GINA PARKINSON finds that plans to really use the herb bed this year have gone awry again, despite all those good intentions.

AS USUAL we have allowed the herbs in the bed by the kitchen go to flower. The grand plan for this small area in a sunny, dry spot was to plant it with just a few favourite herbs such as sage, thyme and oregano that we would use all summer.

A step away from the kitchen it is, on paper at least, ideal. The trouble is we forget about the herbs and suddenly they are in bloom, oregano and thyme at least.

Luckily sage is more forgiving of neglect: it just gets enormous but never seems to flower for us. At this stage the longer stems can be cut, tied together and hung in the kitchen to be picked whenever the flavour is required. The leaves dry out slowly but retain their taste for months, especially when picked after a hot and sunny spell.

Flowering oregano is trickier to approach. The textbook recommendation is to shear off all the pale lilac flowers, water profusely then wait a while for a new crop of tasty leaves to appear. This is never done in our household as the blooms attract so many butterflies, bees and hoverflies that it seems cruel to deny them their feast.

There are ornamental oreganos that are grown specifically for their flowers rather than as the culinary herb Origanum vulgaris mentioned above.

Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’, for instance, has beautiful slender dark stems covered in purple flushed foliage and topped with reddish purple flowers. In common with its kitchen cousin, it likes to grow in full sun and soil that is free draining or even poor; it will happily mix at the front of a border with other perennial plants.

I have mine growing with a deeply silvered pulmonaria which acts as a perfect foil for the dark colouring of the oregano.

Oregano is fully hardy and will cope with cold winters as long as it isn’t standing in cold, wet soil. The flowered stems can be left on the plant through winter and cut off in spring, together with some of the old foliage. New growth will soon appear, and with the culinary species be ready for eating by mid to late spring. As long as the chef remembers.


York compost

WE CAUGHT the last day of the council compost giveaway last weekend.

Not knowing what to expect, we drove up to Harewood Whin on Tinker Lane, off Wetherby Road, Rufforth, armed with a spade and a few bags to fill following the advice on the website.

Wondering if the three or four bags might seem a bit greedy, we soon realised there was nothing to worry about. The mountain of steaming compost was high and the container of choice of most visitors was a trailer.

All was quiet save for the scraping of shovels and grunt of effort as their load was thrown into the waiting receptacle. We were accompanied by our daughter who was easily the most glamorous person on the site, dressed in white leather trainers and matching pristine top. Give her her due though: she caught the spirit of the exercise and joined in the digging like a small child on the beach.

Sadly the open days have finished for this year, but if you want some free compost to improve your garden soil or allotment, then check the council website next spring to see when they are.

I love the thought that the green waste many of us take to James Street eventually finds its way back to our gardens.


Weekend catch-up

CONTAINER plants are getting big now and require a lot of watering to keep them in shape. Try to do this daily especially when the weather is hot.

Plants take up an enormous amount of moisture and those in pots rely totally on someone attending to them. The ideal is to do them in the cool morning, but really it doesn’t matter when they are watered so long as it is done.

If the increasing size of container plants is making them look overcrowded, it is a good idea to move the pots around and put a few elsewhere in the garden. We have a number of geraniums by a large glazed pot filled with helichrysum, whose long stems are going every which way.

There should have been marguerite and black petunia in this pot too, but frequent mollusc attack has stunted their growth so much that they can hardly be seen.

The geraniums are beginning to look squeezed out but as they will be ideal for brightening up a boring corner by a hedge they can be moved. This will give them space to grow more and will also allow the remaining pot to stand alone and fill a larger space.


Open Garden

Today and tomorrow.

In aid of the National Gardens Scheme.

Mansion Cottage, Gillus Lane, Bempton, YO15 1HW, off the B1255 Bridlington road. Exuberant perennials and grasses in a peaceful garden with lovely views, hidden corners and wide range of plants. Homemade lunches available as well as produce stalls with jams, chutneys, pickles and handmade soaps. Open 10am-4pm, admission £3.


Gardening TV and radio


7am, BBC2, Alan Titchmarsh’s Garden Secrets. Am examination of the C18th landscape movement.

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

8am, BBC2, Gardeners’ World. Tips on tackling overgrown hedges.

8.30am, BBC2, The Beechgrove Garden. Different approaches to growing melons.

9am, BBC Radio York, Julia Lewis. Out and about in the gardens and countryside of North Yorkshire.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chairman Eric Robson and his team of gardening experts answer questions from the audience on board a ferry on Lake Windermere.


8pm, ITV Love Your Garden. In the last of the series Alan Titchmarsh and the makeover team visit an Afghanistan veteran to help him create the cottage garden of his dreams.


3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Panellists Bob Flowerdew, Pippa Greenwood and Anne Swithinbank join chairman Eric Robson at the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.