House & Home

Plant Parenting

by Rachel Gilbert

I am a self-confessed, serial plant killer…

I have run over daffodils, starved lilies and drowned orchids. Then, last year, my father suggested a small herb garden as a project. What I really wanted was a dog, I was struggling with my mental health and really wanted a friend at home. So, after weeks of trawling the adoption sites we compromised, and Dad set me up with a range of  “plant children.” He went through the basics with me — how to feed, dead-head and raise them to be excellent bases for spaghetti sauce — and then he left me to care for a succulent, a range of herbs and a hydrangea. I now consider myself to have green fingers, and I
have genuinely saved money on fresh herbs for delicious meals.

My first few weeks of parenthood were a little rocky, to say the least. I forgot to water them, I didn’t use the herbs or prune the flowers, and I kind of forgot they existed. I so wanted to make my father proud, I wasn’t just being negligent, so I parked my trusty watering can in the front porch and watered them twice a day. During the hot summer, it was just the trick, and soon I had a group of healthy, colourful pots. If you are thinking of starting your own herb garden, it doesn’t need to be hard, and I promise it is easier than you would think. A lot of plants can be very low-maintenance, useful in the kitchen and build your confidence in the garden. The herbs I started with were mint, thyme, oregano, rosemary and chives. This is a diverse bunch in terms of kitchen use, and thrive in all kinds of weather. I had slightly different varieties of oregano (spicy) and thyme (lemon), this was lovely for a change in gin garnish or in a lasagne sauce. Start with some plants that you think you will use in the kitchen; this will make your garden more fun and sustainable. The more I use my plants, the more I want to take care of them and the healthier they get. When your plants are healthy, you reap the benefits in the kitchen. My personal favourites are mint and rosemary, they are easy keepers and extremely useful. Mint grows so quickly it might as well be a weed and when it is healthy, my whole courtyard has a fresh scent to it. It is perfect in salads, drinks and even a fresh cup of mint tea. Rosemary is another great option for beginners — mine has stayed reasonably healthy throughout this winter and apocalyptic weather. Nothing beats a tray of roast potatoes coated in rosemary, or bread with a sprig on top. If cooking isn’t quite your thing, flowers are another great option, all of mine are potted and lived very well last summer. My favourite flower is the lily so I had to have two pots. I understand flowers less than herbs, but I managed to keep them blooming yellow and purple all summer. The most important thing to remember with flowers is to water regularly, checking the soil for dampness. Make sure you don’t flood the pot either, the leaves of the plant are a good indicator of health. They should be sturdy and a bright green, if they are fading, your plant may be underfed. Find them a spot with lots of natural light and keep an eye on them! Gardening doesn’t have to be difficult; anyone can do it. Just choose plants you will enjoy and use, if it isn’t fun, why bother? It is a challenge, but if you start small with something you will actually care for, you may tap into your secret green fingers!


If you don’t trim your herbs, they won’t stay strong! If leaves are looking dry or faded, it is best to trim the whole stalk. I like to trim mine when they are strong with a light, waxy coating on them before they harden or dry up. If you don’t have a use for them, consider a food donation app like Olio, or offer them up to friends. Water your plant children before the sun hits them directly. If you water them in the middle of the day, this can scorch the leaves and damage the plant. When watering your plants, aim for the base and the surrounding soil. Water is absorbed through the roots and most plants will benefit from damp soil. Dry soil can be an indicator of a hungry plant!

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