How to grow herbs from seed on your windowsill

Just follow these top tips from our green-fingered correspondent

Mint, sage, parsley, thyme and marjoram are the herbs traditionally used in English cookery. The herbs I use most are basil and coriander – neither of them British natives. The Romans, who used coriander to preserve meat, brought it to us with their conquering armies, and fortunately, though it was used to warmer climates than ours, coriander decided it could grow here, too.

You can sow it now in a pot, though it will grow more quickly if you keep the pot in a greenhouse or on a windowsill. At a temperature of around 18C/65F, seed should germinate within five to 10 days. I used to grow coriander from seed bought at a health food shop. It was some while before I realised that there are two quite distinct strains: one produces lots of leaf, the other shoots straight up into seed. Both are useful, but I always want more leaf than seed and the health-food-shop coriander was not that kind.

If you, too, want leaf, look for 'Calypso' (Thompson & Morgan £1.99), 'Cilantro' (Chiltern £1.70), 'Slow Bolt' (Chiltern £1.75) or 'Leisure' (Chiltern £1.70), all of which have been specially bred to go on producing new leaf after cropping, like a cut-and-come-again salad crop. The advantage of British-bred 'Calypso', which I've grown for the past couple of years, is that the leaves break very low down on the stem, so you can cut at least three times before the plant gives up trying to replace what it has lost.

Because it has carrot-like roots, coriander does not transplant well. The shock makes it bolt. So you need to sow seed in a pot large enough to contain the plants for the whole of their lives. I generally use pots 28cm/11in across, because I want plenty to cut. You certainly shouldn't use a pot smaller than 13cm/5in. Fill the pot with compost, firm it down lightly and water it. Sow the seeds thinly (they are big enough to sow one by one) and cover them with perlite or vermiculite. Stick in a label marked with the date of sowing.

Because it's an annual, coriander is programmed to complete all it needs to do within one single season. So, at some stage, even the specially-bred leafy kinds will get tired of growing and leap up into seed. Therefore, for a continuous crop, you need to sow fresh seed at monthly intervals. That's why you need the label and the date of sowing. Without the prompt, you'll never remember it.

Water your pots regularly, but only when the compost has begun to dry out. Coriander doesn't like to be too wet, but like most edible greenstuffs, it needs to grow fast. Scissor off the young leaves as you need them. The first leaves are like flat French parsley, but as the plant shoots up, the leaves become much more wispy and have a different taste.

If you are sowing in succession, you can chuck the first sowings, when the supply of leaves begins to run out. Unless, of course, you want to gather seeds, too. They are generally ready to harvest by August. You need to be quick to catch them. They drop as soon as they are ripe. By April it should be warm enough to sow direct outside, if you want to. For late supplies, sow outside in August and September, then under cover in October.

Both chervil and dill can be grown in the same way as coriander. Sow a batch of chervil this month, under cover, then make direct sowings outside in August and September. Sow seed of dill in batches between May and August, either in a gutter to slide into place outside, once seeds have germinated, or directly into the soil. Unlike coriander, chervil and dill do not change leaves as they grow, so it is not quite so vital to catch them at the right time. Both can be treated as annuals, though chervil is actually biennial.

Fresh chervil is a revelation to anyone used only to the dried stuff. It has ferny leaves and hollow stems – white flowers, too, if it is allowed to grow on for a second year. Like all natural biennials, when it has flowered, it dies. It grows quickly and you can pick useful quantities of leaves only six weeks after sowing seed. You have to get fresh seed each year. It quickly loses its potency. Sown outside, chervil does better in light shade. Sow the seed thinly in pots or a deep windowbox.

Chervil is hardy, so you can expect the last sowings to stand through the beginning of winter reasonably well, though growth will come to a standstill. With a greenhouse, you can keep a fresh supply of leaves going all through the winter. Take out flowering stems as they appear, to encourage the plant to leaf up again. Once it has produced seed, it thinks it has done its job and starts to die back.

Dill, like coriander, can be used either for its leaves or its seeds. It looks like fennel, but is smaller in all of its parts, the plants reaching about 100cm/36in. It has thread-like leaves and flat heads of yellow flowers from June to August. Chiltern, who list an exceptionally good selection of herb seeds, offer five different kinds. They suggest 'Bouquet' (£1.70) as the best for dill seed, and vigorous 'Dukat' (£1.80) for a thick crop of blue-green foliage. Their best seller is 'Tetra' (£1.85), bushy, vigorous and slow to bolt.

These three herbs are so easy to grow from seed, this is the strategy I'd recommend. But perhaps you think it all seems too much bother. Perhaps you'd find it difficult to cart home the necessary compost. Perhaps you've nowhere on your overcrowded windowsill to keep the seedlings as they are growing. In which case, you can order young plants from Delfland's organically-grown range. Five plants of coriander will cost £1.95, five of chervil the same amount. But their plants won't be ready to send until May.

Thompson & Morgan, 0844 573 1818,; Chiltern Seeds, 01491 824675,; Delfland Nurseries Ltd, 01354 740553,

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Property search
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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little