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Herbs, to add flavor

I have a hot, rather parched bed under a eucalyptus tree, which is perfect for growing Mediterranean herbs. So here there is a collection of different thymes, French tarragon, marjoram, oregano and several variegated sages, as well as lavender plants - Hidcote being my favorite for its shape and wonderful color.

Not all herb plants love full sun though; even basil needs a little shade in the middle of the day. So the basil goes into pots. I grow some from seed, literally by sprinkling the seeds on top of some rich compost, then watering in gently. Then I buy a big plant from a local garden center to keep us going until the seeds grow. To plant seeds in the garden, it really needs to be done in late April and early May, unless you grow them under cloches or in a small cold frame.


Description: French beans

French beans

For shadier spots, plant pots full of different varieties of mint. Flat-leaf parsley grows well from seed if kept moist, and bay is happy in a really shady spot. I also have extra pots of rosemary, thyme and bay next to the kitchen door, so I can grab them easily, especially in the winter and early spring when the weather can be cold and wet.

For something more unusual, try lemon verbena, which makes a delicious tea when dried. Lemon balm smells wonderful - it deters mosquitoes and is lovely included in floral arrangements.

Description: Herbs, to add flavor

Herbs, to add flavor

Potatoes

Description: Potatoes

Potatoes

 

One vegetable you can get going early on In the year is the potato. I would be hard pushed to find anything as delicious as a freshly dug spud - the flavor is really quite special. Last year, I grew Charlotte potatoes, which were very simple to grow, tasted delicious and cropped well. These come under the "second earlies" category, so will crop in June. Plant spuds after the frosts, but you can start "chitting" them or sprouting them six weeks earlier. Put them on the window sill in a seed tray or egg boxes and wait for them to sprout. This will take a few weeks. It means you get a head start and there is also less risk of potato blight, which will destroy an entire crop. Then, around mid-March, you can plant out. I use two large cloth potato planting bags, which can be folded up and put away for the winter. Fill about half the depth with compost, and plant the potatoes sprouting shoots upwards - we managed to get around 8 potatoes in each 48-lltre bag and left 2 weeks In-between each planting. Then as the potato grows and leaves start to shoot, add more compost and just leave the top leaves showing. This forces the plant to throw out more tubers so you get a better crop. Keep them well watered and in a sunny spot. Come June, you can dig down with your hands and start to harvest.

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