5 Perennial Herbs and How to Propagate

In this article I look at 5 great perennial herbs and how to propagate them. I like to cook with as much homegrown produce as I can, whether that’s a big leaf from the Asturian tree cabbage, or some little baby yellow courgettes, or even the tops of my broad beans, fava beans, which are great wilted down with some garlic and give you a real bean taste.

The other thing I like to use is plenty of homegrown herbs. I think there’s nothing nicer than using a selection of herbs that you’ve grown yourself and they’re absolutely fresh in your meal. Different herbs, different propagation methods, but all easy to do.

Garlic Cress

Masses of tiny white flowers above purple and green leaves of perennial herbs Garlic Cress.

Isn’t Garlic Cress pretty when it’s in flower? The leaves are mildly garlicky. The flavour increases as you chew the leaves. It can be harvested between autumn and spring. I bought this as a 9cm small potted plant. It’s been in my garden a bit over a year, and it is now at least a metre across. Garlic Cress (Peltaria alliacea) is good if you’ve got a lot of space or if you’re going to grow it in a pot.

I found the easiest way of propagating this is to pull or lift pieces out of the ground, effectively dividing it. I start by cutting back some of the leaves and taking off any flowers. They’ve got long roots, which behave like underground runners and they send up up new shoots at intervals. Garlic cress can be a bit of a thug, so be careful where you do plant it.

Winter Savoury

Winter Savoury is one herb that I wouldn’t want to be without in my kitchen. It tastes slightly of thyme, maybe a bit of rosemary, and adds a really warm, rich flavour to soups and stews. And I’ve even used it in chicken dishes in place of lemon thyme, and although it’s not lemony, but it did give a really good flavour to the meal. It grows well from cuttings.

How to propagate perennial herbs by cuttings

One of the easiest herbs to grow from cuttings is mint. I know mint is a fairly common herb, but I like to collect different flavor mints like chocolate mint and blackcurrant mint.

Perennial herb mint stems are held in palm of hand, showing how to propagate from cuttings. Background is grey and white marbled surface.

I took these cuttings about three weeks ago, I removed the lower leaves and I placed them into a jar of water and I kept it topped up. After three weeks, they have produced some roots and are ready to be potted up. I will place them in a sheltered spot and make sure they do not dry out.

I will leave them in the pot until autumn and then I’ll decide whether they need to go into a bigger pot.

Mint can be really rampant in your garden, so best advice is to grow it in pots and to raise the pot up off the floor using some stones or pot feet. You can buy little feet for the pots, so that the roots don’t grow out of the pot and into the ground.

I have places in my garden where I do plant mint in the ground because I’ve got a really big space. And I’m quite happy for it to grow into a really large clump. I mow the grass each side of that bed on a very regular basis. So the mint is not going to escape too far. Do this at your own risk, mint is very vigorous!

Mint growing in the ground with other flower beds in the background

Don’t grow several different types of mint in a pot together or even in a bed together. Aim to grow different varieties about 100cms apart. This is because otherwise there’s a risk that a fragrance and flavour from one will contaminate the other. And then you’ll end up with neither one thing or the other, but a mix of the two.

Egyptian walking onions

I no longer grow bulb onions for the kitchen because I just find them too strong, but I do grow lots of other plants in the onion family, like Egyptian walking onions.

They produce leaves which is what I harvest and use in the kitchen, and then they produce flower stems with tiny little flowers on the top of them, but they’ve also got little bulbils. These are little onion bulbs sitting on the top of these stems. And then sometimes they send up a secondary shoot, with some more bulbils on the top.

The top gets so heavy that it actually bends over, down to the ground. And then the bulbils will fall off and root in the ground. So it almost walks its way around your garden, hence the name walking onions. To propagate them, you can either wait for nature to drop them on the floor and for a new clump to grow.

Or you can remove the bulbils and plant them into individual pots or into the ground and then let them grow on. This way you have more control over their location and you’ll know exactly where your walking onions are walking!

Keeping track of my gardening

I propagate so many plants and I used to find it really difficult to remember which seeds I’d sown where and when I’d taken cuttings or even where I’d planted things. As a result, I started keeping a journal and writing everything down.

I’ve now created a vegetable garden planner and journal. There’s plenty of space in it for you to take notes and observations, to write down when you’ve sown seeds or taken cuttings and even when you’ve planted them. I include a vegetable sowing guide, a reminder of when you can sow various different vegetables. There’s some information about perennial veg and also about composting. And all the way through there are some hints and tips and some words of encouragement to keep you going in your garden. Order your copy of My Vegetable Garden Planner and Journal direct from us or find it on Amazon.

Lovage

Lovage is very easy to grow from seed. Whenever I want more plants I use home-saved seeds or buy lovage seeds. It is a plant for the back of the border because it grows tall. In our last home I had Lovage and it grew to maybe 8 feet high or more. These very tall stems slightly flop in the wind so you might want to give it some support. It doesn’t need staking and tying in. But some posts around with wire or twine may stop it from flopping over too much.

Lovage has a celery taste, a really strong celery, almost a yeasty taste to it. As a leaf I wouldn’t just eat it, but you could chop it and add it to salads. But in stock, in stews, in soups, it adds the most incredible celery warm rich flavor. If you buy a powdered vegetable bouillon, it has a high proportion of lovage in it.

Sweet Cicely

Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis Odorata) has a very strong aniseed flavor. I use it by gathering some of the leaves and adding to cooking rhubarb. It helps take that acidic tartness out of it and it provides an aniseed sweetness. And it means I can use about 25% less sugar in my rhubarb. The seeds are also edible.

When they’re still green you can pick the seeds, particularly when they’re first formed, and you can just chew them. It’s like having those little aniseed ball sweets that you had as a child. It’s a real hit of aniseed and they’re absolutely lovely.

When looking at how to propagate perennial herbs like Sweet Cicely, the best way is through sowing seeds. Sweet Cicely seeds need a period of vernalisation. This means they need to have a winter of cold to prompt them to germinate. I’ve tried putting in the fridge to trick them into thinking they’ve had a period in the cold. But it just hasn’t worked. But what works really well is just to throw them on the ground around your Sweet Cicely plant. Some of those will germinate and grow the next year. Because it will self-seed readily, this is another one of those plants that they say, once you’ve got it you’ll always have it.

There are many perennial herbs that will grow quite happily in a temperate climate, and with a little practice you can master how to propagate your own perennial herbs. Fortunately there are some specialist perennial vegetable and perennial herb nurseries that offer a wide range of unusual and more widely known plants.

Liz Zorab

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