There is nothing like the smell of herbs. The aroma of basil, for instance, is enough to perk anyone up on a dreary winter’s day. Thyme wafting through your home will clear away any unpleasant odours and make you think it is spring again. They can transform your cooking, too, whether it be a leg of lamb roasting in the oven or the salmon you’ve always found lacking in flavour. So why not wow your dinner guests and freshen your home with these five easy to grow herbs?
Rosemary is one of those classic herbs with a wonderful pungent aroma that instantly complements a variety of dishes, from lamb roasts to baked potatoes. It is a pretty herb as well, boasting attractive little dark to light blue flowers in late spring.
Growing rosemary could not be easier. If you choose to grow from seed, start sowing seeds in compost around mid-May, ensuring you plant in a sheltered spot of the garden. Seedlings should start to appear in two to three months. Alternatively, if you have access to rosemary plants, take a three inch cutting from young shoots in mid-May to June. Strip away any lower leaves and place in a well-filled pot. Propagator with a temperature between 15°C to 20°C. Seedlings can be transplanted after they have rooted in eight weeks.
Thyme is another versatile herb that can be used in a variety of dishes. It has wonderful aromatic leaves which have medicinal properties, too. Tiny pink flowers appear in late spring. Best of all, thyme grows year-round.
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the most popular variety gardeners grow. It has few requirements, needing only a spot in the sun and ample space for its woody roots to branch out. Growing from seed is recommended and takes a year. Seed in March, ensuring they are only lightly covered in soil. Make sure they are in a warm place and move when they reach 10cm/4 inches. Space them about 30cm/12 ins apart as they need a fair amount of room. Water only if you have very dry conditions, and a good mulch in October will help fend off frost.
A pungent herb, often featured in Italian cooking, the aroma of basil alone makes it worth growing. It does need a lot of warmth, however, and may not be suitable for cooler parts of the UK. It is very vulnerable to frost and needs to be brought indoors when temperatures drop.
Sow seeds in April, ensuring the temperature is kept constant at 15c. Seedlings will pop up after two weeks, ready to be placed in a sunny spot in the garden. Make sure the outdoor temperature is a steady 10 c. Cool temperatures can destroy basil, so use containers if you live in a cooler area.
Tarragon is a peppery herb often used in vinagrettes and is a natural complement for fish dishes. French tarragon is the most popular variety and has a superior flavour to Russian tarragon, the only variety that can be grown from seed. Buying a plant from your local nursery is the easiest way to get started. Ensure it is placed in a well-drained spot and add mulch in October to prevent frost. Water occasionally.
Like basil, this is another pungent herb and is used quite often in pizza recipes. It needs little work, is hardy and can be harvested throughout the year.
Sow seeds in a 2cm deep soil-bed, making sure they are kept at least 15 cm apart. Give a good sprinkle of water and place on a sunny windowsill. After a week, seedlings will appear. Place in a sunny, well-drained spot and make sure they are between 10-12 inches apart. Harvest in July, before flowers appear. Removing the flowerheads will ensure you can harvest until November.
And of course, it almost goes without saying: all of the above herbs can be grown in a herb planter – available at Jack’s Garden Store