Jekka’s top 10 herbs for sun, semi-shade, dry & damp conditions

Jekka’s top 10 herbs for sun, semi-shade, dry & damp conditions

There are a number of  important things to consider when planning your herb garden, the aspect, the amount of sun your garden will get, the soil type and how much water is retained in the soil (you can read more about the different soil types in Jekka’s Guide to Soil). As we discussed in Jekka’s Guide to Climate Change, you should also recognise that the weather patterns you have previously experienced might be changing and therefore, the conditions next year might be, for example, drier or wetter than in previous years.

In general, it is best to play to the strengths of your garden and choose herbs that thrive in the conditions that it offers. This might mean you plant different plants in different parts of the garden.

To help you plant for particular conditions Jekka has listed some popular herbs for sun, semi-shade and for both dry and damp conditions. For more ideas on how to plan a culinary herb garden please refer to Jekka's blogs, in particular some additional Guides and Blogs that might help are:

Jekka’s top 10 herbs for sun, semi-shade, dry & damp conditions

Jekka's Herb Garden
You can see what we got up to in Jekka’s Herb Garden in our blog series that covers springsummer, late-summer and autumn as well as a time-line to see its evolution.

10 herbs for sunny conditions

Gardeners often seek out a south-facing aspect in their garden that gets plenty of light; however, unrelenting full sun can be a problem for certain plants, causing them to wilt and struggle if not sufficiently watered and cared for.

In order to give your plants the best start you should prepare the soil in sunny borders carefully before planting. For example, you can incorporate lots of organic matter into the soil, such as compost, well-rotted manure or recycled green waste. The organic matter will act as a sponge and thereby, help your soil retain water, as well as providing essential nutrients. Plus, if you have clay soil the organic matter will aid drainage and prevent it from drying out and cracking on the surface.

Jekka’s tip is to fill the planting hole with water just prior to planting, this is known as puddling.

Jekka’s top 10 herbs for sunny conditions are:

  1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  2. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  3. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  4. Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  5. Hyssop (Hyssopus)
  6. Mints (Mentha)
  7. Oregano (Origanum)
  8. Sage (Salvia)
  9. Savory (Satureja)
  10. Thyme (Thymus)

10 herbs for areas of semi-shade

Shade, due to trees or buildings, is an almost inevitable part of gardens, especially for the urban gardener. Understanding that plants respond differently to shade and that a wide range of shade situations are likely to be encountered is invaluable in planning and planting a garden.

To grow healthy plants in shady areas, it is important to match the degree of shade that a plant needs or will tolerate with available light. The effect of shade is to lead to lower sugar production and reduced growth and flowering and ultimately, in plants ill-adapted to shade, death. Herbs will not survive where shade is very dense, particularly when coupled with a dry impoverished soil. However, some herbs will grow in semi-shade, which is roughly three to six hours per day of direct sun at midsummer.

Jekka’s top 10 herbs for semi-shade are:

  1. Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
  2. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
  3. Cowslips (Primula veris)
  4. Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)
  5. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  6. Sorrel (Rumex)
  7. Sweet Violets (Viola odorata)
  8. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
  9. Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)
  10. Winter Purslane (Claytonia perfoliate)

10 herbs for dry conditions

It is often believed that plants require rich, moist soil to thrive, but on the contrary, there are lots of plants, especially herbs that originate from the Mediterranean region, that live quite happily in dry conditions. To survive in dry conditions, which are often the result of full exposure to the sun and shallow soils, plants have to be tough. Alternatively, you could improve your dry soils by simply digging in plenty of organic matter such as garden compost that will help it to hold onto moisture and improve its structure.

Jekka’s top 10 herbs for dry conditions are:

  1. Borage (Borago)
  2. Red Valerian (Centranthrus)
  3. Coneflower (Echinacea)
  4. French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
  5. Lavender (Lavandula)
  6. Myrtle (Myrtus)
  7. Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
  8. Sage (Salvia)
  9. Thyme (Thymus)
  10. Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

10 herbs for damp conditions

The UK weather is hard to predict and almost certainly involves a fair amount of rain; after all it is one of our favourite topics as gardeners. However, rain does not fall evenly with some areas of the country receiving more than others. Rain also falls unevenly in gardens that can have many different microclimates. This may mean that you have dry areas (under a tree, for example) and damp areas within a relatively small area. If you have an area that is very damp and drains poorly, you could consider creating a bog garden.

Jekka’s top 10 herbs for damp conditions are:

  1. Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
  2. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
  3. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
  4. Gotu kola (Centella asiatic)
  5. Harts Pennyroyal (Mentha cervina)
  6. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
  7. Iris (Iris pseudoacorus)
  8. Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis)
  9. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
  10. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

If you would like to know more, click on the links to be taken to the herb plant page or the relevant Jekka's Guide.


Want to know more?

You can find more about herbs in Jekka’s blog, our past newsletters and videos as well as Jekka's new book '100 Herbs to Grow' and Jekka's existing books, namely 'A Pocketful of Herbs' or Jekka's Complete Herb Book, and also by browsing Jekkapedia and exploring our herb based recipes.

Jekka's Herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October), Thyme (November) and Curry Tree (December).

Alternatively, come and visit the herb farm in South Gloucestershire at one of our Open DaysMaster Classes or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar).

For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs

Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us ( We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.

 Jekka’s top 10 herbs for sun, semi-shade, dry & damp conditions

Jekka's Open Days