Colourful chives a mint idea for your garden

Lemon balm.
Lemon balm.

It’s good to see the perennial herbs we planted in a raised bed two years ago springing back to life again.

The same can be said of others dotted around the garden, especially those planted near the edge of borders for easy access. Their form, leaf texture, colour and fragrance are every bit as important as the culinary use, and building a collection need not cost a fortune.

The chives plants that line the edge of two island vegetable beds were raised from a single packet of seed that cost under £2. These were sown into a cell tray, potted up and planted out. They could alternatively have been sown into a shallow drill outdoors in late May. Two years on, the bulbs are established and can be divided up to create more plants next spring.

Many herbs, perennial and annual, can be raised for a similar cost in this way.

There is obvious lasting value in buying a perennial type but some annuals can be surprisingly persistent. A packet of 70 borage seeds are priced at £1.89 (Suttons). The leaves exude a cucumber fragrance when rubbed, and the flowers have black stamens which attract butterflies and bees throughout summer, then the plant dies but seeds persist. A single sowing three decades ago can attest to that.

There has always been a herb presence in our mixed ornamental borders because most of them are attractive in some way, and it’s fun to reach in amongst the summer colour and snip a few growing tips for a salad or cooked meal. Take variegated lemon balm (Melissa) for example. It has a growth habit similar to mint without the invasive tendency, and a large clump is easily divided-up to create instant plants.

A true perennial, it dies down in winter and lights the border up with gold and green leaves from spring to autumn. The strong citrus fragrance released when this plant’s leaves are disturbed persists in summer salads, or when added to the base of a cake mix before it goes into the oven.

Although oregano is recognised as a culinary herb, I am entranced by the superb mound of golden foliage that is now forming, and will eventually be topped by countless blooms that bees and butterflies cannot resist. Division of clumps provides further plants but it also self-sows occasionally without becoming too invasive.

Various mints we grow need a firm hand otherwise they’d take over. But they are so good to have around when the early potatoes are lifted from June onward. Common or garden mint (Mentha spicata) is well known and most popular but ginger mint (M. gentilis) is a decent substitute. The leaves, green with irregular splashes of gold, are attractive too. There’s a hint of lemon in Eau de Cologne mint but I’m more interested in the leaf appearance; dark green tinged with reddish purple. Whichever of these you decide to grow it is sensible to confine the roots to a large pot or similar container.