Contained flavour

Contained flavour

There is no need to ever be without herbs. For a year-round supply, grow them in pots.


Herbs grow so well in pots that there is almost no excuse for not growing your own. Nothing solves a problem like a pot. No space, not enough sun, heavy clay soil, dogs that dig – the solution to all these problems is to grow herbs in pots. Then they can be squeezed into tiny corners, put on windowsills, balconies or patios and kept sheltered from draughts and frost.

From an aesthetic point of view, herbs in pots are decorative; they can be used to ‘furnish’ outdoor living areas; act as a feature within a garden and beautify a kitchen courtyard. In winter potted herbs can be brought indoors or cared for in a sunny, sheltered spot.

Create your own style
Container gardening is not simply a collection of pots. Choose containers that accentuate or create a particular look – rustic, Mediterranean, modern or country cottage. Recycled containers are particularly appropriate – use old crates, wheelbarrows, baths or buckets – anything with drainage holes that can hold soil. Another advantage of growing herbs in pots is that the look can be quickly changed by making new arrangements or replacing pots if the plants start to look past their best.

Sage advice for planting in pots
Generally, herbs grow better when a single plant is grown in a pot. The plants have room to grow and differing water and light requirements are not an issue. Some herbs, like thyme and others of similar size, can be grown in pots 20 cm in diameter. Larger herbs, particularly lavender, rosemary, bay, and lemon verbena need much bigger pots and should not share a pot.

Mixed pots, however, are very attractive, especially if you want to grow herbs together according to a theme. They need to be replanted annually as the roots become very congested. When mixing herbs keep their growth habits in mind so that you can combine colours, textures, and height. Steer clear of herbs that will overrun all the others, like mint. A mixed container always looks good with a tall anchor plant, smaller bushy plants as fillers and a trailing herb to soften the edge.

Ideas for one pot combinations

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  • Italian Cuisine: Sweet basil (main plant), thyme, Italian parsley and golden creeping oregano
  • Tangy Thai: Chillies (main plant), Vietnamese coriander, lemon grass and garlic chives
  • Spicy Mexican: Chillies (main plant), parsley, coriander, garlic chives and oregano
  • French Provençal: Sweet basil (main plant), summer savory, marjoram, sage and oregano
  • Classic French: Bay leaf (main plant), tarragon, chives, thyme and chervil
  • Salad mix: Dill (main plant), sweet basil (main plant), rocket and garlic chives

What to know when choosing pots
All containers have their limitations. Wooden containers may rot and those treated with toxic materials will damage your plants. Plastic pots will deteriorate in the sun and although terracotta pots are gorgeous they dry out quickly. The best containers are probably glazed, ceramic pots, provided they have sufficient drainage holes. Whatever the pot, it should always have sufficient drainage holes. If water doesn’t drain out quickly, make more holes in the bottom. Placing pots on blocks raised a few centimetres off the ground allows free drainage.

Good to know
New clay or terracotta pots should be soaked in water before use. Pots that are not soaked draw in the water that should go to the plant. You may notice that when you water, the water simply runs straight through. Plug the hole in the bottom of the pot, fill it with water and allow it to soak for a day, or at least overnight. Remove the plug and use as normal.

The right planting mix
Most herbs like soil that drains well and there are commercial herb potting mixes available.

Herb container care
Container herbs should get at least five hours of sun per day. The more sun they get the better their flavour, health and resistance to pests and disease. Potted herbs should be watered more frequently than garden herbs because containers can lose moisture quickly, especially in the summer heat. Fertiliser also leaches out quickly in containers. A diluted liquid fertiliser applied once a week should keep potted herbs healthy. Regular picking is a form of pruning, which encourages bushy growth. Either snip off short pieces or cut them back by at least two thirds.

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