Herbs make great gifts and demonstrate that thought and care have been put into the gift giving process. Here a four great ways to give a herb container as a gift.
1. Herbs in the shade
Plants used: garlic chives; lemon balm and chocolate mint.
If somebody has a shady garden or patio, this container provides scent, food flavouring and prettiness! If the shady area is dry, adding water-retaining granules to the potting compost can help keep the plants healthy, but if it is damp shade, put a good three inch layer of shingle in the bottom of the pot to ensure that there is no water logging.
Half-fill the container with potting compost and then sink a large flowerpot into the front of the container to hold the chives. Fill the flowerpot and the rest of the container with compost so the rim of the flowerpot is flush with the surface of the compost, which should finish about 8 cm from the top of the container to allow for the roots to grow and take up room in the soil.
At the back of the container plant lemon balm – this herb needs good drainage but will become rampant and take over a pot fairly quickly, in fact between it and the mint there will be a battle for dominance! It’s a leggy plant with a strong lemony scent which is lovely to brush past.
To one side of the container, plant a chocolate mint. While this is not the best mint for culinary purposes (spearmint has a superior flavour) chocolate mint is good for making chocolate mousse and mint tea, nice floated in cocktails with its sexy mint-chocolate aroma.
Garlic chives have wide strap-like leaves with a mild garlic flavour and odour, and starry white flower umbels that are strikingly pretty and add style to late summer salads. The chives could easily be swamped by the other two plants, so instead of sinking them straight into the potting compost, pop them into the flowerpot which protects them from the invasive roots around them.
The lemon balm and mint can be cut back with scissors every week in the growing season to keep them compact and to provide kitchen herbs. The garlic chives can be cut at any time of year, as long as around a third are left to regrow.
2. A scented container
Plants used:Iris x germanica var. florentina (purple flowered iris) and violets.
Iris x germanica var. florentina, is a purple-flowered iris that is used to create orris root: the violet-scented powder that ‘fixes’ other scents in potpourri. It’s also a very pretty container plant and by lifting a clump, cutting the large rhizome (bulb) into sections and drying some while replanting others, your gift provides garden colour and household fragrance. The iris can be divided every four years in late spring when the oldest, central, part of the rhizome can be brushed free of dirt and hung in a warm dry place for several months before being pounded into powder or milled to create orris root. The outer parts of the rhizome will flower vigorously when replanted.
In front of the iris, plant violets. Native violets are a little more difficult to source than their Mediterranean cousins but have the delicate scent that fills a garden through the spring. Specialist herb suppliers often have them for sale and the varieties: Baronne Alice De Rothschild, Lianne, The Czar and are all highly-fragranced. Isabella is also scented, and a lovely lilac shade which harmonises with the darker iris. Violets can be cut for vases, pressed into books to make scented pages or simply hung upside down to dry and then mixed with dried rose petals, orange peel and orris root to make pot pourri.
3. A wine-maker’s herb container
Plants used: bilberries and roses.
Bilberries give a marvellous, complex flavour to dessert wines. They are best grown side by side in a trough so that several bushes can cross-pollinate and they thrive in acid soil that has good drainage. They prefer full sun but will cope with partial shade and like a damp soil, so mixing some water-retaining granules into the compost helps a lot. Birds love bilberries so it may be necessary to supply a net along with the container! The berries are ready in late summer and ripen sporadically , so a wine-maker is best advised to pick the berries as they ripen, open-freeze them, and then use the crop as an addition to a wine grape or grape concentrate.
Since Roman times, dried rose petals have been used to contribute to the ‘body’ of wines, and around 25-50 grams of dried petals will flavour 5 litres of wine. The best roses to grow are highly scented damask or Old English roses with many petals. By planting them in large pots containing neutral compost inside a trough of acid-soil-loving bilberries, you can create a container that makes two different wines and looks beautiful into the bargain.
4. The curry lover’s herb container
Plants used: methi (fenugreek); coriander and lemongrass.
It’s really easy to grow your own curry ingredients, using a large, fairly shallow, container:
- Methi (fenugreek) is used in dhal and many dishes from the Mumbai region of India. The seeds can be bought in any Indian shop or online and germinated in damp sand before being transferred to well drained sandy soil to grow into leafy plants.
- Coriander (cilantro) – in the UK we tend to grow coriander for seed used in chutneys, but there are other varieties, called cilantro, that have leaves ideal for curry-making. Short-leaved coriander needs to be kept away from frost and can be difficult to germinate but is worth the effort. Order seed from a specialist supplier.
- Lemongrass – a staple of south Asian curries – is easy to grow. Just buy some stems from the supermarket, pop them in a glass of water and wait until they form roots: change the water every day and keep them in a sunny place. When they root, plant them in sandy soil, preferably in a greenhouse, and keep them damp. The first frost will kill the plant so you need to bring it indoors for the winter. Just break off a stem of the ‘grass’ to cook with.
All three herbs will grow happily together but only until the first frost, unless the container can be placed in a heated greenhouse.