Herbs – grow your own ‘great flavour enhancers’

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Growing your own fruit and vegetables has become very popular over the last few years.  However not everybody has the time, space or inclination to do this.  But if there is one group of plants I think everyone should have a go at growing it is culinary herbs, even if it is just a few pots of basil on the kitchen windowsill.  The reason for this is that fresh herbs can absolutely transform a meal; they are ‘the great flavour enhancers’.  It’s a simple joy to be able to collect some rosemary and a couple of bay leaves whilst cooking a winter casserole, (and once you’ve tried fresh bay leaves you’ll never go back to those grey cardboard ones from the supermarket!); or snip some fresh mint in summer and indulge in a luxury mojito…

If you have a large garden then a small part of it could become a dedicated herb area.  In smaller gardens there are various options – herb wheels, (where a circular plant bed is divided into sections with different herbs planted between the ‘spokes’), herbs in pots and other containers, or, and a great idea to avoid having to bend down to cut the herbs, use a timber vegetable trug on tall legs.  Pots, containers and trugs all have the advantage of being able to be placed on hard standing just outside the kitchen door, so that you can easily get at your herbs all year round.

There is lots of advice freely available for growing your own herbs and as a general rule it is often stressed that many, (but by no means all), like Mediterranean conditions – that is, lots and lots of sun together with free drainage.  So choose a sunny spot if you have one and incorporate plenty of grit into the soil when planting.  Some herbs are easy to grow shrubs such as bay, rosemary and sage – you can just have a bush of each of these somewhere in the garden; others are perennials that might be better collected together in pots or a dedicated part of the garden, these include thyme, (broadleaved thyme has relatively large leaves which makes them easy to strip from woody stalks when cooking), mint, (restrict the root run!), and chives; some herbs you will need to re-sow each year such as basil, (tender), dill, (an annual), and parsley, (a bi-annual); still others are perennials but will need indoor protection in winter months, such as french tarragon.  Once you’ve got the bug you’ll also find lots of varieties of your favourites – try morrocan mint, lemon thyme and greek basil for instance – as well as less often grown herbs, such as lemon balm, chervil and winter savoury.  And, perhaps stretching the point, why not then ‘graduate’ to those other great flavour enhancers – chillies, (a whole other subject in itself), and garlic, (although it is too late to plant garlic for this year).

So why not set about growing yourself some real fantastic flavour and improve your garden, and your cooking, at the same time!

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