With the growing interest in kitchen gardens and home grown produce, many new gardeners are discovering that herbs are easy to grow and very rewarding. The flavour that comes from using fresh herbs in cooking is far superior to the flavour of using the readily available dried herbs. However, with so many herbs available, how do you decide what to grow? I like to ask people what styles of food do they like to eat and then choose the herbs and flavours commonly used in that style of cooking. So, whether you are making a pizza, cooking a pasta sauce, or making a meat dish such as Osso bucco, these Italian herbs will greatly add to flavour and enjoyment of your cooking.
Garlic is one of the most widely used herbs grown in the home garden. It is used in many Italian dishes, as well as Indian, Asian and many others. Buy untreated garlic cloves from your nursery or garden centre in autumn and split them, planting individual cloves 10cm apart, in a sunny well drained position for a harvest in late spring and summer. Dried cloves can be stored in a cool place for many months, although they may need to be refrigerated or preserved for longer storage.
Basil has a distinct flavour which is a must in many Italian dishes. The most commonly grown form is Sweet basil which is an annual and is planted in spring for summer and autumn harvesting. There are perennial forms of basil that will persist through winter in frost free areas, however their flavour is stronger and not as sweet. Basil likes well drained, rich soil that is kept moist.
Parsley is probably the most widely grown culinary herbs and is used in cooking or fresh as an ingredient or garnish. It likes to grow in rich well drained soil in sun or partial shade, and will self-seed if happy. The most commonly grown forms are curled or the stronger flavoured Italian or flat leaf parsley, and both are biennial, which means they grow for up to two years. Folklore surrounds most herbs and parsley is no exception, as it is said that parsley only flourishes in gardens where the women is the head of the household!?
Oregano has a distinctive flavor that is at its best when harvested only once the small purple flowers start to sprout. Its cousin, Sweet marjoram has a milder and sweeter flavour also used in Italian cooking. They are hardy perennials that grow best in a sunny position in well drained soils and they are drought tolerant once established.
Rosemary is an attractive perennial plant and there are shrubby and groundcover forms, and sprigs or leaves of both can be used in cooking. In late winter and spring it smothers itself with blue flowers. It requires well drained soil in a sunny position and is drought tolerant once established.
Thyme is an essential garden plant for every cook, and there are more than 20 varieties of thyme readily available. It is a Mediterranean herb which is hardy and drought tolerant once established, but it does require a sunny position with well-drained soil. Common thyme forms a neat rounded bun to 30cm high with narrow grey-green, camphor scented leaves. It produces a mass of small purplish flowers in spring and summer and makes a great low border plant and can be trimmed to shape in early spring or after flowering. Other good varieties to grow are lemon thyme which works well in meat and salad dishes and pizza thyme, which works really well to flavour savoury dishes, especially on pizza.
Even when space is limited, these herbs can be grown successfully in pots, hanging baskets or troughs.
Tell us, what herbs do you grow in your garden?