Top 10 herbs for a herb garden
With so many different herbs to choose from it can be hard to decide which species to select when first planting up a herb garden. Of course it is only worth growing the types of herbs which you are most likely to use, and this will be dictated by the adventurousness of your culinary skills.

Our more popular herbs have been introduced from a wide range of climates and environments across the globe. Some are small and compact in growth, while others will sprawl across your herb garden smothering all others in its path (yes I am looking at you Mentha species)!

With this in mind I have categorized the following herbs with regards to their environmental requirements. That way you will only have to plant your herb garden once (hopefully) and get a decent crop from all of your plants.

Mediterranean - full sun and poor, free-draining soils

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1. Basil - Believed to have originated from India, basil is now an extremely popular herb in many mediterranean dishes. There are a number of species and selected hybrids but it is the sweet basil which is typically used with Italian food.

It is easy to grow from seed and cultivated as an annual. It is most commonly used fresh in cooked recipes by being added at the last moment. This is because cooking basil will quickly destroys its sweet, anise flavour.

Depending on conditions Basil can grows to a height and spread of between 30–130 cm.

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2. Oregano - Native to warm-temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region, oregano is perennial with an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter flavour. Like basil, it is a popular herb in Italian cuisine, but perhaps more so in Italian-American cuisine as a result of soldiers returning with it from World War II who enjoyed its characteristic 'pizza' flavour.

Dried leaves have more flavour than fresh, and good quality oregano can be strong enough to almost numb the tongue. In cooler. northern European climates oregano may not survive the freezing winters and so may need to be planted with new stock each spring.

Depending on conditions oregano can grow to a height and spread of between 50–100 cm.

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3. Parsley - Native to the central Mediterranean region, parsley is widely used in Middle Eastern, European, and American cooking. Most often seen as a garnish (usually as curly-leaf parsley), the roots are also widely used in central and eastern European cuisines as a snack or a vegetable in soups, stews, and casseroles.

In temperate climates parsley is a bright green, biennial, plant, but acts as an annual herb in subtropical and tropical regions. It will grow to an ultimate height and spread of between 10-50 cm. Parsley will perform best in a moist, well-drained soil, in full sun to semi-shade.

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4. Sage - Also native to the Mediterranean region, the common or garden sage is a perennial, evergreen subshrub which is cultivated for the savory, slightly peppery flavour of its new leaves. It is used in many European cuisines and is traditionally served as sage and onion stuffing - an accompaniment to roast turkey or chicken at Christmas or Thanksgiving Day. Other dishes include pork casserole, Sage Derby cheese and Lincolnshire sausages.

Sage will grow best in a light, moist, but well-drained soil in full sun. In colder, northern European countries it will need to be planted in a sheltered position that avoids becoming overly wet during the winter. You can expect sage to grow to an ultimate height and spread of between 50-100 cm.

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5. Thyme - Native to southern Europe from the western Mediterranean to southern Italy, the common thyme is a bushy, woody-based evergreen subshrub with small, highly aromatic leaves. The intensely pungent flavour will complement most meats, including chicken and game, and it is a good complement to slow-cooked dishes such as stews and daubes. It is one of the herbs used in bouquet garni, along with parsley and bay. Thyme is used both fresh and dried, but while the freshly picked leaves are more flavoursome they will only last a week or two under refrigeration. However thyme leaves will keep their flavour for many months if carefully frozen

Thyme is easy to grow in the majority of well-drained alkaline to neutral soils in a position that receives as much direct sunlight as possible. In favourable conditions thyme will grow to an overall height and spread of between 10 and 50 cm.

European - full sun, rich, moist but free-draining soils

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6. Chives - Chives are a commonly found herb in western cuisine and used to add flavour to fish, potatoes, soups and other dishes. Nature to much of Europe, Asia and North America, it is a perennial herb which will thrive in well-drained and slightly alkaline soils that are rich in organic matter. They will perform best in full sun.

In colder, northern European regions, the foliage die back to the underground bulbs during the winter, with the new growth emerging in early spring. When harvesting, the stalks should be cut to the base, but only harvest what you will immediately use. During the growing season, the plant will continually regrow leaves, allowing for a continuous harvest. However once the plants start to look old they can be cut back to about 2–5 cm above ground level.

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7. Coriander - otherwise known as cilantro, coriander is an annual herb grown for its roots, seeds and foliage. Native to a wide area of Western Asia and southern Europe, coriander can grow to a height and spread of between 50–100 cm. Grow it in a fertile, well drained soil in full sun, especially when they are grown for seeds. For leaf production it will be better off grown in partial shade.

The leaves have a different taste from the seeds and are an ingredient in many Indian, Chinese and Thai dishes as well as being a popular flavouring in Mexican cooking. Like basil, heat causes coriander leaves to lose their flavour, and so are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving. The leaves are prone to turn quickly once removed from the plant, and will lose their aroma even when freshly dried or frozen.

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8. Mint - There are a number of popular mints species that can be grown in the garden but arguably the most popular is Spearmint - Mentha spicata. Native to much of Europe and Asia, it is a herbaceous, rhizomatous, perennial plant which will grow to an approximate height of 30cm with a spread of 100 cm. The leaves of spearmint are used to make mint sauce (the ideal accompaniment to roast lamb), added to boiled new potatoes and peas, to make mint jelly or to garnish summer drinks.

Spearmint prefers partial shade, but can flourish in a range of conditions from full sun to full shade. It is best suited to loamy soils which have had plenty of organic material previously dug in.

Asian - warm temperatures, direct sun and moist soils

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9. Dill - The fern-like, aromatic leaves of dill are a widely used in European and central Asian cuisine. It is used to flavour many foods such as fish dishes, borscht and other soups, as well as pickles. Dill is best when used fresh as it will quickly lose its flavour when dried. Freeze-dried dill leaves, however, can retain their flavour for several months.

Native to south-west Asia, dill can be grown from seed easily in regions which experience warm to hot summers in a position which receives as much direct sunlight as possible. Be aware that even partial shade will reduce the yield substantially. It also prefers a rich, well drained soil.

Given favorable conditions you can expect dill to grow to between 50-100 cm with an approximate spread of 10-50 cm.

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10. Tarragon - Tarragon is hardy perennial, cultivated for its aromatic leaves and is popular through the western world for flavouring chicken, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is also the main flavour of BĂ©arnaise sauce. There are a number of cultivars available but it is generally believed that French tarragon is the best for culinary use.

Native across much of Eurasia and North America, it will grow best in a hot, sunny spot in a moist but well-drained soil. Avoid overwatering as this will damage the roots. Under favourable conditions you can expect tarragon to grow to 50-100 cm high with a spread of 10-50 cm

For related articles click onto the following links:
HOW TO GROW THYME - Thymus vulgaris

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