IF YOU HAVE been thinking about growing your own herbs then now is a great time of year to get started.

The types of herbs are not just limited to culinary use, but can also be grown and used for medicinal purposes, herbal teas, fragrance and companion planting.

Herbs generally thrive in warm temperatures where if kept well watered they grow fast during the spring and summer months. It is this fast soft growth that is so good for harvesting and using in many culinary delights. Many herbs are not only purposeful but can be grown simply for their ornamental value.

Thyme is a good example of a multipurpose herb. It makes an attractive border plant which has small purple and white flowers.

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Thyme also has a wide culinary application in a number of dishes including meat, casseroles and pizza.

Thyme has a number of medicinal properties with antiseptic and antifungal effects which when made into tea thyme leaves will aid digestion and relieve stomach complaints.

When flowering, thyme is a great way to attract bees and other beneficial insects into the garden.

Companion planting is another aspect of growing herbs; the concept is to make plantings that complement one or both of the plants to some benefit.

Some herbs will deter specific pests and diseases, while others enhance fruit flavour and still others benefit the soil. Particular plantings make good "trap crops" which are grown to lure predators away from vegetables.

Some of the planting combination claims are not scientifically proven by trials but are traditional combinations that have been used for generations.

Medicinal herbs

There are a number of herbs that have been used in many cultures through the ages that carry medicinal value. Like conventional medicines, they have the same potential for harmful side effects so must be used with care.

Growing tips; when embarking on growing herbs it is important to first take into consideration cultural requirements of sun and water, secondly consider convenience.

Herb gardens are often best positioned somewhere convenient, culinary herbs in particular. If one has to walk too far to get a handful of herbs to add into dinner it can become a hassle and consequently not utilised to its maximum.

Regular harvesting of culinary herbs is beneficial to ensuring a consistent supply of soft, clean, fresh growth that is great for using in the kitchen.

Along with this, regular feeding and watering will help ensure the growth continues and the plants remain healthy. Strong growing plants that are well fed tend to be less susceptible to pests and diseases.

A good fertiliser for herbs is Ican Fast Food. It is suitable for herbs in pots as well as in the garden. Additionally use Seasol, a seaweed based plant conditioner which contains naturally occurring growth stimulants along with trace elements.

Have a go at growing a few herbs, pick your favourite dish and find something that goes with it. Some favourite herbs include thyme, rosemary, coriander, mint, parsley, chives and basil. If you already are growing herbs try something different from the list above.

Look up the herbs your already growing and see if they have any other uses.

Have a good week.

â– Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre