Basil – This enormous basil plant started off as one of those £1 little supermarket jobbies. I couldn’t really do it justice in the picture, it is currently a plant of bounteous proportions. I bought it in the early part of 2013, and at the time of writing it is August 2013. It currently lives in my little greenhouse where it soaked up the extreme heat of July and all the summer sun. When it is getting close to the colder season, I will bring it back into the house, where it will need rather a haircut in order to fit onto my windowsill. Although by then, I am hoping that the kitchen extension that we are lucky enough to be able to be building as I write, will be finished, and there will be more than enough room for it, and several other pots of herbs as well.
If you can squeeze any herbs at all into your living space, this is the one I would start with. You could get a growing plant from the supermarket and pot it into a much bigger pot to give growing room. Basil plants are naturally huge and lush, they need to have room for their roots. It is almost a case of the bigger the pot you can give it, the more leaves it will reward you with. Some people like to keep it on the dry side, but I find that lots of water give a good result, so I keep the soil moist most of the time, less so in winter, when it is just ticking over really. If you want to harvest lots of leaves, you will also need to keep it fed. Any feed is fine, a bottle of BabyBio, a tiny bit from a packet of garden fertiliser, those little feed strips you push into the soil. Whatever you have.
I have sprinkled a few basil seeds around the base of the plant in the hope that as the mother plant goes over, fresh new plants will be coming through. I haven’t tried this before, so I don’t know if it will work. There may be too many roots from the mother plant for new ones to thrive, we shall have to see. I won’t be too upset if it doesn’t, I’ll just get a new plant. You could of course grow the plant from seed completely. I have tried this, but even as an exerienced gardener, I could never seem to get enough useful quantities of leaves, so I buy a supermarket plant now.
This one plant has provided hundreds of leaves for various dishes so far, plus big bunches for batches of pesto, including the Broccoli Pesto, and contributed its unique flavour to tomato soup.
It really needs to grow indoors, it’s not particularly happy outside in the UK climate, although Monty Don seems to harvest forests of it.
Chilli – I have grown lots of chillies in the greenhouse, but didn’t realise until last year that they would keep going if you moved them indoors. So I have been starting again each year – Doh! They certainly provide a great crop. You can use the chillies when they are green or wait until they ripen to red. If you get too many, they freeze well. I tend to de-seed them, chop the flesh and pop it into a small box.
They also need hot conditions. Keep them fed and watered. If you can get any tomato fertiliser that would help with cropping. If you give it too much general fertiliser, there is a chance you will get lots of leaves, and not many chillies
There are a great many different varieties you could try, from the scorching hot to the pretty mild. Garden centres sell chilli plants in the spring, so if you want a plant, rather than seeds, try them.
What else… so what else can you grow? There are a great many other lovely herbs out there. You could try sage, marjoram, lavender, oregano, marjoram, chives, rosemary, lemon balm ( a bit of a thug in the garden), hundreds of different types of mint, all of which need to be grown on their own, or they will take over your pot/herb patch.
I was reading Shirley Goode the other day and she said that a lemon plant she grew from a pip has the most fabulously lemon flavoured leaves that she has started using in her cooking. I will definitely be trying that one! Wonder if an orange plant has orange flavoured leaves?