Herbs, to me, are comfort gardening. Even when my peas have mysteriously disappeared, the tomatoes are full of fruit fly and the cabbages holed by caterpillars, I can console myself that at least something of tonight's dinner came from our garden, even if it's only the chives in the salad!
As a service to Carol and those who are new to herb gardening, I've put together a Top Ten List of annual and perennial herbs that are reasonably easy to grow and very useful in cooking. Herbs are usually native to warm, dry places with stony, poor soils. As a general rule, they prefer a sunny spot with well-drained soil and no additional fertiliser. Most are good pot subjects, and they are beautiful to look at, touch and smell, so keep them where visitors have a chance to enjoy them: close to your back door, or on your patio. You'll be more likely to use them, too.
- Parsley. I prefer Italian flat-leaf, for its more robust flavour and happy habit of self-sowing. The most I do is strew seeds around. I have raised it in pots occasionally. It is biennial: in its second year it will form an edible root (in loam), flower and set seed.
- Dill. A frail and short-lived annual in my heavy soil, but I keep strewing seeds about hopefully most of the year. Dill is the quintessential scent of summer. I love it in cucumber salad, or with fish, and in soups.
- Chives. That lovely polite mild onion taste, great for egg dishes, salads and wherever an ordinary onion would be Too Much. In autumn, give the clump a haircut and divide it.
- Common mint. Mine comes wandering in from next door. I only use it for mint sauce with roast lamb, but my Lebanese neighbours put it in rice-stuffed vine leaves, and probably tzatziki and tabbouli as well. Drop crushed leaves and some lemon slices into a jug of iced water on hot days. I've never had luck with mint in pots -- it is invariably skeletonised by some bug or other -- but unrestrained mint can be a real nuisance, especially in a damp spot. YOu have been warned...
- Thyme. Delicious in beef stews. So pretty, too, with its tiny leaves and flowers. There is a large family of thymes, all lovely to look at. A mixed bed of thymes would be delightful, but it won't happen here! My most recent thyme plant has just turned up its toes as we've had plenty of summer rain: exactly what a Mediterranean herb dislikes.
- Basil. Essential with tomato salads and sauces, and for pesto. This annual needs protection from snails when young and a regular supply of water. I grow it in the vegie patch.
- Rosemary. Wonderful with lamb, though it should be used carefully, as too much gives food a resinous taste. This elegant shrub responds well to clipping and is great as a low hedge. We wear a sprig of rosemary 'for remembrance' on Anzac Day. I have three cultivars: the common one, a pink-flowered one, and a dark-blue-flowered type with a lax habit, possibly Benenden Blue. This last was from an elderly lady in a nearby street. The lady, her house and her garden are gone now; I am so glad I asked her for cuttings!
- Oregano. Beloved of all Greek Australians; I use it with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic to dress Greek salad. Unsurprisingly, it also enhances lamb. Easy to grow but tends to become leggy; I need to pinch it more often to keep it neat.
- Sage. The well-known stuffing herb for poultry and pork dishes. Use it sparingly, as it's strong-flavoured. Large grey-green leaves with pretty blue flower-spikes. It can struggle here in wet weather, being another Mediterranean herb.
- Lemon grass. Important if you like South-East Asian food -- and I do! I use it in stir-fries with ginger and chilli, mainly, and am continuing to plant it around my vegie patch in an effort to keep the kikuyu grass out. Being a tropical grass, it doesn't mind the damper parts of the garden. Easy to divide and replant in autumn -- just wear gloves, as the leaves can be sharp.