Category Archives: Herbs

culinary, medicinal, economic, cultivation, design, harvesting, propagation

Growing Garlic

Garlic has long been known for its health benefits and I eat rather a lot of it, so this year I thought I’d have a go at growing my own.



Garlic prefers a light, well-drained soil in full sun, it won’t tolerate wet and heavy soils.  If this is your soil you can plant in modules in the autumn and plant out in Spring as the weather improves.  Garlic can only be grown from bulbs because viable seed is extremely difficult to produce at present.

Garlic Bulb

There are two types of garlic, ‘hardneck’ and ‘softneck’ referring to the way they grow.  The hardneck varieties produce a flower stem known as a scape which can be used in soups, curries and stirfries and has a more delicate flavour than the bulb.  The softneck varieties don’t produce a scape but have a longer shelf life.

Garlic Clove

Garlic needs a cold period to grow successfully so the best time to plant is the autumn though there are spring planting varieties available.    The bulb should be carefully split into it’s separate cloves and each clove planted 2.5cm below the surface with the root scar facing down, the clove should be sitting just below the surface.  They should be planted 10cm apart in rows that are 30cm apart.  Addition of compost at the planting stage will help the soil structure keeping it light and feed the cloves as they grow.

Garlic plants …

Garlic needs limited maintenance except for keeping it weed free, watering during long dry spells and protection from birds who’ll be tempted to pull the bulbs out of the ground.  There are two diseases to look out for which are white spot which will rot the roots and eventually the bulb too and rust which shows up as rusty spots on the leaves.  There is no cure for either and you should avoid growing garlic in the same spot for at least 3 years if you have either of these problems.  Crop rotation will help to discourage these pathogens.

Autumn planted garlic can be harvested around June or July the following year. You know when it’s ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow, don’t put this job off or you may find the bulb re-sprouts causing it to rot later and thereby reduce its shelf life.  Take care when lifting the bulbs out of the ground not to damage them with your trowel as this too will compromise their keeping qualities.


Pot Marigold for the Flower Garden

Pot Marigold

Calendula officinalis, the Pot Marigold is native to central Europe and the Mediterranean.

It’s common name, “marigold” is most likely derived from its association with the Virgin Mary and its Latin name Calendula comes from the Latin word Kalendae, “first day of the month” in the Roman calendar possibly because it can  be found in flower at the beginning of most months of the year.

It was used in ancient Greece and Rome and in early Indian and Arabic cultures.  Because of its excellent antiseptic, healing and detoxifying properties it is a major herb in modern Western medicine.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used it to colour foods, fabrics and cosmetics, as well as for medicinal purposes.

Pot Marigold

Its petals can be used as a substitute for saffron in soups and rice dishes as well as used fresh in salads.  When infused it can add colour to dairy products such as cheese, butter and milk desserts.

Calendula is a hardy annual which self seeds profusely.  Removing dead flowerheads will prolong flowering and help to control self seeding if desired.  Because it is hardy, seeds can be sown in situ in either spring or autumn.  There are a few pests and diseases that you should look out for namely powdery mildew (as you can see in the photograph, mine have succumbed), rust, cucumber mosaic virus and caterpillars.

Powdery Mildew

This is such an easy flower to grow and one of my all time favourites.  Mine are setting seed which I’ll be collecting for next year’s crop.

Seeds ripening …

Medicinal, Cultural, Culinary and Ornamental Chives

Flowers appear from April – June and are great for bees …

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, have been around for over 5000 years and have  been cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages when it was believed that bunches of herbs hung around your home could ward off evil and disease.  The Romans believed that chives could relieve sore throats and sunburn and Romanian gypsies apparently used them in fortune telling.

The chive is a hardy bulb forming herbaceous perennial which grows to between 30cm and 50cm tall.  It’s leaves are hollow and 2mm to 3mm in diameter and it’s flowers are purple, produced in a dense inflorescence.  The seeds are produced in a small three-valved capsule and mature in summer.  Mine, seen here, were bought and planted after flowering so I’ll have to wait a while to see them flowering next year.

Allium schoenoprasum

Chives are generally free of insect attack due mainly to the sulphur compounds they contain, though thankfully this doesn’t deter the bees.

Chives are known to have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system by lowering blood pressure, much the same as garlic but much weaker which is probably why it has limited use as a medicinal herb.  In native North American medicine they are used internally as a spring tonic as well as for worms in children!

The culinary uses of chives are far more familiar as it is commonly used in small amounts for flavouring all kinds of dishes.  In England they are used to flavour Cotswold  cheese.  Over-consumption should be avoided however, as they can cause digestive problems.  On the plus side, they are rich in vitamins A and C and contain trace amounts of sulphur and iron.  The flowers are also edible and look great in salads.

If you’re more interested in using chives for ornamental purposes here’s one cultivar you should consider :~

Allium Schoenoprasum ‘Forescate’

Allium schoenoprasum ‘Forescate’

This cultivar is larger than the species, growing to around 45cm and has pink flowers.






On the other hand if you’re wanting to grow chives for either their edible flowers or foliage, here are two further possibilities :~



Allium schoenoprasum ‘Grolau’

Allium schoenoprasum‘Grolau’

Otherwise known as Windowsill Chives, has dark green foliage with good flavour, grows well in low light and re-grows readily when cut.




Allium schoenoprasum ‘Profusion’

This cultivar has sterile flowers making it excellent for edible flower production.




Chives grow best in rich, well drained soil in full sun although they will tolerate heavier, wetter soils and a less open position than many other Allium.  My soil has a pH of 6.5 (slightly acidic) and they seem to be thriving so far.

Umbellicious Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (Bronze Fennel) is a hardy perennial, tall and stately with attractive deep brown feathery foliage and yellow flower umbels.  I have been trialing it in my herb bed as a potential for mass planting in the borders which I plan to develop next year.  It has grown well in the clay soil and is flowering beautifully attracting plenty of beneficial insects.

Bronze Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’

As I’m gardening on a budget I’ll be propagating from seed collected this autumn and sowing them under protection next spring ready for planting out in mid spring.

If any part of this plan fails I can divide the mature plant in mid spring but this obviously won’t give me as many plants as propagating by seed so fingers crossed for a decent harvest.  Over time as the plants become established they will self seed if soil conditions are right, in other words light, which mine isn’t at the moment but I’ll be working on that over the coming months.

How is it Used?

Fennel has many culinary, medicinal and economic uses as well as being a good garden plant.

It’s oil is used in the food industry for flavouring, and in liqueurs such as Sambuca and Fenouillette.  It’s also used in perfumes, soaps, toothpastes and air fresheners.

Bronze Fennel

Feathery Leaves of Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’

The leaves can be eaten in salads and used to make herbal tea and its seeds can be used whole, ground or cracked to flavour tea, biscuits, bread, stuffings and sausages, in particular finocchiona which is an Italian salami.  The flower heads can be used to flavour capers and the dried stems add a subtle fragrance to barbequed fish.  Every part of this plant has value.

Fennel has been proved to relieve symptoms of indigestion, colic, wind and poor lactation (seeds), and urinary complaints (root).  It can be used externally as a mouthwash or gargle for sore throats and gum disease.  Its oil is mixed with the oils of Eucalyptus globulus and Thymus vulgaris , diluted with vegetable oil and used as a rub for bronchial congestion.  It is also used in laxative preparations to relieve griping and added to “gripe water” for infants.  However, it is not given to pregnant women.


Cultivating fennel requires a fertile soil and full sun.  Seeds can be sown in autumn or spring 60cm apart where they are to grow.  Otherwise, young plants can be planted in mid spring or autumn or clumps divided and planted 60cm apart in mid spring or autumn.  During the growing season you can keep the plant trimmed to provide a succession of young leaves but leave some flower heads if you want to harvest its seeds.  Established plants should be lifted, divided and replanted every three years.


Harvesting should take place just as the seeds are ripening.  Cut near the base of the plant and hang the stems upside down in small bunches in a dry, well ventilated shed.  Place a sheet or container beneath the bunches to catch the seeds as they are shed.  Allow the seeds to dry out before storing them in a cool dry place ready for sowing the following spring.  Sounds easy, I’ll let you know next year!


A few words of warning, fennel shouldn’t be grown near coriander, dill and caraway as these plants will cross-pollinate.  Fennel tea shouldn’t be drunk if you have cirrhosis or any other liver disorder.  Though not proved conclusively some medical practitioners believe that fennel can aggravate liver disorders.

It’s still a super plant however and I can’t wait to see it gracing my borders next year.

Lavender’s Blue

Not actually blue, but a rather lovely purple.  Lavandula is in the family Lamiaceae and within the genus Lavandula there are around 25 evergreen aromatic shrubs and perennials.

Lavandula stoechas, pictured here, was used widely as a toiletry herb and antiseptic by the Arabs, Romans and Greeks.  It is not widely used today except as an ornamental plant.  It’s oil has a pungent odour and contains 24-72% camphor.  In Australia this species is considered a weed and bound by statutory control.

Lavandula stoechas subsp. pedunculata (Spanish Lavender)

You can propagate this plant by seed sown in Spring or by taking semi-ripe cuttings in Summer.


Nasturtium ‘Salmon Baby’

Nasturtium 'Salmon Baby'

First flower today. I sowed these seeds at the end of May. As my garden is north facing, this bed gets full sun for half the day and then deep shade.