The bright yellow flowers of fennel have been used by herbalists for centuries in the treatment of digestive problems. Fennel flowers have a very strong flavour which goes well with fish and pate, they can also be infused in oil.
Fennel: The common fennel is another one of those plants that, once established in your garden, will stay there forever. Although it is a short lived perennial, fennel produces so much seed that it ensures its survival in most garden conditions. It thrives in full sun, in well-drained soil, and reaches 1.5 metres or more. For variety, grow the bronze leaf form in the ornamental flower garden.
- Fennel can be used cooked or raw: its aniseed flavour is a welcome addition to fish dishes. Both the leaves and the crunchy-textured bulb are useful in the kitchen.
- As fennel comes from the Mediterranean region, a cold British summer may cause it to run to seed before the bulb has developed properly. To avoid this, grow a bolt-resistant variety, such as 'Zefo Fino'.
Marjoram or oregano? Marjoram is a hardy perennial grown for its aromatic foliage, while sweet marjoram, also known as oregano, is a half-hardy perennial shrub.
- Marjoram thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. To encourage new leaf growth, cut back the stems after flowering. Divide established plants in autumn or spring.
- Sweet marjoram is usually grown in cool temperate climates as an annual. Sow seed in a heated propagator in spring and transplant into the garden in early summer. It grows best in well-drained soil with added grit.
Bay: A tree prized for the flavour of its evergreen leaves, bay laurel grows well in the ground and in planters and is often clipped into topiary shapes. Although it is fairly slow-growing, in the ground it can grow to be a large tree of up to 15 metres. If you don't have space for such a large plant, cut it back, but wait until all danger of frost is past.
- Move bay grown in tubs into larger planters annually. Protect planters against frost, which damages the roots.
- The golden form (Laurus nobilis 'Aurea') looks good grown in combination with the green form.
Sage: Forming a shrubby plant in the garden, sage is one of the best-known culinary herbs. There are several varieties with different shaped, coloured and aromatic evergreen foliage.
- Purple sage (Salvia officinalis Purpurascens Group) looks particularly attractive in the flower border.
- Narrow leaf sage (S. lavandulifolia) has attractive narrow leaves and strong blue flowers.
- Harvest the leaves for cooking just before the plant flowers, when they are at their most fragrant.
- Although sage is usually grown for its foliage, its flowers are very attractive and can be used to perfume drawers. Cut back sage plants after flowering to encourage a compact shape.
- Propagating sage: Although you can increase your stock of sage plants by taking cuttings in the usual way, you can also use a traditional layering technique. In April, fix a trailing stem into the soil and cover it with soil. Wait until late summer for the new plant to root and then cut it free.
Be careful!: Although the leaves of sweet bay or bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) are used in cooking, never eat the berries as they are poisonous. There are a number of plants with leaves that can be mistaken for sweet bay. However, they are not safe to eat. Watch out for the following.
- Cherry laurel or common laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is an ornamental - and poisonous - laurel, with large, thick, glossy leaves. It is widely used for hedges.
- Oleander (Nerium oleander) is an attractive - and poisonous - shrub with very elongated leaves and pink flowers. lt is usually grown as an ornamental planter plant.
Harvest marjoram early in the day, when the dew has dried.
Use secateurs to cut through the twiggy stems.
Arrange the stems in small bunches, and tie them securely with string.
Arrange the stems in small bunches, and tie them securely with string. Use the ends of the string to make a loop for hanging the bunches.
Hang on a line in a dry, well ventilated room such as an attic or hang in an airing cupboard.