Top 10 Hardy Perennial Herbs to Plant Once and Harvest for Years

Herbs are incredibly useful for culinary and medicinal purposes. Perennial herbs get to spread their roots for many years, so they’re great at looking after themselves. They’ll provide you with harvest after harvest, thriving on little to no TLC. There’s no need to re-plant them every year, saving you many hours of hard work in the garden.

There is an herb to suit everyone, from mint tea to roasted fennel. Here is my top ten of easy to grow perennial herbs you plant once and harvest for years to come.

1 . Mint

Mint is incredibly versatile and one of the easiest perennial herbs to grow. The more you harvest, the more they grow. Mint is a vigorous, creeping herb. It can spread quickly throughout your garden. Keep mint in pots to keep it contained in small gardens. Its spreading habit makes it a great ground cover and weed suppressor in large gardens and permaculture gardens.

Pinapple mint

©Elle Meager – Pineapple Mint is a vigorous, creeping herb.

2. Chives

No onions in the pantry? No problem! Perennial chives will do most jobs onions do, with a milder flavour.

Chives grow best in loose, moist soil in full sun. They’ll grow well in the garden and in pots. They love growing with tomatoes and roses, you can harvest just a leaf or two, and a spray of chive tea helps prevent and treat fungal diseases on plants. 

3. Rosemary

Rosemary and Sage, which is number 9 in our top 10, are a match made in heaven. They encourage growth in each other, so grab one of each! Rosemary loves a sunny position in the garden and can grow as tall as 2m high, depending on the variety.

Everything about this herb smells wonderful, hang some bunches in your wardrobes and add to meat, bread, and anything else you’d add garlic to.

4. Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm makes a delicious, refreshing tea. It’s also known as “Cure-All” because of its soothing properties. Culpeper recommend Lemon Balm for its ability to aid digestion and “expel melancholy spirits”. Research backs up Culpeper’s statement. A sniff of Lemon Balm always makes me happy.

Lemon Balm

©Elle Meager – Lemon Balm makes a delicious, refreshing tea.

Lemon Balm is not a fussy herb. Grow it in loose soil with regular watering, in a sunny or shady position. Grow more from cuttings or seeds.

5. Comfrey

Despite all the negative news you may have heard about Comfrey, no garden should do without it. Even if you don’t eat it, it’s incredibly valuable as a soil improver.

Comfrey has a deep root system. Not only does it loosen the soil for your other plants, it also draws up deep nutrients so that other plants can use it. It’s a valuable green mulch and the more you cut, the more it grows. Comfrey is one of the best companions for Asparagus.

©Elle Meager – Comfrey is incredibly valuable as a soil improver.

6. Fennel

Fennel grows 1-2 meters tall with fern-like foliage. It’s best as a loner, in a corner by itself or a spot where nothing else will thrive as it can stunt the growth of other plants.

Fennel loves full sun and grows in acidic as well as alkaline soils. It’s one of the few herbs that doesn’t mind growing under big trees. Fennel seeds make a great tea. Cutting the seed heads as soon as they’re mature encourages more growth.

7. Oregano

What’s a good tomato sauce without oregano? Easy to grow, highly productive, and perennial to boot. Loves well-draining soil and a sunny position. Oregano grows equally well in pots as it does in the garden.

Oregano

©Shutterstock – What’s a good tomato sauce without oregano?

8. Thyme

Thyme is a small bush with lovely, dainty flowers. A little goes a long way when it comes to Thyme. It’s a great digestion aid, so add a few leaves to each meal. Thyme is a great companion plant, especially for the Brassica (cabbage) family. Cabbage moth is the bane of the cabbage grower and Thyme can help you repel these bugs.

9. Sage

It’s no surprise Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about Sage. Not many dishes are as wonderful as Sage butter sauce! Grow your own Sage in the garden or pots, in full sun to part shade. It’s susceptible to rot and fungal disease in wet conditions so excellent drainage is a must.

©Shutterstock – Grow your own Sage in the garden or pots, in full sun to part shade.

10. Tarragon

Its Latin name, Artemisia dracunculus, refers to Tarragon’s tangled root system. “Dracunculus” means “little dragon”. Because of its tangled, dense roots, it’s beneficial to divide the roots every few years.

Tarragon loves sun, dislikes wet soil. Besides dividing the root system, there’s not much Tarragon needs from you to thrive. It has lovely yellow flowers too, bees and insects love them.

 

 

Basil bonanza

closeup of basil leaves against a wooden table

Discover how to cultivate this fast-growing annual
Image: isak55

Early summer is the ideal time to sow basil seeds for late summer pizzas, salads and pasta dishes. In fact, professional garden designer Nic Wilson of dogwooddays says one of her favourite jobs of the year is collecting armfuls of basil leaves to blitz for pesto, filling her kitchen with the sweet, spicy smell of this fast-growing annual.

We asked Nic to share five of her favourite basil plants to grow from seed, along with some insider tips to guarantee success!

Five best basils to grow at home

There really is a basil to tempt every palate and suit every garden. Some of my stalwarts are chosen for colour, as well as flavour and aroma – including the sweet leaves of ‘Classico’, the dark purple foliage of ‘Crimson King’, and the liquorice aroma of ‘Siam Queen’. Here are my five all time favourites:

1. Basil ‘Pesto’

jar of green pesto

Nic loves making pesto from her homegrown basil leaves
Image: New Africa

Although I’ve been growing basil to use in pesto for many years, this is the first year I’ve grown ‘Pesto’ itself. This variety has been especially selected to grow well in UK temperatures and has a strong flavour perfect for a peppery pasta dressing. Flushed with delicate purple, the leaves are carried on deep purple stems. The flowers are a pretty pale pink, so it makes a great ornamental choice too. Whether it’s grown in containers in a sunny spot or in the vegetable patch, basil ‘Pesto’ will add a touch of spice to any garden.

2. Basil ‘Lemonade’

Basil 'Lemonade' from Thompson & Morgan

The perfect addition to your glass of Pimm’s
Image: RHS/Karen Robbirt

This variety is high on my list to try next year. It has a lemon sherbet flavour making it perfect for adding to fruit salads and summer drinks, as well as adding a citrus tang to savoury dishes. Not all basil varieties thrive in the changeable UK weather – but ‘Lemonade’, like ‘Pesto’ is tolerant of British summers and can be grown successfully outside once the plants are established and hardened off.

3. Basil ‘Siam Queen’

Basil 'Siam Queen' from Thompson & Morgan

Bring your Thai curries to life with homegrown herbs
Image: Thompson & Morgan

This Thai basil is a wonderful ingredient for spicy curries and soups. We grow ‘Siam Queen’ in pots in the greenhouse alongside Kaffir lime, chillies and peppers as the base for summer Thai green curries. Slightly taller than sweet basil at 45cm, ‘Siam Queen’ has larger, more elongated leaves and a spicy liquorice flavour. A little goes a long way in salads, and it’s one of the best varieties for cooking.

4. Basil ‘Crimson King’

Two packets of Crimson King from Thompson & Morgan.

The beautiful colour of ‘Crimson King’ brightens up any greenhouse or garden
Image: dogwooddays

As soon as the tiny seedlings emerged, I fell in love with this basil. Not only does ‘Crimson King’ have a sweet flavour and softly cupped leaves, but the deep plum-coloured foliage means it’s a beautiful ornamental plant to grow. Some of my ‘Crimson King’ will stay in the greenhouse over the summer, but I’ll also dot some around the herb garden to add a splash of colour between my parsley and thyme.

5. Basil ‘Christmas’

Basil 'Christmas' from Thompson & Morgan

Basil ‘Christmas’ is edible and ornamental
Image: Thompson & Morgan

Basil Christmas is a new variety – a cross between Genovese and Thai basil. It’s another great addition to both edible and ornamental gardens with glossy foliage and beautiful spikes of purple flowers that are a magnet for pollinating insects. With a spicy mulled wine flavour, ‘Christmas’ makes a delicious pesto that can be frozen and added to festive pasta to bring a taste of summer to dark winter days.

Top tips for growing basil

Pot of Basil 'Pesto' ready to prick out and pot on. Photo from dogwooddays

Basil ‘Pesto’ ready to prick out and pot on
Image: dogwooddays

Sow your basil seeds on peat-free seed compost and cover lightly with vermiculite or sieved compost. Water and place in a propagator or cover with a plastic bag. Germination should take around 14-21 days. When seedlings have developed true leaves, prick out into small pots and grow on. Eventually the basil plants will need to be potted on into 20cm containers. For outdoor basil, harden plants off over a 10-14 day period and plant outside after all risk of frost has passed.

Slugs and snails love to munch on basil seedlings, so I bring mine indoors at night until they’re large enough to withstand a little nibbling. Basil dislikes drying out, but also hates wet roots, so aim to water plants in the morning. Pinch out regularly to keep your growing plants bushy and vigorous.

 

The minty fresh taste of summer

Chocolate Mint is one of the more interesting varieties
Image source: Nic Wilson

Mint is the most versatile of herbs – it adds zest to summer desserts and savoury dishes, and flavours herbal teas and cocktails. It thrives in semi-shade where other Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary might struggle.

There are so many types available, all with different scents and uses – so it’s helpful to know a little about the different varieties before you start growing. But if you just want to jump into growing something versatile, then a basic mint plant is perfect for getting started.

Which Mint?

Banana mint has a mild flavour
Image source: Nic Wilson

My favourites include tall apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) whose furry leaves add a fresh tang to boiled new potatoes with butter; it’s also really good in mint sauce. For herbal teas I prefer spicy varieties like peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – a cross between watermint and spearmint, Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’) and Tashkent mint (Mentha spicata ‘Tashkent’), also known as spearmint.

For even more flavour, I combine the mint with lemon verbena leaves for an aromatic hot tea, or add sugar, cool the tea and add ice cubes as a refreshing drink on hot summer afternoons. Moroccan and Tashkent mint also have the advantage of being resistant to mint rust, a common fungal disease that can affect leaves from spring until the autumn.

Other varieties to try include ginger mint (Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’), an attractive plant with variegated yellow and green foliage that tastes great with fruit salads. Or choose dark chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’) my children’s favourite, with deep red stems and leaves that really do taste of mint choc chip ice cream.

The spicy foliage of basil mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Basil’) adds a tang to oils and vinegars,and the soft leaves of banana mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’) have a mild flavour with just a hint of banana. There’s even a variety from Cuba called Mojito mint (Menthat villosa ‘Mojito’) which has a warm sweet flavour ideal for combining with soda water, lime juice, white rum and sugar to create the traditional Cuban highball.

Growing and Propagating Mint

Mint is a vigorous plant that spreads unless contained
Image source: shutterstock/Izf

It’s a good idea to grow mint in containers, unless you have a large patch that will tolerate invasion by this vigorous perennial. I have grown mint in large bottomless pots sunk into the ground – you just have to be vigilant and pull out any surface runners before they root and escape into the garden.

Mint thrives in semi-shade and likes to be kept well watered, but it copes with full shade and full sun too. It’s best to avoid growing different mints close together or in the same container as they can lose their distinct scents and flavours.

Once you have mint it’s quick and easy to propagate by stem or root cuttings. Either turn the plant out of the pot, break off a few roots (with or without shoots) and bury just below the surface in peat-free compost, or take several stem cuttings from a healthy plant and place around the rim of a pot filled with gritty compost. Keep moist until you see new growth and then pot on.

In the Garden

Corsican mint (or ‘mini mint’) forms a green carpet on the ground
Image source: David Eickhoff

Mint is also valuable in the garden as an ornamental plant. Creeping Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) creates a relaxed look trailing along a gravel path, between stepping stones or over rocks. At only 3-10cm high, it forms a mat on the ground and releases its spicy aroma when crushed underfoot. As with all flowering mints, this Corsican mint is a magnet for bees which love its tiny mauve flowers.

Hanging baskets are another ideal place for ornamental mint. Indian mint (Satureia douglasii  ‘Indian Mint’), a tender perennial in the mint family, has delicate white long-lasting flowers that cascade over the sides of a basket. Or as we’ve done this year, plant sweet strawberry mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Strawberry’) in the centre of a hanging basket surrounded by trailing strawberry plants and then harvest both for a delicious dessert – just add cream.

Disclaimer

The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.

A great way to grow herbs – the windowsill gardener

windowsill gardeningNow I’m not a drinking person. But the people I live with do like the occasional bottle of wine, so when I went outside the other day and found the glass recycling box was rather full, I decided to do some recycling of my own.

I wanted something that would look neat and tidy but at the same time have a bit of uniqueness to it and wine bottles seemed to fit the bill nicely, after all, they were only going to be smashed up! So if it all went horribly wrong I could pretend it hadn’t happened and take a quiet trip to the bottle bank.

I’m rather lucky in one sense that over the years I’ve managed to build up a collection of various DIY tools and so it didn’t take long for me to dig out my electric tile saw, pop it onto my work bench and make a start. My first attempt at cutting one of the bottles in half was a disaster, I didn’t keep the bottle steady and level and so I managed to end up with a 1cm difference in just one circuit of the bottle, it didn’t look good – one for the bottle bank.

My next attempt was much better; I decided on a line and kept my hand steady, producing a nicely level cut bottle, one down, and five to go!

Once they were all done, I filed and sanded down all the sharp edges, after all, there’s no point in getting cut yourself when reaching for some herbs – which I’d decided to use the bottles for by the way. I lined up my creations on the windowsill and stood back to admire my handy work. They were going to be a nuisance to clean around etc if left loose like that so back to the garage for some plywood off cuts ( a man never throws away any wood “just in case” ). Twenty minutes later a nice little box had been made and everything looked neat and tidy, I was a happy chap.

windowsill gardening

Now for the fun part, the seeds… after much deliberation I decided on Oregano, Mint, Basil, Chives, Plain Leaved Parsley and Coriander. Mint being a bit unusual to grow on a windowsill, but it beats going to get some from the garden in the pouring rain!

I filled about a quarter of each bottle with horticultural grit and charcoal as there were no drainage holes in the bottles so I wanted to be able to see if there was water sitting in the bottom and the charcoal would help absorb any smell of sitting water, which would be unpleasant. Then topped them to within a couple of cm from the top with good quality compost. Once I’d sown all the seeds, I covered with cling film to make a propagator and waited for the shoots to appear.

windowsill gardeningOverall I’m very pleased with the look. I’ve recycled, in my own way, half a dozen wine bottles and a friend will be benefiting from a windowsill herb planter in the very near future (as long as I get to taste them in a nice meal of course).

Last months project was a success all the bulbs have grown well, the crocuses and daffodils have all flowered and the tulips are still to come. On reflection I will probably plant the same bulb variety in each planter next year as now the crocuses have finished it’s looking a little bit untidy and there are gaps.

I’ve managed to acquire some onions and even some shallots which have been planted in another two bottles (the shallots had fewer in the bottle and larger holes to allow room for them to split (hopefully)).

Next month there might be teapots!

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