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February 17, 2009, 10:27 am betterhomesgardens
Grow herbs at home and be rewarded with unbeatable just-picked flavour. Here are seven of the simplest plants to cultivate at your place.
The first experience many people have with gardening is turning their hand to growing their favourite herbs. And what a great introduction to horticulture - herb gardens are fun, easy and provide you with a delicious harvest!
In a culinary sense the beauty of many herbs is in their versatility. One simple herb can be used in so many ways - like rosemary. Italian and Greek cuisine, to name just two, wouldn't be the same without its distinctive flavour. Rosemary can be added to stews, soups and roasts, or infused in oils and vinegars to impart its unique flavour to a world of sauces and dressings.
From a gardening point of view, herbs are extremely flexible, too. They are tolerant of a wide range of conditions, most can be grown equally well in pots or garden beds and the majority are also easy-care. So here is our selection of the seven simplest - and most useful - herbs you can ever grow.1. Thyme
Thyme has an excellent rambling, cascading habit that makes it a top choice for pots and hanging baskets or in rockeries.Kitchen
Use thyme fresh or dried in soups and with fish and meat dishes. Add a sprig to a bottle of vinegar or olive oil to infuse. It's also an essential herb in a bouquet garni and a must in many classic French dishes.Cultivation
Well-drained soil in the garden, or pot in an open potting mix (native blend or similar). Tolerant of dry and rocky soil. Full sun.Tip
Thyme holds its flavour well so it's ideal for adding to slow-cooked dishes. Try lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) for a tangy lemony twist.2. Parsley
Parsley is ideal in pots and window boxes. In garden beds, try it as a lovely lush border plant, just replace plants as soon as they start to develop flower heads.Kitchen
Indispensable as a garnish and for flavouring sauces, stuffings and butter, parsley is also the primary ingredient in tabouli and a key part of a bouquet garni.Cultivation
Fertile, well-drained soil in the garden or premium potting mix in pots. Position in sun or part shade. Liquid fertilise regularly.Tip
The flavour of other herbs will be enhanced by adding parsley. Curly parsley is the more handsome garden plant, while flat or Italian parsley has the stronger taste of the two commonly available varieties.3. Rosemary
Keep rosemary well clipped and use it as a border hedge for your herb or vegie garden. Use cascading and groundcover varieties to tumble over walls or out of pots.Kitchen
Rosemary is the essential Mediterranean herb. Use it dried or fresh with many meats, sauces and soups. Add a sprig to flavour oils and vinegars or use a bruised branch as a brush when basting roasts.Cultivation
Well-drained soil in sunny location in gardens, or an open potting mix in pots.
Tip If you love barbecuing, look for the varieties with long straight stems such as 'Tuscan Blue', which also has rich blue flowers. They make brilliant self-marinating kebab skewers.4. Oregano
Use oregano as a groundcover to suppress weeds in dry areas. It self-seeds readily, so you'll find it easy to propagate.Kitchen
Oregano is an integral part of Greek, Italian, Mexican and many Middle Eastern cuisines. Keep it on hand year-round by drying enough to use in the cold months.Cultivation
Well-drained soil in garden beds, or a quality open potting mix in pots. Tolerant
of dry conditions. Full sun.
Keep well pruned and use vigorous growth tips in cooking - the older leaves are slightly bitter. Dried oregano is stronger than fresh.5. Fennel
Use fennel as a tall backdrop in the herb garden or as a feature plant to show off its beautiful feathery foliage. Don't grow it in the same bed as tomatoes or beans, as it is said to hinder their growth.Kitchen
Pick the lush young leaves to add to salads or fish - it's a sweeter substitute for dill. Certain varieties form succulent 'bulbs' at the leaf bases, which can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in a variety of ways.Cultivation
Light, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun, with reliable moisture. It's not recommended for pots as it can become large - up to 2m tall. In cold areas, treat fennel as a warm-season annual, planting in early spring.Tip
Be aware, fennel is classed as a weed in certain regions. To avoid it escaping from your garden, trim off flowers before seeds set and dispose of unwanted plants carefully.
Grow mint in pots or contained in the garden and keep it clipped so its rich, green foliage forms a neat, dense mound.Kitchen
Toss mint through vegies, or use it to make mint sauce and jelly. Use it in fruit salads, herbal teas and iced drinks. Add a sprig to the water in the last minute of steaming vegies.Cultivation
Fertile, moist soil in the garden or in premium potting mix. Position in sun to part shade. Keep damp and liquid feed regularly.Tips
To keep mint under control in the garden, plant it in a large plastic container, then plant the entire pot in the garden.7. Bay
Use this versatile shrub as a herb-garden centrepiece, especially a topiarised shrub. Bay makes a great hedge or screen and is good in large tubs and pots.Kitchen
Use bay fresh or dried in a wide range of stews, soups and sauces. It's another essential part of a bouquet garni.Cultivation