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From plot to plate: Simple-to-grow herbs can give your cooking a real boost
From plot to plate: Simple-to-grow herbs can give your cooking a real boost

Thyme for sage advice

Home-grown herbs are best for fragrance and flavour

EVERY garden needs herbs. Even if you never cook, sage, rosemary and so many other herbs could greatly enrich your planting. Lavenders, thymes and oregano are as pretty and fragrant as the finest garden plants.

Home-grown herbs also taste better than supermarket products. Dried herbs could never beat the complex, subtle flavours of fresh parsley, tarragon or basil.

Newly chopped spearmint couldn’t be less like the sugary gunk in jars.

Herbs are easy to grow, especially in a sunny garden. The most common are fully hardy. A few, such as basil and coriander are tender. But they’re easy to raise from seed.

If you grow basil, you could make and store your own pesto. Sow coriander and you can enjoy the fresh, citrussy leaves. Pretty pink flowers follow, then the uniquely flavoured seeds ripen. They’re great for pickling spice or curries.

There are sages with gold, purple or multicoloured leaves. Rosemary or lavenders can be used for hedging or grown as pretty, stand-alone shrubs.

When naturally grown, bay trees become huge. But they can be clipped and sculpted as miniature trees, formal hedging or even topiary.

SUN-LOVERS

IF YOU want to make a herb garden, choose a sunny patch with free-draining soil. That will ensure happy plants with good flavour. If your garden is shady, grow them in its brightest spot.

Herbs blend sweetly with other plants. Non-creeping thymes make pretty border edges. You can use creeping varieties to make an aromatic, thyme lawn. Lavenders can develop as low hedges, lovely in flower and great for bees. Culinary sages blend well. Some have purple, gold or multicoloured leaves. Those look attractive with border pinks, artemisias and sun-lovers.

Each summer you can increase herb numbers with annual varieties. Basil is great for that, but you could also include coriander and dill. Sow those in a greenhouse for planting out later. Sow parsley, curled or plain-leaved, outdoors. It’s slow to germinate, but grows happily in containers or a bed.

Be careful. Some herbs can be invasive, mints disastrously so. The tastiest of those, spearmint and the tall-growing Norfolk or apple mint are shocking spreaders. So confine to containers.

Creeping thymes are also invasive. Pull them up wherever they have spread too far.

KEEP IN TRIM

MOST perennial herbs are self-sustaining. But with help from you, they’ll give much more. With age, sages and lavenders grow leggy and can sprawl. Cut back after flowering to prevent that.

Bays grow into large trees. But an annual trim keeps them to a desired size. Late spring is best for that, after the last frost.

Unlike most herbs, mature bay leaves are more aromatic than when fresh and young. So when gathering for the kitchen, choose older leaves which are clean, dark green and unblemished.

Garden centres stock herbs, as do many nurseries. For a bigger range, go to a specialist. Jekka’s Herb Farm, Bristol, has won dozens of flower show gold medals. See jekkas.com.

Finally, if you fancy a Pimm’s this summer, plant apple mint, Mentha suaveolens, now. It is the perfect cocktail garnish.

Picture: Alamy