Way, way back I wrote a page for Suffolk Smallholders Society monthly newsletter all about which herbs I would grow if I only had room for a few. Back then we had a huge herb garden which was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time but needed too many hours spent on it to be sensible for a busy smallholders. We cleared it all when the Bay tree centre-piece got to 15 feet tall and more than 8 feet wide!
I can't find a copy of the page I wrote years ago so started again and I can't find the list of herbs we had growing - I'm sure it was more than 20 different ones - several were more like weeds than herbs - Tansy for instance.........I had to pull it out from the flower garden for years after removing the herb garden.
Anyway, if I only had room for a few Herbs they would be............
Slow to get going from seed, it's the one thing that I make sure to buy a new packet of seed each year. It can be sown quite early and there are all sorts of old wives tales about the best methods of getting it to germinate. I usually pour really hot water over the compost before sowing (the old way was to pee on it!) then sow quite thickly and cover with a plastic lid, then keep it in a warm place.
I prefer curly leafed rather than flat-leaf but proper chefs usually seem to use the flat-leaf sort. Parsley will often survive through the winter outside in a sheltered spot giving some new growth early before running to seed in June - that's when I pull up the old clump and start using the new plant. My favourite way to use it is in potato salad and fish-cakes.
First to reappear after winter, so bits can be snipped to add to sandwiches before there's any other sign of green stuff. Difficult to start from seed but once you have one clump you can easily divide them and re-plant. I like to have two clumps around the garden, so one lot can be left to flower for the bees and another can have all the flowers taken off so there are no thick un-edible stems. Also use this in potato salad and with scrambled egg in sandwiches.
Either grown in a pot - which it hates, or left to spread in the ground .....depends how much room you have. Another herb hard to grow from seed but once you have a pot it should last years and is ever so easy to propagate from a rooted cutting. If grown in a pot dig out some with a root on to move into a new pot each year. If grown in the ground it might take over but I just pull out some each year. If you cut some down when it starts to run to seed in late summer then new growth will appear for the autumn. I use this when cooking new potatoes from the garden and for mint tea. I've tried umpteen times to get Peppermint to grow for me but found it always crossed with the common spearmint so ended up all the same. (I remember a slightly tetchy discussion with a man at one of the Suffolk Smallholder's shows when I had Eau-de-Cologne mint for sale. "How can there be Eau-de-Cologne mint - it's a contradiction and impossible". Oh no it isn't!)
I love pesto stirred into pasta and tomato/basil sauces also for pasta so always grow some. It needs heat to get started and then a warm place to grow. Some people swear by a pot on the windowsill but whenever I've tried that it's got invaded by greenfly. I nip out the flowering tip when they get to about 9 inches tall to get lots of branches. There are lots of different types of basil but I reckon the big green leaved Sweet Genovese is the most useful. I've seen on youtube that it's easy to take cuttings from basil just by growing in water - must give it a go although I don't need tons.
No matter how many times I bought a pot of this to plant in the garden at the smallholding (another herb fiddly to grow from seed) it never lasted more than a few years. Yet in many places in the country it grows in the wild and often seeded itself easily at the smallholding so that I could dig up seedlings to sell. Lemon thyme is lovely but I don't think it's as hardy as common thyme. On moving here I found a patch of common thyme growing in next to no soil right by the paving slabs at the edge of the patio and it's looking well again this year. So maybe at the smallholding the soil was just too rich. Most useful with chicken I used to put a big handful inside the chicken when roasting and more between the skin and breast. Don't use it so much now as I rarely roast a whole chicken.
I've also got a very large Rosemary in the flower garden, some Lemon Balm and Common Sage at one end of a veg bed and lots of golden Feverfew that comes up every year in the rose garden. And of course Laurus Nobilis........... the Bay Tree.
And another good reason for having herbs..........There's a class in the Produce and Flower show for 'A Vase of Herbs' which I entered last year and came second. Hope to do one better this year! And today is the day to decide what to enter as entry forms have to be taken to the village this evening.
|Last years 2nd place|