THE HERBERY

IN A NEW SERIES, LIA LEENDERTZ PICKS HERBS FROM HER GAR­DEN TO COOK IN HER KITCHEN. COULD IT BE SIMPLER? TO BE­GIN, HER AD­VICE ON WHAT TO GROW AND WHERE

The Simple Things - - GATHERING - Next month in The Herbery: Rose­mary

What makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween a bog stan­dard to­mato sauce and one that is redo­lent of an Ital­ian kitchen gar­den in sum­mer? Be­tween a pass­able salad and one that is com­plex and mor­eish? Or a ba­sic béchamel and a fra­grant and savoury one? A tiny sprin­kling of herbs. Herbs punch above their weight in the kitchen, a mere tea­spoon­ful lend­ing in­ter­est and depth, a good hand­ful turn­ing dishes into vi­brant cel­e­bra­tions of the sea­son. They are also bril­liantly easy to grow, and so a good place to be­gin if you have any in­ter­est in grow­ing your own. Herbs can pro­duce for meal upon meal from an oc­ca­sional trickle of wa­ter. Many even thrive on be­ing picked, us­ing the nip­ping out of a few leaves as the stim­u­lus to stop grow­ing tall and lanky and start bush­ing up from down be­low. Put sim­ply: herbs are givers, and I im­plore you to grow a few if you are not al­ready, or to grow more if you are.

SUN LOVERS

If you have a sunny gar­den, pa­tio or win­dowsill, the herb world is your oys­ter. A good num­ber of well loved herbs hail from the Mediter­ranean, on parched, sun-blasted hill­sides. Thyme, oregano,

mar­jo­ram, laven­der, sage and rose­mary are all Mediter­ranean ‘sub-shrubs’.

They are gen­er­ally com­pact and easy to fit into all but the very tini­est of sunny gar­dens, their one other re­quire­ment be­ing well drained soil. If you have boggy or clay soil, or if are not sure how suit­able your soil is, grow them in pots in­stead, where you can tai­lor the com­post to suit your herbs’ spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Mix hand­fuls of grit or gravel into the com­post be­fore plant­ing to help wa­ter to drain away from the roots quickly.

Th­ese herbs all ben­e­fit from be­ing picked lit­tle and of­ten, which makes them bush out from the base: see this as na­ture’s way of mak­ing you cook with them reg­u­larly. If any of yours start to get leggy, give them a light trim to the same ef­fect. None of them likes to be cut back hard. Fen­nel is an­other peren­nial sun

lover but with a very dif­fer­ent growth habit: it is a plant that re­ally does need a bit of space (and likes to self-seed too), but it will die back ev­ery year, un­like the sub-shrubs. Bay – big­ger again – thrives in sun or par­tial shade.

Basil is an es­sen­tial sun-lov­ing herb and an an­nual that will need to be re­planted ev­ery year. Sow seeds only when the weather is re­li­ably warm. Wa­ter each morn­ing and pinch out the top few leaves when you want to cook with it, just as you would with other herbs. Dill is like­wise an an­nual and should be sown in late spring di­rectly into the spot where it is to grow, as it hates root dis­tur­bance.

SHADE LOVERS

Do not de­spair of your fu­ture herb-filled lunches if your gar­den only boasts shade, as there are sev­eral herbs that will thrive there. Mint is the queen of shade-lov­ing herbs: plant it in a pot in your dank­est cor­ner and it will still pro­duce fresh and lively leaves all sea­son long. It is al­ways best grown in a pot alone as its roots are thug­gish and will quickly swamp other plants. Tip it out of its pot ev­ery year or so, and cut the root ball into sec­tions to re­plant in fresh com­post, in or­der to keep this beast well fed and grow­ing hap­pily.

Chives will also grow con­tent­edly in shade, though they’ll pro­duce fewer of their ed­i­ble flow­ers than they would in sun. As with mint, chives are peren­ni­als that will die down each win­ter and leap back into life each spring. Lo­vage is an­other peren­nial that will grow hap­pily in par­tial shade, as will sweet ci­cely. Short-lived shade-lov­ing herbs in­clude

co­rian­der, pars­ley and chervil, all of which are best sown in late sum­mer for use through au­tumn, win­ter and spring.

What­ever your gar­den­ing sit­u­a­tion and level of knowl­edge, it is al­ways worth fit­ting in a few herbs in to your bor­der, pot or win­dow box, for the way in which they will trans­form ev­ery meal you cook. You may not ever be able to boast self suf­fi­ciency in pota­toes or greens or toma­toes, but once you start grow­ing your own you’ll al­ways be self suf­fi­cient in good, herby flavours.

Pho­tog­ra­phy: KIRSTIE YOUNG

Plant­ing and nur­tur­ing herbs is an easy way to grow your own – no mat­ter what size your out­door space and what­ever your gar­den­ing cre­den­tials

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