Although they can be grown in the ground or as part of a traditional herb garden, thyme, bay, rosemary and sage are ideal for combining in a large planter, ensuring that even those with tiny plots can enjoy the sight and taste of these fabulous plants.
What to grow
Although there are only four different types of herb to choose from, there is no shortage of varieties to try. For instance, there about 200 different thymes available to grow in the UK, which vary in size, colour of foliage and even flavour of the leaves. Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’ has narrow grey leaves that will add a spicy orange kick to meals, while Thymus vulgaris ‘Silver Posie’ has white variegated leaves and pretty pink flowers. My favourite for flavour is Thymus x citriodorus ‘Golden King’, its green and gold two-tone leaves pack a distinctive hint of lemon.
Large, clipped specimens of bay look smart in solitary pots, but smaller plants are better suited to container arrangements. Apart from common sweet bay (Laurus nobilis), look out for yellow leaved Laurus nobilis ‘Aurea’ and ‘Sunspot’, which has green and gold splashed foliage.
There are well over 100 different varieties of rosemary to choose from. Some are far too big for pots, but ‘Blue Boy’ reaches just 60cm and R.officinalis Prostratus Group is sprawling plant that is unlikely to exceed 15cm in height.
The flavour of common sage is instantly recognisable, but there are others that are better looking. Try cream, green and pink leaved sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) and ‘Kew Gold’, a 30cm tall plant with yellow leaves.
Choosing pots and compost
Large pots or rectangular planters are ideal and will allow you to grow a good selection of plants – make sure they are at least 30cm deep to give roots room to spread. Pick pots with drainage holes in the base and fill with gritty, well-drained compost, such as John Innes No.2 – this is much better for long-term planting than multi-purpose mixes. If you’re really strapped for space you could grow a few low-growing or compact herbs in a window box.
How to plant it up
Add a layer of compost to your container, then arrange plants in their pots on the surface. If it’s going to be placed against a wall, put taller growing specimens behind more compact plants, and any trailers at the edge. When you’re happy with the arrangement, remove the plastic pots and reposition plants, packing compost around their rootballs. Leave a 5cm gap between the compost’s surface and the lip of the container.
Caring for your container
These herbs hail from Mediterranean regions and are happiest in a warm, sunny spot. Keep plants compact by pruning and water regularly over the summer. All of these plants hate having soggy feet so take extra care in winter – move the container into a rain shadow against a house or fence, or put in a cool greenhouse. Raise onto pot feet to allow excess moisture to drain away.