If you have an interest in growing your own this season, herbs are a good place to begin. They are brilliantly easy to grow, take minimal effort and can give a flavour boost to meal upon meal with only an occasional trickle of water. Do you like the idea of picking fresh herbs from your garden to add a punch in the kitchen? Then read on for simple advice on what to grow and where.
If you have a sunny garden, patio or windowsill, the herb world is your oyster. A good number of well-loved herbs hail from the Mediterranean, on parched, sun-blasted hillsides. Mediterranean ‘sub-shrubs’ include Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram, Lavender, Sage and Rosemary.
They are generally compact and easy to fit into all but the very tiniest of sunny gardens, their one other requirement being well drained soil.
If you have boggy or clay soil, or if are not sure how suitable your soil is, grow them in pots instead, where you can tailor the compost to suit your herbs’ specifications. Mix handfuls of grit or gravel into the compost before planting to help water to drain away from the roots quickly.
These herbs all benefit from being picked little and often, which makes them bush out from the base. See this as nature’s way of making you cook with them regularly. If any of yours start to get leggy, give them a light trim to the same effect. None of them likes to be cut back hard.
Fennel is another perennial sun lover but with a very different growth habit: it is a plant that really does need a bit of space (and likes to self-seed too), but it will die back every year, unlike the sub-shrubs.
Basil is an essential sun-loving herb and an annual that will need to be replanted every year. Sow seeds only when the weather is reliably warm. Water each morning and pinch out the top few leaves when you want to cook with it, just as you would with other herbs. For a great way to use your basil, take a peek at our delicious Strawberry and Black Pepper Gin Cocktail Recipe here.
Dill is likewise an annual and should be sown in late spring directly into the spot where it is to grow, as it hates root disturbance.
Do not despair of your future herb-filled lunches if your garden only boasts shade, as there are several herbs that will thrive there.
Mint is the queen of shade-loving herbs: plant it in a pot in your dankest corner and it will still produce fresh and lively leaves all season long. It is always best grown in a pot alone, as its roots are thuggish and will quickly swamp other plants. Tip it out of its pot every year or so, and cut the root ball into sections to replant in fresh compost, in order to keep this beast well fed and growing happily.
Chives will also grow contentedly in shade, though they’ll produce fewer of their edible flowers than they would in sun. As with mint, chives are perennials that will die down each winter and leap back into life each spring. Lovage is another perennial that will grow happily in partial shade, as will Sweet Cicely.
Short-lived shade-loving herbs include Coriander, Chervil and Parsley, all of which are best sown in late summer for use through autumn, winter and spring. For a wonderful way to use homegrown parsley, try our recipe for Feta, Cream Cheese and Parsley Dip here.
Plucking the leaves and chopping them into food is not the only way you can use herbs: when you grow your own, other possibilities open up.
Many herbs have edible flowers that taste like a slightly honeyed version of the leaf. Basil, Oregano and Thyme flowers are all ambiguous enough to use as garnishes for sweet or savoury food, and Chive, Dill and Sage flowers are beautiful scattered over savoury dishes and salads.
Make use of seeds, particularly in their young and green stages, when they are like nothing you will ever be able to buy. Green Coriander seeds in particular are pungent little flavour bombs and green Fennel seeds are sweet, crunchy and aniseedy.
Buy a packet of seeds (or, even better, collect your own) and you can sow them thickly and harvest within a week or so as micro leaves, to provide little punchy and flavourful garnishes. Basil, Dill, Chervil, Fennel and Chive all make excellent micro greens too.
Whatever your gardening situation and level of knowledge, it is always worth fitting in a few herbs in to your border, pot or window box, for the way in which they will transform every meal you cook.
You may not ever be able to boast self sufficiency in potatoes or greens or tomatoes, but once you start growing your own, you’ll always be self sufficient in good, herby flavours.
Growing herbs in your garden doesn’t just have to be for cooking, spices or medicinal uses either. Many of these practical plants can be quite beautiful and showy, with blooming herbs cominf in many shapes, sizes, and shades. Flowering herbs sport gorgeous blooms that can add variation and colour to your herb garden and brighten any garden in an instant.