Of all our homegrown crops, it is our fresh herbs that make the biggest difference to the flavours that come out of the Clarke kitchen. The addition of homegrown tarragon to a summer salad or a fresh mint tea is so much nicer than using shop bought herbs.
When planning to grow herbs there are two main considerations: the first is to grow them in a sunny part of the garden, and the second is to have them as near to the kitchen as possible.
Herbs are very forgiving plants to grow. Many of our favourites, such as rosemary, thyme and sage, come from the baking hills of the Mediterranean and do best in poor soil. Others, like parsley, coriander, basil and dill, are annuals that grow quickly and easily.
This group includes culinary herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon, coriander, bay and oregano. Decorative and medicinal herbs such as lavender, santolina, artemisia and hyssop share the same growing conditions – full sun, very good drainage and – counterintuitively – poor soil. You must be cruel to be kind to these plants.
Like any other annual plant, annual herbs do all their growing, flowering and seed production within one growing season. Many promptly die, although some can live on for a few more years. But the gardener can harness this speed of production through managing seeds.
Sow them in spring and you will have a crop. Sow some every few months and you have more than a crop, you have a daily supply.
Some herbs are herbaceous perennials that survive the winter by the top growth all dying back in autumn, with fresh foliage and flowers appearing in spring and summer. My own favourites from this group are mint, chives, loveage, marjoram, fennel, sorrel, tarragon and horseradish.
We have created a mint bed because we love fresh mint tea. People keep telling us that it is invasive, but because we use so much of it we keep it in check.
There are many different mints, but the three to grow for the kitchen are spearmint (Mentha spicata), peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens).
The first two make very good teas that soothe a troubled stomach as well as being useful in the kitchen, while apple mint is the best for new potatoes.