|You can plant almost anything in March, or you could, if the ground was not so depressingly wet. Walking on wet beds is not good for soil or carpets, and if the damp persists anything you have planted out might well rot. Raised beds, of course, are quick to warm and to dry.
The weeds are already flourishing, and if you can get a hoe to them now, you will save trouble later. There is much to be done indoors – tomato, pepper, cucumber and aubergine seeds can go into the propagator, if you have one; in most cases, putting pots in sandwich bags will do just as well.
Obviously we will watch the weather, and do what we can, when we can. Assuming you have washed all your pots, sharpened your tools, disinfected the greenhouse and serviced your mower ( no, nor have I ), perhaps this might be a good time to plan some new project. And wouldn’t a decent herb garden be a good one?
A herb is any plant that has a culinary, medicinal, or cosmetic use – and their cultivation is, I suppose, the most ancient form of gardening. From a horticultural point of view, they are also extraordinarily versatile. Most of them will grow quite happily in pots, but they also look good in open beds, either in a formal or a naturalistic style; the different leaf shapes, colours and textures look good against gravel, stone, or brickwork, and the range of heights – creeping thyme to towering fennel – allows for some imaginative arrangements. Many of them are satisfyingly aromatic, and most of them attract pollinating insects. Above all, a good stock of herbs means that you can cook, should you feel like it, as the French and Italians do – don’t add a pinch of this or that: throw in a couple of handfuls.
Obviously different herbs require different conditions in which to grow. The mints are content in damp shade, as are chives, angelica, parsley, sorrel and lovage. However, the ‘Mediterranean’ herbs prefer full sun and poor, dry soil. I have used the inverted commas because this group includes thyme and marjoram – oreganum vulgare, a form of oregano – which grow wild on the Downs.
If you buy tarragon seed, be careful – it is probably Russian tarragon, which is a bit rubbish. You want French tarragon, for cooking. Buy it as a plant, if you can find it.
Jon Gunson, TTL.