Sunday 22 January 2017

Grow your own herbs and reap great flavour

Published 25/04/2010 | 05:00

The next few weeks are a good time to sow herb seeds because these plants like the soil to be warmed a little. Of course, they can be grown in seed trays, too, but many are robust enough to be sown in the open soil, and this is far more convenient.

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The use of fresh herbs has increased greatly in recent years and they are more available in shops, both as cut herbs and plants in pots.

Cut herbs can be quite expensive for small amounts and herbs freshly picked from the garden have the best flavour.

The range of herbs that can be grown in gardens is very wide and includes the traditional thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley and chives. Many others can be grown just as easily, such as marjoram, dill, basil, summer savory, French tarragon, fennel, flat-leaf parsley, sorrel, sweet cicely, bay laurel, chervil and garlic.

Some herbs are permanent, lasting for several years at least, especially shrubs such as sage and rosemary, and non-woody perennial flowers, such as chives, lovage and fennel.

Both chives and fennel are pretty enough to be given space in any flower border. If you grow these in flower borders, make sure to take off the flower heads to prevent self-sowing, which can be a nuisance.

Many herbs are decorative and can be accommodated in a mixed border. Shrubby sage and rosemary both have good foliage and flowers. Bay laurel forms a medium-sized evergreen tree, very decorative in its own right, with the bonus of fresh bay leaves whenever they are needed, and it lends itself to clipping as shaped trees, or even as a hedge.

Some herbs are raised from seeds sown each year, such as parsley, dill, summer savory and marjoram, but more permanent kinds can be sown in the open soil, too.

Most herbs that are used in cookery are natives of the Mediterranean area and are very easy to germinate and grow, given well-prepared soil that drains well but does not dry out too much. And the soil need not be very rich as this pushes growth at the expense of flavour.

Basil is an exception. It struggles outdoors in the cool summer temperatures. It is easy to sprout in a seed tray on a window sill, or in a greenhouse, but must be grown on with the warmth of a greenhouse, cold frame or conservatory. Also be very careful not to over-water the young seedlings, because they are inclined to rot easily.

All kinds of herbs need to be grown in full sunshine and they do not like to be shaded, even for part of the day. Or if you cannot sow seeds, simply buy plants of the various kinds of herbs because now is a good time to plant.

Sunday Independent

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