Growing your own herbs Bay, Rosemary, Sage
How to grow bay
Bay tolerates both sun and shade, and will grow in any soil providing it isn't too wet. Position in a sheltered spot as the leaves can be scorched by cold winds.
Bay is an ideal container plant – it's only moderately hardy, so growing it in a pot makes for easier winter protection. Buy new plants in late spring and plant into containers in May.
How to care for bay
Clip plants into shape if necessary in June to July. In autumn, protect the rootball of container-grown trees by moving the pot into the greenhouse or conservatory, or by wrapping the pot in bubble wrap and hessian.
How to harvest
Fresh leaves have a stronger flavour than dried ones and, although leaves are available all year round, it's a good idea to pick and dry some leaves in August for use in winter.
Dry the leaves between the pages of an old paperback weighted down under a stack of books. This will stop the leaves from curling as they dry and will therefore make them easier to store.
Recommended bay varieties
The normal species of bay (Laurus nobilis) is the only one used for culinary purposes.
How to grow
Rosemary is widely available as established plants in garden centres for planting in spring. For more plants, take cuttings from young shoots in spring or summer. Rosemary can be used as a low hedge.
How to care for rosemary
Rosemary is slightly tender and needs a sunny, sheltered position in well-drained soil; it does well in chalky soils. If growing it in a container, add some grit to the compost to aid drainage and don't over water. After flowering in March, trim into shape and feed.
How to harvest
You can pick leaves from this evergreen all year round. It's a good idea to dry some leaves at the end of summer if you want to use lots of rosemary over the winter, or add a sprig to olive oil for salad dressings.
The Common rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is the hardiest form and most used in cooking. 'Miss Jessopp's Upright' is a more vigorous and upright variety and makes a good focal point in a herb bed.
The Prostratus Group are low-growing forms ideal for the top of a wall or rock garden. Corsican rosemary has a more pungent scent.
How to grow sage
There's a wide variety of plain green and coloured-leafed sages available in garden centres. Alternatively, take cuttings in late spring or early summer. All varieties will root easily in about four weeks.
How to care for sage
Sage needs a well-drained fertile soil in a sunny spot. If your soil is a little heavy, dig in some grit before planting. Alternatively, sage will grow well in a container; again add grit to the compost to improve the drainage.
Cut plants back hard in March to about 15cm above ground level to prevent them becoming leggy. If you've got an old straggly plant, it's best to get rid of it and replace it with a new one.
How to harvest
Fresh leaves can be picked any time before flowering. In theory, you should be able to pick leaves all year round, as sage is evergreen, but the leaves can suffer in cold winters. Harvest in summer and dry for winter use.
Mix chopped sage and onions into sausage meat for a great tasting stuffing.
Recommended sage varieties
The most commonly used for cooking is sage (Salvia officinalis). Colourful foliage varieties can also be used and look good in the garden. Try 'Purpurascens' and 'Tricolor'.
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