one side, ready to use to amend the soil in my raised beds. Of course, I continue to add vegetable and plant matter to the build-up of next year’s compost bin.