Who does not love the scent of mint? That recognisably tangy aroma, so green and refreshing is something most of us associate with Summer cocktails and delicious steaming tea. Today mint has made its way into many of our everyday tea rituals, beauty regimes and kitchen recipes but the tradition of using mint in many forms is not new. In biblical times mint is said to have been used to pay a tithe while the Romans used it to aid digestion and ancient Greeks cleaned there banqueting tables with it. It is no wonder that with its many culinary uses and health benefits, that the humble mint plant has established itself as a key ingredient in many of our kitchens.
I adore mint. The scent, the taste and the plants in all their wonderful diversity.
In my own garden I have everything from low growing ground cover mints to tall and leggy fluffy ones growing wild in borders and pots. They sprout tall and lilac in behind the fronds of my Iris and gracefully fill unsightly gaps in the border at my patio. In my space, the spreading nature of the mint plant is a blessing as I tend to use the many varieties for everyday tea, drying and storing for the Winter months and propagate for new plants. Due to its rampant nature however, growing mint in the garden needs to be considered very carefully.
If let, many mint varieties will soon spread to cover vast areas of ground and can become invasive in the garden. I am always harvesting the my own varieties which tends to keep them in check and I find there’s something nice about pulling the deliciously scented plants, drying them and re-potting some as gifts. If you prefer to keep them in check a little without the maintenance however then here are some handy tricks which work well.
The first is a no-brainer. Plant them in a series of beautiful containers. Less of a trick and more of a design idea, planting different varieties of mint in a series of pots is a great way of creating a conceptual design feature on a patio or a balcony and has the added bonus of scent, not to mention the many other uses for the mints in the kitchen. I love a variety of terracotta pots in different sizes all planted in different mint varieties. A super way of starting a mint collection and guaranteed to look gorgeous as a whole.
If you do prefer to have them in the ground, such as in a larger garden setting then a great trick is to take the bottom off a plastic pot and plant this into the ground. In most mint varieties this will be enough to discourage the shallow growing roots from spreading and they make great filler plants in the border, not to mention the delicious scent!
Mint is easy to grow too and even harder to kill so even if you have no green fingers whatsoever- here are some of my favourite varieties for starting your own collection:
My favourite Mints- Get inspired and start your own collection:
Mentha spicata–Spearmint -common garden mint
This is the best known of all mints and is the one which makes the oil of spearmint, which flavours toothpastes, sweets and is added to cosmetics. This plant is also an ingredient in Maghrebi mint tea, which is served in Morocco and is also one of the ones alongside the hybrid Mentha x villosa, which is used for Mojito cocktails. It has a strong and recognisable mint scent and flavour. It prefers partial shade but can do well in sun too and likes a well drained loamy soil with plenty of organic material.
Mentha citrata–bergamot mint, eau-de-cologne mint.
This is absolutely my favourite mints of all time. The scent is so incredibly strong, a heady mix of lavender and bergamot which has spread to a few areas of my garden. While slightly invasive, I don’t mind this whatsoever and only wish it grew in more areas. It makes for the most incredible tea, with hints of lime and lemon and is fantastic for a sore tummy or a headache. The leaves are also quite beautiful, shiny and rich in colour and the plant has the added bonus of pretty lilac flowers. Its oil is also used in the perfume industry.
Mentha aquatica-water mint
This mint grows wild all along the lakeside where I live and at this time of the year the pretty spires of green with purple-mauve tiered flowers and aubergine-green plants sit well above the marshy grass. As the name suggests, the plant loves water and will need moist soil and should never be allowed to dry out in a domestic garden setting. Traditionally this has been the one used in Ireland for digestive problems and was held sacred by the Druids long ago. It can be brewed into a delicious tea and a rich infusion can be made from it and is said to cleanse the liver, stimulate the appetite and circulation and at night can have slightly sedative effects.
Mentha requienii -Corsican Mint
I first came across this lovely little creeper when I built my garden ‘A Love Letter to the West’ at Bloom 2013. It is native to Corsica, Sardinia and mainland Italy and is one of the smallest of the mint family- only growing to about 3–10 cm tall. The gorgeous miniature leaves of the plant grow close to the ground and form a beautiful carpet of green between stones and paving. Interestingly it can also be used to form a carpet for walking on as it does not mind being walked on. An added bonus? As you walk across it it releases a delicious spicy minty scent. It is also useful in adding to vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as it repel insects and is even thought to enhance the flavour of the vegetables.
Mentha suaveolens- Apple Mint, Pineapple Mint.
Where the previous Mentha requienii is one of the smallest in the mint family, this one is one of the taller ones, growing to about 1metre in height. Visually it is also quite distinctly different and grows in tall elegant spires of bright lime green. The scent is somewhat sweeter and fruitier than some other mints and not quite as spicy in character- a great one to get kids excited, especially because the leaves are soft and downy and lovely to touch. It is a great one to grow amongst other perennials (providing its kept in check) and has pretty white or pink flowers. The Pineapple variety has variegated leaves and is useful for adding light touches to a scheme. The leaves of both plants can be used to make a variety of foods and drinks such as tea or apple mint jelly and it can be added to couscous to make a delicious tabbouleh.
Maintaining a Mint plant: most spreading mint varieties will tend to grow outwards so if you have planted them within a sunken pot in the garden they will need to be pulled up once a year. Simply pull the plant out and take a few of the outer underground roots. They tend to grow in a spiral around the pot which is containing them! These can then be repotted in the same way as the previous year.
The rule of thumb is to harvest the plant in the morning before the sun hits the leaves and size wise when it is about 30cm tall or more. It is also advisable to not take more than a third of the plant to allow it to recover. Treat it well and you will have an endless supply of the good stuff.