Few things will step up your cooking quite like having fresh herbs to hand. Access to the essentials when they’re at their seasonal best will see you experimenting with flavours and creating increasingly amazing dishes in no time.
The good news about herbs is that they don’t need to be grown in a garden; almost any kitchen can accommodate pots or window boxes, and with the right care and attention, your herbs will flourish. Here are all the tips and tricks you need to take your kitchen garden to the next level.
Growing anything from seed is a bit of an art. It can only really be perfected through trial and error, which can be frustrating. For this reason, it’s best to go easy on yourself and start by planting pre-potted herbs. You can get them in garden centres and most supermarkets, and they’ll save you loads of time and energy.
If, however, you have a burning desire to grow them yourself, it’s best to sow softer herbs in April or early May when there’s no frost.
PICK THE RIGHT POTS
There are a few options when it comes to what to keep your herbs in: pots, window boxes and grow bags. Whichever you pick, the most important thing is drainage: if your herbs can’t drain properly, they will drown.
Lots of plastic window boxes have a reservoir at the bottom for drainage. Grow bags are quite useful as well, if less pretty. Pots have the added benefit of being portable so they can be easily moved around the house through the seasons. In the winter, woodier herbs can be left outside but they should be protected from frost with garden fleece.
Terracotta pots are great because they’re heavy and porous, which means they will be stable, won’t suffocate the soil, and they also look great. They do, however, conduct heat and therefore dry up very quickly, so always keep an eye on them.
Water your herbs every day. In summer months, it’s better to do this in the evening rather than during the full heat of the day. If using a pot, sit it on a plate or saucer – you can pour water into it and the soil will soak it up.
Very coarse compost specifically made for aiding drainage in small pots and windowboxes is available (or you can make your own by mixing ordinary compost with some gravel).
Keep your herbs well trimmed to stop them from bolting (producing flowers in an attempt to reproduce, thereby affecting the quality of the leaves). Given that herbs often need a great deal of light to remain healthy, a windowsill is a good spot for your pots.
Last but not least, give them the space to breathe and grow out – if you overcrowd your herbs, they will quickly die.
Soft herbs – basil, chives, marjoram, coriander, and so on – are the ones that will have the biggest effect on your cooking when they’re home-grown and used fresh.
Soft herbs are delicate, which affects how they’re grown and used. They need care and attention when growing, and are usually only added to dishes at the end of the cooking process, or simply folded through salads, so as not to ruin their structure and subtle flavours.
Woody herbs – thyme, rosemary, sage – tend to benefit from a hot, dry location. They will generally survive winter well, though flourishing less than they would in the spring and summer. Even though these herbs are resilient, they need water too – the lower, woodier branches can get hard and dry out often.
Remember the golden rules for success: keep them watered, make sure they are able to drain, give each plant enough space to breathe, and prune them regularly. That’s it!