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Herbs and Spices

Good enough to eat - Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

This under-rated herb with fern-like foliage is perfect with fish, or chopped up and put into mixed leaf salads, adding a subtle flavour between parsley and aniseed.

Some people add it to butter pats to melt over new potatoes and other veg. It's easy to grow, sowing from March to late June in rows where you want the plants to crop, as the seedlings don't transfer well.

If you grow them in individual pots, sow them into the pots they're going to stay in and then thin them out as the seedlings emerge.

If you buy small plants to grow on, plant them straight away without breaking up the rootball.

Chervil likes rich, moisture-retentive soil and shade or dappled sun. Ideally sow it in spring and again in late August, because if you sow it in summer, it may run to seed.

Keep the plants watered in dry spells and weed regularly. If you protect plants from the frost, they will keep going well into the winter and may produce new foliage early in spring before they run to seed.

Creating a herb garden

You don't need masses of space to grow a selection of herbs which will add flavour to your meals virtually all year round, but you will have to make sure that the herbs you grow together will have the same growing requirements.

Many herbs don't like the moisture-retentive rich soil preferred by vegetables, so you may want to give these a separate space, in the form of a herb wheel or simply some large pots in which they will thrive in the right conditions.

Not all herbs like full sun. Thyme, sage, rosemary, French tarragon and oregano like it hot; rocket, sorrel, mizuna, mustard, parsley and chervil prefer partial shade.

Parsley prefers cool light shade, chives thrive in rich soil, while mint prefers plenty of moisture.

Some are shortlived and need successional sowing through the season, including basil, coriander and parsley, while others will survive for a long time in a pot, such as marjoram, mint, chives, sage and thyme.

If you are planning a herb garden as a central island in the lawn, put the tallest herbs in the middle and the lower-growing ones on the outside. For a garden in an established border, the tallest plants go to the back near the fence, and the lower ones in the front.

A wooden barrel or large terracotta pot planted with trailing thyme, chives, sage, basil, coriander, tarragon and with French lavender in the middle looks very effective. Even in the smallest space - whether just a windowbox or hanging basket - you could grow a selection of fragrant herbs, making sure what you plant is suitably located.


Late January is the idea time to dig up existing mint plants which you want to place somewhere else or which has simply outgrown its space. Mint propagates itself by rooted runners and is really invasive if not kept in check. Cut the runner into sections, ensuring that each has some healthy root and shoot. It's better to plant the root cuttings in a big plastic pot or bucket with drainage holes and then plunge the whole thing into the soil. That way it can be easily lifted in the future and won't invade everything around it. You can also keep a few sections of runners in pots in the house for daily use.

Hot chilli peppers

It may be cold outside but you can create some sizzling heat in the kitchen if you start off some hot chilli peppers on a warm windowsill, conservatory or heated greenhouse, sown now at 20C (68F) in pots of seed compost. They need to be sown early because they can take up to 30 days to germinate and if it all goes wrong, you'll have to try again. Transfer them to individual 9cm (3.5in) pots when large enough and grown on at 18C (65F). Tips should be pinched out when they are around 20cm (8in) tall to promote bushiness and stop the plants becoming top heavy. When the roots have filled the pot, the plants can be transferred into individual 30cm (12in) containers or growbags. Be warned, they will not withstand frost, so don't start hardening them off until early summer. Choose somewhere warm and sheltered, ideally against a sunny wall which will help to ripen the fruit. The plants should be trained up canes and loops of string and fed with a general purpose fertiliser until the flowers form. They can be picked while they are immature, but won't be as strong as the mature pepper. Hot varieties include 'Thai Dragon', which produces red fruits around 10cm (4in) long and 'Caribbean Red Hot', which bears bright red, wrinkled fruits.


It's scrumptious rubbed into roast lamb with garlic, or even blitzed with other herbs and olive oil to coat roast potatoes and the fragrance of rosemary can fill a room. Plant it up in spring in a sunny spot, forking in some grit if you have a clay soil because it needs good drainage and it should produce small, delicate light blue flowers in early summer. Bear in mind that rosemary is from the Mediterranean so it is slightly tender, but usually thrives in a sheltered spot and can be grown as an evergreen hedge which is trimmed after flowering, although it's most commonly found in herb gardens or in pots against a warm wall.Cut off sprigs as you need them from spring to early summer. The most common variety for cooking is Rosmarinus officinalis, which grows more than 3ft if not kept in check, producing tiny pale blue flowers. If you are fussy on colour, 'Majorca Pink' is compact with pink flowers, while 'Miss Jessop's Upright' is more upright, making a focal point in the herb bed.


Autumn is the ideal time to plant garlic as it needs a few weeks of cold weather to grow well. Buy bulbs specially cultivated for planting, rather than supermarket cloves, to have a better chance of reaping a good-quality harvest. Plant bulbs in a sunny site in well-drained soil, breaking each bulb into individual cloves and plant each one 8-10cm (3-4in) apart, with 30cm (24in) between rows, so that the tips of the cloves are just below soil level. If you want to get them off to a quicker start, plant the cloves in module trays with large cells and keep them in a cold frame for the winter. They can then be put in the ground in spring. Water them in dry weather until the foliage dies down in late summer, then lift and dry the bulbs before storing them in a cool, airy place. Save bulbs from a healthy crop to replant them the following year.


The thick, leathery dark green leaves of laurus nobilis make the bay tree a favourite for topiary, especially in potagers and herb gardens. But if you have it in a pot, you can bring it into a cool area of the house, such as a hallway, where you can decorate it with dried fruits, fairy lights and other baubles to bring some festive cheer to your home. As a culinary herb, it has the added advantage of being edible as well as pleasing to the eye. L. nobilis will grow into a pyramid-shaped tree 6m high or more if left unpruned, but it's easier to keep the plant small by trimming it in summer and placing it somewhere where its aromatic, glossy leaves will be appreciated. It is susceptible to frost, so if you're leaving a pot outside, place it in a sheltered spot near the house. It will grow in any reasonable soil in a sheltered site, thriving in sun or partial shade. Water the tree well before you bring it indoors and don't let the compost dry out.


Any fan of curries will be totally familiar with fenugreek, a green whose seeds form the basis of many curry powder blends.But you can also eat the leaves, which can be a substitute for spinach or mixed with spices and potatoes, or just ripped and scattered over salads. You can acquire the seeds from supermarkets or Asian stores - the seeds are often sold in a spice shaker - which you then scatter over prepared soil or pots of compost between April and September, preferably in full sun.Lightly cover the seeds and water them in well. Thin them out when the plants are 5cm high and keep sowing every fortnight so that you have a constant supply throughout the summer. When you're ready to use them, snip the leaves off to within 10cm of the ground, as the youngest leaves are the ones at the top of the plant. The remaining stem will recover and produce more leaves.


It’s a mainstay of the kitchen garden, perking up salads, fish and sauces. It’s easy to grow once it has germinated - the secret is to use fresh seed and cover it with fleece to keep it warm until seedlings appear. Parsley should be sown thinly where you want it to grow or in small pots. It prefers rich, moisture-retentive soil and can be thinned in situ as necessary. Feed the plants every few weeks using a general purpose liquid fertiliser. Flat-leaved parsley is extremely popular these days, which makes a bushy plant about 30cm (12in) high. Sow regularly to ensure a fresh supply, as parsley can bolt.

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