Gardening: The four seasonings

Plant a few varieties in your garden or window box and you'll never be short of the perfect herb again. Sarah Raven explains which of the many types to grow and how best to do it

FRESH herbs can turn an everyday cook into a gourmet chef. Anyone can put a chicken in the oven to roast and it will taste OK. But if you first lay the chicken on a bed of tarragon, stuff it with a couple of lemons, half a bulb of garlic, yet more tarragon, and cover the lot with a good splurge of olive oil, it will be simply delicious.

You could buy supermarket sachets of cut herbs, or seedlings in those little plastic pots, but they are relatively expensive and can be floppy and browning by the time you get them home. It's much better to grow your own, which you can harvest as and when you want them, and you know there will always be plenty more.

Don't buy every herb the garden centre stocks - you'll end up feeling overwhelmed. Start off with four or five and you'll become a dab hand at using them. Basil and coriander are easy to buy fresh, so my selection would be rosemary, sage, tarragon, mint and flat-leafed parsley. They are simple to grow and they all thrive in pots.

Herbs divide into two groups. Herbacious perennials and shrubs, which return year after year, and annuals and biennials, which must be resown. Mint is herbacious, and will disappear in the autumn and come up bigger and better the following year. Rosemary, sage and tarragon are shrubs, and parsley is a biennial.

Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) and Bowles mint (Mentha x villosa f. alopecuroides `Bowles') are the tastiest mints for use in food and drinks. Mint is rampant and will spread itself quickly, so you only need buy one small plant of each. If you are planting it in the garden, enclose the roots in a large plastic pot hidden below the soil so that it does not take over.

A leg of lamb tastes just fine with redcurrant jelly and mint sauce, but so much better with a herby salsa verde. Mix a handful of chopped flat-leafed parsley and some mint leaves with a flat dessertspoon of capers, a heaped dessertspoon of chopped-up olives and add the lot to a bowl of extra virgin olive oil. Add a few chopped and deseeded fresh chillies, and all you'll need is some new potatoes cooked with mint to soak up the lamb juice and herbs.

The standard rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, thrives in a sunny, well-drained corner and does well in a pot, but it has more interesting forms. I like the look of `Sissinghurst Blue' or `Benenden Blue', which have mid-blue, rather than the more usual grey-blue, flowers in the spring.

You could also try `Miss Jessopp's Upright', which throws up vertical branches that make it ideal to use as a hedge in a sheltered spot. If you have a flower bed along the top of a low retaining wall, or want to grow your rosemary in a window box, the weeping variety, `Prostratus', is the one for you. It will get too big for a window box after three or four years, so take cuttings or buy a new plant every third year.

There are many varieties of sage and they vary hugely in their degree of flavour. Purple-leaved and variegated sage have little, so buy a strong- tasting form, such as the silver-leaved Salvia officinalis. `Berggarten' is the best, its large leaves mean you can only pick a stem or two at a time. To release the flavour, shred the leaves into 1cm (12in) strips and fry in oil for a minute or two.

Tarragon is excellent with chicken and with fish. Buy two or three plants of the French (Artemesia dracunculus), not the Russian (A dracunculoides) variety, which is widely available, being hardier and easier to grow, but has almost no taste. French tarragon needs sun, shelter and good drainage and is not fully hardy, so if you grow it in a pot bring it in over the winter and keep it on a cool but sunny windowsill.

Parsley grows leaves in its first year and flowers the next, so it is best to sow it fresh each year. The curly and densely packed English parsley that adorns fishmongers is not as tasty as the continental flat-leafed form Carum petroselinum. Sow it direct into rich moist soil or into a pot any time now. It is slow to germinate and may take a month to appear. Speed it up by soaking the seeds in lukewarm water before planting. Two weeks after they appear, thin the seedlings out to 15cm (6in) apart. Once they have filled out, cut the leaves to the ground and they will sprout again in about 10 days.

Your local garden centre may not stock the tastiest varieties, so it is worth getting a catalogue from a herb specialist.

Jekka's Herb Farm, 01454 418878, fax 01454 411988. Cheshire Herbs, 01829 760578, fax 01829 760354

h

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?