Growing your own herbs will add both colour and flavour to your culinary creations as well as giving a lovely fragrance to your kitchen or garden. If you grow rosemary or mint outside your back door you won’t be able to resist rubbing your fingers against the aromatic leaves as you pass by. As well as looking and smelling great, a herb garden is easy to establish and doesn’t need much looking after.
What to grow
It’s best to start growing herbs you know you will use. Kitchen staples such as basil, oregano, chives, parsley and coriander are naturally compact and great for beginners. Once you’ve mastered these, why not branch out by growing herbs such as tarragon and dill that are trickier to find in the supermarket.
How to grow herbs: Location, Location, Location
Most herbs need a lot of sun to thrive so grow them in a sunny spot outside or on a windowsill that receives plenty of light. If you can, try to place your herbs close to the kitchen as you will be more likely to use them when cooking.
Pot or not?
The majority of herbs come from hot, dry climates so would struggle if planted directly into our British soil. To solve this problem, grow your herbs in pots as this way you can control the soil content to ensure the roots don’t get waterlogged. You can re-purpose all sorts of items to become good herb pots, from milk bottles to colanders, just make sure you always add some drainage holes in the base.
Fill your pots with two thirds potting compost, and one third horticultural grit or perlite to allow for adequate drainage. Make sure you check your compost is peat-free to help conserve wildlife, prevent flooding and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Seeds or plants?
Whether you grow herbs from seed or buy a plant depends on the type of herb. Annuals, such as basil, coriander and parsley die after a year and are easy to grow from seed. The trick to having a fresh supply throughout spring and summer is to sow little and often. Start sowing annuals in early spring and continue to sow every three to four weeks until August.
Perennials, such as rosemary, thyme and oregano last for many years and are best bought as small plants.
Pruning and water
Each type of herb will have a slightly different pruning requirement but in the wild many herbs would be grazed regularly and so the general rule is to snip frequently. Cut down to just above a pair of leaves to encourage new growth.
The exceptions are coriander and chives, where you cut all the way down to the ground when harvesting. For most herbs you can use your fingers to remove leaves and stems but make sure to pinch cleanly to avoid diseases that result from ripped stems. The majority of herbs need water when the soil feels dry to touch which usually means watering about once a week.
Salsa Verde – A Recipe with Parsley
This salsa verde sauce will add zing to any dish but is particularly delicious with sausages or grilled chicken.
2 large handfuls of parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon capers
6 anchovy fillets (or dried mushrooms soaked in water for any vegan/vegetarians)
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
100ml extra virgin olive oil
1 handful fresh mint (optional)
1 handful fresh basil (optional)
- If you have a blender, whizz together the herbs, garlic, capers, gherkin and anchovies. Finely chop the herbs, garlic, capers, gherkin and anchovies or if you have a blender, simply whizz them together.
- Place in a bowl with the mustard, vinegar and oil before stirring all together.
All Images Courtesy of Alice Nott.
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