Growing your own herbs Chives, Mint, Fennel
How to grow
Chives are simple to grow and perfect for pots. Sow seed in March to April direct into the ground or in containers, or buy plants from the garden centre.
How to care for chives
Chives like a rich, moist soil in a fairly sunny position. Ensure pot-grown plants are well-watered so they produce fresh leaves. The pompom flowers produced in summer are also edible.
Chives die right back in winter but you can keep a supply going by potting some up in September to grow on a sunny windowsill. Rejuvenate plants by dividing them every three or four years.
How to harvest
Cut leaves with sharp scissors about 1cm from ground level. Add chives at the end of cooking or their flavour will disappear.
Recommended chive varieties
The normal species (Allium schoenoprasum) has mauve flowers, although you can find white-flowered varieties. 'Forescate' is a more vigorous variety with bright pink flowers.
How to grow fennel
Fennel soon reaches 1.5m high, so you'll only want one or two plants. The best bet is to buy them or get young plants from a friend or neighbour who already has fennel – it self-seeds readily.
How to care for fennel
Fennel likes a moist but well-drained soil that's deep enough for its long tap root. Flat heads of tiny yellow flowers appear in summer – remove these before they shed their seeds to prevent them self-seeding and you can collect them for use in the kitchen.
Cut down the dead stems in early spring as the new growth starts to appear. Divide fennel every three to four years.
How to harvest
Pick the feathery young leaves and young stems as required. Collect the ripe seeds in late summer for flavouring sauces, bread and fish dishes.
Recommended fennel varieties
The green-leafed form is the Garden or common fennel. For an alternative, try bronze fennel with brown/purple, feathery leaves that are very attractive in the border and just as tasty in the kitchen.
How to grow mint
Mint grown from seed will rarely be the same as the parent plant, so the only way to get your favourite mint is to buy established plants – garden centres will have a good supply in spring. Or try scrounging a cutting from a friend – the shoots will root easily in water.
All mints are invasive to some degree, spreading via underground stems. This makes them ideal for growing in containers.
Mints should be renewed every two to three years to keep them vigorous. Lift the plant in spring, save some of the pale, young, underground stems with lots of buds and replant them. Throw the rest away.
How to care for mint
Mint prefers moist soil and light sun to shade. Keep it well-watered and remove the flowers to stop it self seeding. Feed with a weak liquid fertiliser.
For a supply of fresh mint in winter, take sections of root from the parent plant in October and lay them on the surface of fresh compost in a new pot. Cover lightly with compost, water and place in the greenhouse, conservatory or on the kitchen windowsill. Fresh shoots will sprout within a few weeks.
How to harvest
Pick fresh mint leaves throughout the growing season. Pick leaves before flowering and freeze them, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers.
Recommended mint varieties
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is the familiar mint with long, pointed leaves and a refreshing flavour. For food, teas and salads choose Moroccan and Tashkent mints.
Apple mint has a mild mint flavour and apple-scented, woolly leaves.
Pineapple mint has pretty, cream-streaked leaves and can also be used in cooking.
Black peppermint, which has a strong minty taste, is ideal for flavouring food and for mint tea.