Basil is a summer favourite, adding wonderful flavour to caprese salads and of course the base ingredient to pesto. It is sensitive to cold, and frost will certainly finish it, so try and protect it in the colder months and watch it thrive with just regular watering in the warm summer months. Pinch the plant tops when it’s around 20cm high to stimulate lovely bushy growth. Annual.
Bay is all over Spain and is often found in the wild, but fresh bay leaves in a soup or meat dish are unbeatable. A hardy perennial a small bush would thrive in the corner of your raised bed. They require little fuss, and you can prune them quite vigorously and shape them as desired.
Chervil is a little used relative of parsley and adds wonderful flavour to fish dishes. You should plant late in the season as temperatures being to drop as they prefer cool moist conditions (in summer they will bolt quickly) and thin as you would parsley (15-20cm). Plants will grow to 30-40 cm tall. Harvest regularly to stimulate growth and prevent bolting. Annual.
Onion or garlic chives are a great addition to salads, finely chopped for a subtle flavour as well as a sprinkled onto freshly served soup for decoration. They are a hardy perennial that reproduce from small bulbs and grow to 30cm tall and every 3-4 years they should be teased apart and replanted in another site of good quality soil. They can equally be planted from seed in spring, in shallow drills about 8in (20cm) apart in spring or autumn. When planted from seed chives shouldn’t be cropped in their first year. They’ll grow pretty much anywhere but their flavour seems better when planted in full sun and dry conditions, certainly avoiding over-watering.
Coriander is a favourite for East Asian cooking, and is used a lot in curries and Thai dishes. Great big handfuls of roughly chopped leaves or even a tea spoon or two of freshly crushed seeds add great flavour to a range of dishes. An annual, coriander develops really quickly from seeds, which should be planted one or two together in rows, spaced 15-20cm apart after the frosts. The plants mature and flower quite quickly, 8 to 10 weeks, so plant succession crops to keep your supply coming. Harvest bunches of leaves (start from the bottom) or entire plants when 15-20cm high.
Dill is a fast growing herb and adds strong flavour to food, frequently used for fish dishes. They don’t like to be disturbed so sow from seed in drills and thin to 20cm apart. Harvest fronds as needed and collect seeds and dry them to add to dishes later in the year. Dill is a perennial and will self seed, and during colder months they’ll fall back and come back to life in spring.
Mint is possibly the easiest herb to grow. It has vigorous and fast growth and can take over the garden if not kept in check. It is best to plant a freshly cut branch with roots from a neighbour, and plant in a pot until established. Then plant on into the raised bed, in the pot. Mint will die back but will survive winter, leaving the rest of the year to enjoy fresh mint tea or a few leaves sprinkled into a mixed salad.
Parsley is used in many dishes and many cuisines from all over the world. Plant seeds in spring in shallow rows and thin to 30cm spacing to have a bushy healthy row when mature. Germination is notoriously slow so be patient. Harvest stems at the base and to keep a continuous supply through the year replant early summer to have crop through the autumn months.
Rosemary is regarded as a weed by many farmers! Found in abundance all over the olive and almond groves it can be picked and dried for culinary use. However, fresh, its flavour is so much more intense and the leaf is soft rather than hard when dried. They are perennial and will thrive in a sunny spot with occasional watering. You can create new plants from carefully selected branches which you place into good quality substrate and keep moist, but this can be tricky, so there is always the garden centre!
Thyme is another abundant plant in the open fields of Spain as it grows easily and relatively light soils – it’s very undemanding. It loves some sun and the water will be welcome. Harvest leaves as you need them to flavour soups and casseroles. To start your crop, you can use seed, which is a fairly slow process with slow germination, select a few lower branches with root from a wild plant or visit the local plant shop.