Herbal highs: It's time to get potting dill and parsley to garnish summer dishes


Courgettes in the garden have been coming on rather fast and I've been looking for new ways to use them. One of the most successful was a pasta dish, quick and easy to make: fry an onion and a couple of garlic cloves (both finely chopped) in butter till they are soft. Add six small courgettes, finely sliced, and cook for about five minutes. Add about 150ml of crème fraîche and let the mixture heat through. Pull the pan off the heat and mix in a bunch of finely chopped dill. If the sauce seems too thick, add some warm chicken stock. Then tip in whatever pasta you've cooked, stir it about and serve it up with lots of freshly grated Parmesan.

It was the dill that gave this sauce its kick. I've always thought of it as a fish herb, the must-have ingredient in a classic gravadlax, but I'm glad to have found another use for it. It has the same kind of slightly aniseed taste as fennel. Both have fine, feathery foliage and big, flat heads of yellow flowers in summer. Fennel, though, is perennial. Dill needs to be sown fresh every year.

Little and often is the best way to sow seed. You can start off dill any time between May and August, and if you are lucky, you'll be cutting your first crop within eight weeks. Young plants won't transplant, so sow direct into a large tub or in short drills in the ground. Water the earth or compost first, so the seed goes into damp ground. It'll succeed in semi-shade and, like many Mediterranean herbs, doesn't need rich ground. It grows in a rather floppy manner and in a pot, this can be irritating. Prop up plants while they are still small with twigs rounds the edge of the pot, or a ready-made half-dome support.

Dill was once grown commercially in the east of England, a vital ingredient in the gripe-water given to colicy babies. It's still reckoned to be good for the digestion, but it's not a herb that improves with cooking. You need to add it to dishes fresh and at the last minute. Eventually it will get fed up with producing leaves and will try to shoot up to flower. You can slow down the inevitable end by cutting out the flower stems, but eventually the plant will turn purplish and die. If you allow a few flower stems to develop, you'll have a free source of seed for your next sowing.

Parsley is another herb that can be sown during August or in early September. It's probably the most widely used of what I think of as 'British' herbs: mint, parsley and sage. Parsley is a biennial, and needs more than one growing season to complete its life cycle. That's why now is a good time to sow. I grow parsley in black plastic pots, 28cm/11in across. They stand just outside the back door so there is no excuse not to use them. I use our own compost to fill most of the pot and top off with sterile multi-purpose stuff to make a seed bed that won't sprout too many weeds while the parsley slowly grinds itself into action. It is a slow mover. Dill will germinate within two to four weeks. Parsley takes at least six.

Parsley growing in a herb patch. Grown from seed in August, it will take six weeks to germinate Parsley growing in a herb patch. Grown from seed in August, it will take six weeks to germinate (Alamy)
Water the compost before you sow, scattering the seed as thinly as possible. Top off with a thin layer of more compost and press the top down. I use the base of a similar-sized pot to do this. Cover the pot with netting against blackbirds and squirrels. Then wait, watering if the compost seems to be drying out.

Professional cooks swear that, in terms of taste, flat-leaved parsley is better than the curly-leaved kind. For cooking, I'm equally happy with either, but for looks the curly kind wins easily. Crops in pots catch your eye more than crops in the ground, so if the pot is in the spotlight, grow the curly-leaved 'Lisette' (Thompson & Morgan, £1.99). I sowed a potful of seed on 13 September last year > and am still picking from that crop, but next month, I'll start off another batch. Parsley is perfectly hardy, will stand outside all winter and does not need full sun. It's a hungrier herb than dill and so, occasionally, you should give it some liquid fertiliser when you are watering.

I can't remember ever using sweet cicely when I have been cooking, but if you choose herbs as much for their looks as their usefulness, this is a good one to have. Earlier this year it was in fantastic form on the bank, growing among white and purple honesty in shade. It comes into flower early, looking like a refined cow parsley, though not so stringy, the flat white heads of flower carried close to the foliage which is bright-green and beautifully cut, like a fern's.

Both the foliage and the seeds taste of aniseed, the flavour much more intense in the seed, which is green when fresh, ripening to black. Nothing could be easier to grow. Buy a plant and tuck it away in a cool, shady place. Herbs are mostly sun lovers, so it is useful to know which ones can cope with shade. Cut the stems down in July to bring on a fresh crop of leaves.

You can raise sweet cicely from seed (look for Myrrhis odorata in a flower catalogue if you can't find it listed under herbs) but you need to sow in September or October, as the seeds won't germinate unless they've been through a few months of cold weather. The seeds are quite big, so you can sow one to a small pot and leave the pots outside or in a cold frame for the winter. In spring, you can transplant young seedlings quite easily to their final growing spot. Mature plants are much more difficult to move as they have long, carrot-like tap roots.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'