Growing herbs

Posted: Tuesday 26 June 2012
by Adam Pasco

When it comes to flavour, herbs are particularly valuable. No kitchen garden would be complete without them.

Picking flat-leaved parsley

I don't think my taste buds are fooling me - home-grown food really does have the best flavour. Fruits, vegetables and salad leaves picked fresh from the garden and served up within minutes are superior to shop-bought produce in so many ways.

And when it comes to flavour, herbs are particularly valuable. No kitchen garden would be complete without them, and many are attractive enough to be grown for their ornamental value too. We're focusing on growing herbs in Gardeners' World Magazine this month.

Top of my list comes coriander. I love it. Easy to grow from seed, and quick to provide pickings when sown now, coriander is perfect for adding to salads or Thai recipes, or sprinkling over curries.

Don't dig up coriander when it bolts. Let it flower and bring in beneficial hoverflies to feed on the pollen. They'll breed in your garden, and the larvae will consume greenfly, providing natural pest control – perfect for the organic gardener. Coriander flowers soon turn into seed heads, so you can collect the ripe seeds for use in Indian cooking, or save them to sow next year.

Both chives and parsley are also easy to grow from seed. I need a good supply as my plants are constantly ‘grazed’ to add flavour to salads. A little of each, chopped in with mixed leaves of lettuce, spinach, beetroot and rocket adds an unexpected highlight. For colour and intense onion flavour, chive flowers can be pulled apart and sprinkled on top.

Mint should be grown separately from other herbs, in a pot, to stop it invading the garden. Now is a good time to propagate extra mint plants, by taking some non-flowering shoots, about 10cm long, stripping off the lower leaves, and popping them in a glass of water to root. Then pot them up, moving them into larger pots as they get established.

For ornamental value, I love rosemary, bay, thyme and sage. I need sprigs a few times a year for dishes like casseroles, and when they’re available fresh, they’re so much nicer and cheaper than the dried ones.

Anyone who has space outdoors can make room for herbs, even in the smallest garden. Just a single large pot is perfect for an assortment of your favourites. Grow more of the ones you cut and use regularly (basil and coriander in my case). And in the autumn, remember to bring some potted ones under cover, or onto a bright indoor windowsill, to provide pickings in winter. Just pluck and crush a leaf, close your eyes, breath in, and enjoy the moment!

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donutsmrs 26/06/2012 at 18:44

I have got two small pots of mint and a pot the rosemary and a bay tree. I am going to have a go at growing Coriander, never grown it before. Couldn't live without my herbs, if nothing else the smell of them is just wonderful.

Dovefromabove 27/06/2012 at 06:01

I'm trying this coriander this year so hopefully it will provide lots of lush leaves and won't run straight to seed.

Chloesgran 27/06/2012 at 08:31

My herb book advises 'If growing for the seeds choose the sunniest and hottest spot in the garden. If you do not want the plant to run to seed choose a spot with partial shade. When growing for leaves, pick off any flowers as soon as seen to prevent running to seed'.

Green Magpie 27/06/2012 at 12:29

Yesterday's "Woman's Hour" had a recipe for Mexican tacos that required various fresh herbs. I decided to try it, and was able to pick the required thyme, mint, tarragon and coriander all fresh from the garden. The tacos were absolutely delicious! Oh, and I even substituted our home-grown chard for the spinach in the recipe.

Coriander does tend to run to seed but you can save the seeds and use them as a spice, or sow some for next year.

Adam Pasco 28/06/2012 at 14:15

There is a variety of coriander called 'Leisure' that is claimed to be slower at running to seed (bolting). I haven't evaluated this against others to see if it produces better leafy growth. Has anyone else.

And is there a difference between coriander and cilantro?

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