One of the questions I am often asked is “What’s your favourite herb?” It’s a difficult one to answer because there are just so many to choose from. It’s a similar question I once asked of Lord Ashbrook whilst interviewing him in the grounds of Arley Hall, his family home in Cheshire.
“Lord Ashbrook what would you say is your favourite plant in these magnificent gardens?” I began.
“Well that’s an impossible question to answer” he retorted. “That’s like asking me to choose a favourite friend!”
It was an excellent response and, looking back, I should have high fived him and shouted “By Jove Lordy you’re absolutely right old boy!”
But I didn’t, I just thought ‘Blimey that’s not the most auspicious start to an interview’ and carried on regardless.
My choice of favourite is influenced by the season and the plants attributes at the time. For example; in summer I adore the intoxicating fragrance of sweet marjoram, I cannot resist stroking the soft buds and inhaling deeply. In winter I choose bay leaves as my favourite, the flavoursome leaves add flavour to the pot when little else is growing.
In early spring my favourite is rosemary. Such a forgiving herb because, as the year progresses, she fades into the background becoming a foil for other, prettier plants. But for now, she captivates me. Festooned in a cloak of intense blue she revels in the preposterous cold and teases me into believing better times are on their way. As if by magic the sky blue buds begin to unfurl just as the wild creamy yellow primroses burst into flower; this blue and yellow palette is a match made in heaven.
When flowering herbs are looking their best I gather them together and grow them in a container close to the house; they like a sunny spot. For my spring display I have chosen a small lollipop bay tree as a centre piece and under-planted it with trailing rosemary ‘Severn Seas’ and wild primrose primula vulgaris, white rosemary, lemon balm and myrtle.
First choose a container with drainage holes at the bottom, add some extra crocking to the bottom as these herbs don’t like wet feet. I’ve chosen a wooden box and lined it with roof tiles to stop the soil falling through the cracks. Interestingly the tiles are referred to as rosemaries.
Fill with a soil based compost like John Innes No3 and add some slow release fertiliser. Position the plants and fill to the top.
Water and place in a sunny spot. Mine is right by the front door.
I use rosemary in a variety of dishes including lamb, roast potatoes, stews and casseroles, it’s also good in shortbread and biscuits. Have a look in recipes at the top of the page for details on how to make lemon, rosemary and black pepper shortbread, it’s delicious. The primrose flowers I crystallise and use to decorate cup cakes for a spring celebration.
When these delightful herbs have finished flowering plant them in the garden where they will continue to flourish, ready to surprise you again next spring.