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Herbs for a hotpot
Herbs grow so well in pots that there is almost no excuse for not growing your own. Nothing solves a problem like a pot. No space, not enough sun, heavy clay soil, dogs that dig – the solution to all these problems is to grow herbs in pots. Then they can be squeezed into tiny corners, put on windowsills, balconies or patios, and kept sheltered from draughts and frost. From an aesthetic point of view, herbs in pots are decorative – they can be used to ‘furnish’ outdoor living areas, act as a feature within a garden and beautify a kitchen courtyard. In winter, potted herbs can be brought indoors or cared for in a sunny, sheltered spot.
The right planting mix
Most herbs like soil that drains well, and there are commercial herb potting mixes available. Alternatively, make a 50:50 mix of palm peat and ordinary potting soil mixed with bonemeal and some slow-release fertiliser, if available. Palm peat comes in compressed brick form and is soaked in water. It swells to about five times its size. The palm peat aids drainage but also helps to retain water so that nutrients are kept in suspension.
Herb container care
Container herbs should get at least five hours of sun per day. The more sun they get the better their flavour, health and resistance to pests and disease. Potted herbs should be watered more frequently than garden herbs because containers can lose moisture quickly, especially in the summer heat. Fertiliser also leaches out quickly in containers. A diluted liquid fertiliser applied once a week should keep potted herbs healthy. Regular picking is a form of pruning that encourages bushy growth. Either snip off short pieces or cut them back by at least two thirds.
Our winter hotpot collection
We chose three herbs that make an attractive combination in a flower pot, and a good combination in a cooking pot.
Sage is an evergreen perennial that grows to a height of about 30cm. Once established, water sage plants infrequently (they really do best with a bit of benign neglect). Keep in a sunny area that is sheltered from cold drafts. If you harvest leaves regularly then feed the plants twice a month with a diluted liquid fertiliser.
Thyme is one of the easiest herbs to grow, and is very drought-tolerant. All types of thyme need full sun and friable, free-draining soil that tends towards the sandy side. Constant picking will keep them in shape and drenching them with a liquid fertiliser once or twice a month is a good idea if you are harvesting constantly.
Being native to the Mediterranean, oregano likes like full sun and free-draining soil. It’s frost hardy and remains green throughout winter. It only needs to be watered once a week. Harvest or pinch back the leaves regularly to prevent woody growth. For best growth it should be fed every monthly with a liquid fertiliser.
Herbs add a tremendous amount of flavour to winter stews and will lift them to a new level. A beef bourguignon with carrots, onion, mushrooms, bacon and garlic would be tasty, but even more scrumptious with sage, oregano and thyme included in the list of ingredients.