Perennial herbs can be a staple of any edible garden, saving time and money with a promise of a new harvest every year. I wanted to work out the best ones for us in the UK, hopefully you will agree!
Perennial herbs will grow year on year. They can be sub-divided into tender perennials that will need a bit of love and care over winter. Then there are hardy perennials that you can plant, get established and leave without too much concern overwinter. Both are just as valuable in your homegrown herb garden.
You will need to get the right herbs for your garden, between height, sunlight needed and likely spread there is a lot to consider. I will take you through a few options now and you can choose the right herbs for you!
Perennial Herbs For Your Garden
- Rosemary is a real favourite and once established requires very little more than a regular trim. This perennial shrub can grow to around 4 feet, but will require a prune to keep it nice and bushy. Rosemary also produces the most wonderful flowers for pollinators and can still produce plenty of leaves to eat or drink as a herbal tea.
The photograph above is from our neighbours front garden and they have it lining the path to their front door. Very nice as when you walk passed it releases some of its essential oils too. Rosemary will need to have adequate drainage and space for the roots to grow.
- Mint is one of our absolute favourites to grow with the kids as it is so robust. There is very little that they can do to get it wrong. Our main word of warning with mint is to only grow it in pots. The roots are runners and will invade any garden bed. That is why they are so good at surviving, but also sadly quite good at suffocating any other plants in the area. Mint will require regular pruning otherwise it can tend towards a straggly heap!
It may need additional watering in summer months and will love a liquid feed every few weeks. Mint can grow quite high and as a perennial will need a little bit of an autumnal prune so as to limit any damage from frosts. We cover ours over, or bring the pots inside the poly tunnel.
Store mint leaves by freezing, or creating a herb butter. That way you can enjoy it all year round! Mint makes a fabulous fresh ingredient for so many cocktails and can be a refreshing herbal tea, even when cooled!
- Thyme is a real winner as it loves to cascade from the sides of pots. This creates quite a dramatic visual and we pair our pots with herbs that like similar amounts of daylight and water, like oregano and rosemary. Thyme is drought tolerant so can easily be planted and have a few days in between watering. If anything it prefers this and it will encourage more growth.
You can grow thyme from seed or by buying plugs. Once your thyme has flowered cut back ready for overwintering and make sure to move any pots away from the worst of the wind and rain. Thyme will not tolerate having it’s roots sat in water for the winter period, so we keep them in pots and move when the rain sets in.
- Chives can be ideal as a perennial herb and grown in containers can be easily protected. Use the same sort of mix that you would for any herb, well draining with plenty of grit added. Make sure to cut and eat throughout the growing season. Leaving chives to flower can be a great idea too.
Chives are more on the tender side for perennials, meaning that they benefit from being cut back after the last flowering and before any frosts. They will not enjoy a heavy rainfall in winter, but do enjoy plenty of water during the growing season.
The reason that people don’t think of them as perennials is that they are so prone to winter diseases. Leaves can easily rust, downy mildew can develop and the dreaded onion fly can move in. If these happen, sadly it is best to remove the plant entirely and not even add it to your compost bin. We would recommend putting it into your local council bin for garden waste.
A cut back can help in mild cases, but keeping the herb in pots helps it to become a perennial, ready for the next year.
Plant chives with similar herbs for thirst and sunlight, basil and parsley would be perfect in larger containers.
- Lavender is one of my absolute favourite perennial herbs. We grow from seed or propagation and love the pathways that are lined with the gorgeous scent and aroma of different varieties of lavendula. Sarah Raven does a perfect lavender path mix that includes purple and blue lavender that just makes you think of a country cottage garden!
We have lavender in pots as well as the ground. By using a well dug bed or soil mixed well with grit you can protect the root from sitting in water. This is essential as lavender does like a poor quality soil, as long as there is drainage present. So double dig the ground and mix any homemade compost in well.
Overwinter you may like to cut back the lavender, wait until the flowering has ended, but before frosts. A good layer of mulch will then protect your lavender overwinter. It is the roots you are protecting and therefore a few inches of mulch will be great. If you also grow crops for this purpose then great, but if not a protective fleece works very well over the soil. Cut the fleece to allow the foliage to be above the layer, you will not be covering the entire plant, just around the roots.
When spring comes make sure to remove weeds from around the base and feed your lavender with a liquid fertiliser.
- Sage is a great perennial herb as you can eat the leaves all year as well as the flowers. You can grow by seed or from plugs and division. Sage grows well in the ground or in pots. It loves a sunny, well drained spot. If growing from seed it may not be suitable to be harvested until the second year.
Once sage has flowered cut it back and new growth will appear. This makes it ideal for a wildlife friendly garden as you are not loosing any crops from allowing it to flower.
Sage flowers go well in salads or cocktails and can be really quite gentle in flavour.
In winter make sure to move to a sheltered spot, or protect with a mulch to the base.
- Oregano loves a sunny spot with good drainage. This is why it grows well with thyme or rosemary. As oregano grows in the Mediterranean it will happily thrive without regular watering and will benefit from allowing the soil to dry out a little in between waterings.
Oregano can be a tasty addition to your herb garden and can be harvested all year round.
In winter just make sure that your plants are not in the shade and full daylight is allowed. We also recommend moving pots into a more sheltered spot if possible.
- Lovage can be easily grown and a really good perennial herb for the back of a flower bed. It can grow to around 7 foot high and is one of our favourite herbs to grow. Basically because we can’t seem to buy it in the shops. So once we have grown a few plants we can add it to soups and salads all summer long.
The leaves of lovage taste like celery and can provide that savoury, salty flavour but is packed with nutrients. We do prune it back overwinter and provide a mulch to the base. This is as much to protect the roots from the cold as it is to provide an end of season feed.
- The herb fennel can often be mistaken with the vegetable fennel, however the vegetable is not a perennial. The herb can be grown towards the back of a plant bed, or in a pot and its height and architectural flowers are one if it’s main benefits to any garden. Fennel makes a fabulous herbal tea and can be eaten most of the year.
- Sorrel is a perennial that can be eaten as a cut and come again addition to salads and stews. It tastes like a lemony spinach and can be used sparingly to increase vitamin D. Go careful with this one though as a little goes a long way!
Green leaves with a dark red vein it thrives in our garden in full sun, but with a heavy humus rich soil that will retain moisture.
When winter comes make sure to cover the soil with straw and mulch. As much to stop the frosts as to stop the slugs and snails. Although the scent of the lemon does act as a bit of a preventative it is still susceptible.
I’m going to just sneak one more in, a bonus herb if you like! Hyssop is a less common herb but has naturalised in America, Canada and the UK from the Mediterranean countries. Perfect as a perennial and as a self seeder it can reliably fill any garden space. We love it and think you will do too!
Annuals That Act Like Perennials
I just wanted to give you some herbs that work well as annuals, but as they self sow you can treat them as perennials if you leave them.
Borage is an absolute star for self seeding and you will need to stay on top of this if you do not wish to have a garden overrun with this fantastic herb.
Dill will happily self-seed and needs to be kept in line if you intend of growing the herb fennel as a perennial. Cross pollination between the two will produce disappointing offspring.
Chamomile can happily self seed and has some of the lightest seeds you will ever see. I do love chamomile, but want it in pots and not scattered around the garden! Especially as it is from the daisy family and can really be quite intrusive.
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