Herb garden update – August 2013

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but following the freaky heat and storms combination we have had here in Southend, my little herb border is thriving!

After advice from my readers, I separated the mint into two trough containers, and it has spread to fill them up! (With a sneaky nasturtium in there too – I haven’t the heart to move it!)


I’ve split the lavender into two plots now, as it was spreading across quite a large area, and to share the colour out across the plot…


These were mustard cress seeds that I have allowed to grow and grow. The intention is to harvest them, dry them and crush them – I think the sharp peppery flavour will be an interesting addition to Indian dishes, but we shall wait and see!


Parsley is also looking very happy – time to harvest some of that, I think!


My coriander plant has excelled itself – it was always the most difficult one to keep alive in a little pot on the window ledge, but putting it outside is a different story! It is almost as tall as I am now, and I am going to check to see what parts are edible. The tiny white flowers would make a lovely garnish for a summer potato salad…


The thyme is also doing marvellously – and I will be putting some of those empty fish paste jars to use this week and drying some out…


Chillies are continuing to do well, and it’s almost time to pick and dry the red ones again, even though I’ve scarcely made a dent in the ones I dried a few weeks ago!


A new addition to the little family is sage, grown from seed in mid-July and planted out today. I’m already eyeing it up for warming winter risottos, soups and roasted veg, so hopefully it takes the hint from its surrounding friends and grows really well!


Last but by no means least, is the lavender again, ready to be picked and crushed into lavender sugar, for a host of culinary delights.


The eagle eyed among you will have noticed the nasturtiums along the back wall, hiding in the background of all of the photos – ready to bloom into a riot of colour, and a peppery sweetness. I’m eyeing them up impatiently, as I’m going to dry the petals to use all year round, so flower my little lovelies, flower!

It amazes me that my tiny little window ledge herbs have grown to fill a patch that is around 20 feet in total – with just a little space, some sunshine, some rain, and the dregs of any fresh coffee tossed into the soil. I’ve also planted a
squash and a courgette plant, but slightly late in the season, so I’ll have to wait and see how they do…

And by the way, I’m a pretty rubbish gardener – I just plonked these in the soil and let them get on with it! I figured I’d rather grow plants I could eat, rather than just look at, and so far I haven’t been disappointed! πŸ™‚

If you have space on your window ledge, I would definitely recommend growing an all-purpose herb, like parsley, a woody herb like thyme or rosemary or sage, and a sweet herb like basil or coriander.

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MsJackMonroe. Find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Categories: Recipes & Food


  1. Awesome! Up in Edinburgh things ripen a little later but it’s all good thanks to the warmth and a little rain too! I send you my recipe for herb soup. It’s basically veg stock, lentils, a little celery, a bunch of spinach, lots of chopped fresh herbs, cooked lightly, blitzed and finished with a squeeze of lemon and a swirl of yoghurt. Got to be good for you and tasty as heck!
    By the way, I was running a money management course for seven young people yesterday and gave them details of your blog. They were fascinated to hear how to cook simply, healthily and cheaply to stop them getting into debt. Some of them could buy a car with what they were spending on takeaways! πŸ™‚

  2. PS Just a couple sticks of celery and just enough lentils to add protein and a bit of body!

  3. Congrats on your lovely herb garden! Growing up in South Africa we used to eat the leaves of nasturtium in salads as well, they taste similar to the flowers πŸ™‚

  4. I’m so impressed – I want to grow herbs, and I will attempt it at some point, but all the plants I’ve tried to grow so far have been disasterous. I can’t even manage cress! Any tips? Someone told me to take supermarket plants out of the tub and rinse the pot thoroughly before putting them back, because they reckon there’s something in them to deliberately kill them off so we buy more. I’m tempted to believe it…

    • I bought a Β£1 bag of compost last year and tipped it into a bucket in the corner of the kitchen. The chillies were supermarket plants, and I changed them into new slightly bigger pots with some extra compost around them – and they’ve done really well!

    • Yep, re-potting is definitely the thing: Most supermarket plants have outgrown their containers by the time you buy them, you can see how dense the root structure is when you take them out of their pots. Some, like basil, need very regular watering.

    • The easiest (and quite cheap) way to grow on the supermarket herbs is to put them in bigger pots with fresh compost, as Jack says. The shops want you to keep going back and buying more so they put them in tiny pots with only enough nutrients to keep them going for a few days, no matter what you do. Parsley usually does well but after a couple of years gets woody and gangly, so needs replacing. Mint usually goes a bomb – keep it in a separate pot or it’ll take over the garden! Basil needs warmth and I struggle to get it to thrive in Scotland, even inside in the summer. Best of Luck – it’s so much fun just to pick your own fresh herbs and adds a new dimensions to your dishes. Iain

    • The supermarkets cram loads of individual plants into those pots to ensure growth. Take them out, pull the root ball apart – don’t worry if in the process you lose part of it. Repot in a larger container with extra compost. Enjoy! Never buy another one again!


    • That is unlikely to help. The problem with the supermarket herbs is that they’re basically loads of seedlings squashed together and they have a limited life span for that reason. If you want to grow them into actual plants, you need to separate them out into individual plants and pot them on. Unfortunately by the time you get them, they’re well past the point where they should have been given more space so they’re a bit spindly. It can be worth trying with some of them though, I’ve had some success potting on supermarket basil. Coriander tends to bolt though as it hates being transplanted at the best of times.

  5. you can eat all of the coriander, maybe not the roots! but at that size the stalks will be a little woody – best if cooked for along time or pulped in soup. If there are any seeds don’t chuck as these are your “coriander seeds” you normally buy in the shops. Your small sage plant will go banana’s – mine is happily taking over everything in site including my much used rosemary plant, I must trim it back every other week.

  6. We grew our chillies from seed on the windowsill, but yours are ahead of mine, I may do what you did next year. Don’t forget, as well as drying and crushing, you can freeze chillies and use as fresh. If you can be bothered (I generally can’t) you can puree fresh chillies together with onion and ginger (buy ginger loose rather than in little bags, is cheaper) to make a curry paste, freeze in ice cube trays to add that fresh zing! I did plant out the chives and basil from supermarket pots, worked fabulously with the chives in particular which are now well established in my kitchen garden plot outside the back door. Builders buckets from Poundland make admirable tubs btw! Line them up against a sunny wall for extra warmth and support for heat loving veg. Don’t forget local fete’s (though the season for such is nearly over) for cheapo herbs and veg plants!

  7. I too grow nasturtiums to eat. Towards end of season I let them go to seed. I keep a couple to sow next year I also use the seed pods to make mock capers. you probably know how to do it:- enough vinegar to cover seeds to each pt of vinegar add 2 tbl spoon of salt and 6 peppercorns (I am sure you can adjust this if you are not using a full pint) boil the above til salt has dissolved, allow to cool. fill small jars with the seeds and cover with the pickle. keep for 3mths then use as you would capers

    • I’m just trying the seed ‘capers’ for the first time this year, I’m excited! I’ve got mine in brine at the moment, will be changing to vinegar today, and will probably add some bay leaves and other herbs too.

  8. Yes, definitely let the flowers bloom and turn to seed, when dry and brittle harvest and store in screw top jam jar. I notice you have French lavender, try English ( I think it’s Angustifolia) it has a different shape flower head which is easier to harvest, dry and strip from stalk. It hasn’t been a brilliant harvest this year-too wet in the South West, however your side of the country is ideal for Lavender. I have just taken down the bunches that were hanging from my bannisters and intend to try your Lavender sugar! I have two little plants rescued from between the block paving of my drive, if you want them please comment and I will message you on Face Book.

  9. Fantastic! Everything is doing so well. I love my tiny little town garden; I always feel better when I have spent some time out there. Although now I kind of wish I hadn’t filled most of the space with ornamentals – not much room for veggies at the moment!

    I love mint and it is easier to grow than many because it likes a bit of shade. Most herbs are fanatical sun-worshippers. As I’m sure many readers have already pointed out, mint is a bit of a thug so it is best to keep its roots restricted in a pot or tub, as you’re doing.

    I’ll be very interested to see what you cook up with your sage. I have a big clump of it but apart from the inevitable sage and onion stuffing I haven’t exactly been inventive with it! I suppose I should try making it into a drink as I always buy sage tea when I go to Greece. Sage has the great virtue of being as tough as old boots. It’s very hardy and will make it through the hardest of English winters.

    This year my fig tree has some fruit and it also looks like I’m going to have a fairly good crop of olives as well. Amazing what a bit of sunshine can do. I’ll try to do something with the figs (if the blackbirds don’t beat me to it) but I’m not sure I’ve got the patience to pickle my own olives.

    Things grow to well for you. A sure sign of a person with empathy. People with no feelings for other living things rarely have thriving gardens, I find.. πŸ™‚

    • Mint tea is wonderful and all it is is sprigs of mint with boiling water poured over and left to brew for five minutes. It is so refreshing.

    • Sage is delicious with pasta, it’s also brilliant for cleaning/ shining your teeth, just run a leaf across your teeth and feel the difference, it’s a great rinse for dark hair and for anyone going through or approaching the menapause sage tea is a must. Sage needs to be avoided by anyone who suffers from epilepsy however as it can trigger seizures . Great with pork too xx

  10. What a great display they are not only attractive but taste good too. If you have another pot try some chives they are good to add to soups etc but have a lovely flower.

  11. Glad you are using all of the plants ie leaves and flowers. If you like capers let some of your nasturtiums go to seed as a cheap alternative. Suggestions for future, chard and Kale( curly + Tuscan) great for singles (or one and a half)
    Avoid buying too many seeds, people will always give a few seeds or cuttings.
    Your doing great ( I’m a long time gardener and herbalist ) if you enjoy it that’s the essential everything else comes by trial, error and luck xx

  12. I just dig all my veg and food scraps into the only availble space, a few feet down a long drive that had some agapanthas growing. It is amazing what comes up, tomatoes, chillli, capsicun,and last Australian winter i harvested 17 pumpkins. Also do herbs in pots, love them

  13. I grow methi(fenugreek) it is an indian herb used in curries and stuffed chappatis . It grows quickly (couple of weeks) . you can buy fenugreek seeds in most supermarkets or ethnic supermarkets. I have lots of mint in my garden. I make a spicy salsa -using onions,carrots,apples,coriander and chillies with the mint. clean and chop all the ingredients in food processor. add salt to suit taste. all the ingredients are raw . i make a big batch and freeze some in small tubs. lovely with vegi bhajis and samosas. also lovely with toast!

  14. I’m tempted to grow some herbs for my guinea pigs, they love parsley, thyme, coriander, basil and mint, there’s probably others I’ve forgotten as well! They would live off herbs if they could, they go crazy for them!

  15. When you come to dry the herbs, tie them in loose bunches & hang in a cool shady place with airflow. I am overrun with bay at the moment.

  16. May I recommend growing Basil from seed. There are many different types including Cinnamon Basil which is great with curries. Basil grows easily and well on a light window sill. Alternatively buy a ready-grown pot in a shop split it and re-pot it into better compost, as Jack did with chilies, and then treat it exactly as if you had grown it from seed.

  17. You’ll have far more coriander seed than you’ll want to re-plant, so you can save some to dry and grind into powder for cooking, or use them fresh, also really delicious!

  18. I’ve got basil, parsley and rosemary growing in window boxes outside my kitchen window. The basil and rosemary are doing good but the parsley looks yellow and it’s not growing too much. I know you said you just don’t fuss with your herbs (planting) but do you have any suggestions? I think the yellow leaves are from too much water? We’ve had a lot of rain and maybe they got too soaked? But the other herbs are doing fine. I don’t get it. I wish my parsley looked like yours does. I use a lot of parsley so I was looking forward to having some fresh right from my window box. Any suggestions could help.

    • Trim the yellow leaves off, and if you can, plant the parsley into a bucket for a while and ‘underwater’ it. The yellow seems to be a combination of too much water and too much sun, so segregate it, pop it in the shade, and leave it to almost completely dry out before watering it again. Hope this helps! I’m no expert but have had a long relationship with my parsley plant! Mine is best neglected in full shade.

    • Mine looks really sad too, (in “plein-Air!”) was instantly jelous of Jacks beautiful plant…I tell you I’m done buying them, I use seeds from now on.
      My boyfriend has Berry bushes in tiny pots (waiting for a place to put them) and manages to make them produce fruits, but I, kill several bought herbs, after planting them in the garden!! So frustrating. I never feed them any compost or anything though..and we don’t drink coffee..

  19. I am really impressed and a tad jealous. πŸ™‚ Sage is one of my favourites and in my humble opinion is an essential addition to Glamorgan Sausages. The original meat free sausage. Super Frugal too. πŸ™‚

  20. I tried growing basil from seed one year but it didn’t work well – plants about 3 ins high and took all summer. But buying a plant from a supermarket and repotting it gives us basil for weeks and weeks. With nasturitums, watch out for cabbage white butterfly caterpillars. They LOVE nasturtiums and ate the whole patch in our garden one year – just wiped them out. (But it was nice for granddaughter to keep some caterpillars in a plastic box and watch them turn into butterflies.)

    • πŸ™‚ I too have had problems with cabbage whites on nasturtiums. Once they have found your plants they just eat and eat until every last leaf is gone. I haven’t the heart to harm the caterpillars, however, so I’m afraid I’ve simply given up on nasturtiums. It’s the same with snails and legumes; there is no way I can grow runner beans in my mollusc-infected patch. I won’t use pellets, and snails just laugh at all those slug pubs, copper strips, bits of eggshell etc etc. My snails are HARD.

      • Try cutting a raw potato in strips, put un a wooden board/old serving tray/plate, in your garden, next to the herbs. it should attract them like crazy. Every morning you take the board with all the snails on it and trow them far away. Or go french on them and cook’em!

    • Sally, I always grow Basil from seed. The trick is to make sure the compost is damp to start with, sew seed, lightly cover and then put a plastic bag over the pot secured with an elastic band. It works like a mini green house, condensation on the inside of the bag keeps the soil moist. When first seedlings break the surface take bag off and always water from the bottom-I put the pot in a dish and water the dish. Good luck

      • Did you know……seeds don’t like chlorinated water. They can be slower to germinate or won’t at all. Use Brita filtered water, boiled water (boil off the chlorine?) or rainwater on seeds to get them happily coming out of their little shells.

  21. If you repot the chillie and bring it back indoors over winter it should survive. The coriander will die of ( its an annual) so either let it self seed or save some seeds to replant in spring, the parsley is biennial do will last 2 yrs, again in you let it go to seed then you will always have some on the go.

  22. Fantastic herbs, they’ve done really well. Coriander is my favourite, so I might try some of that next year, it’s spectacular!

  23. Your herbs are fab…well done for keeping on top of them!! When your sage plants get a bit older and start to look woody you can pick off a small piece (6-8 leaves minimum works) and pop it in a glass of water on the windowsill. It will start to root in a few days if it is warm. I kept mine like that for 2 wks and then planted them out. I took 8 cuttings and 5 of them worked. I have so much sage now! Lovely snipped up and fried in a little oil before popping on top of risotto. The sage crisps and the oil becomes sage flavoured and pale green. Gorgeous.

  24. This is such a great patch! I have tried growing herbs on the window ledge before but without much success (not sure if there is enough sun light) but it’s something I’d like to try again soon- there’s nothing like using fresh herbs to cook with.

  25. They look good. Thyme, Sage and Fennel are probably the easiest as they a perennial and last from year to year – at least for a few years. Parsley’s best planted spring and autumn to give a continuous crop. Chilli plants can be kept from year to year if they are looked after indoors. As you’ve found out, they’re nowhere near as hard as you’d imagine to grow.

  26. Nasturtium pesto, made from the leaves,was a huge hit last summer here when our nasturtiums threatened to take over everything. Lovely and peppery, like a rocket pesto. (Not recommended though for pregnant women though sadly, so this year they’re free to go wild uneaten)

  27. You might already know, but chilis freeze well! Whenever I have a surplus I chop them down (saves space!) And put them in the freezer in a little sandwich bag then just break off a ‘lump’ whenever I need them. Might be another option than doing lots of drying πŸ™‚

  28. Sad, reduced price, supermarket chives can be given new life in the border by roses (companion planting) to keep down pests and they grow and grow so you need to split them and plant elsewhere (or give them away). If allowed to flower they are gorgeous. But flowering does make the chives a little tougher. On a window cill they die back and grow only slowly in winter but are still available to snip into scrambled eggs and omelettes. Mild onion flavour is good in a potato salad or home baked scones, muffins, bread too.

    They can be planted in tufty sprigs amongst other herbs and flowers too, as can garlic chives (which the Chinese use long in a ‘grass’ soup.

  29. Not a herb, I know, but radishes are amazingly quick growing – I planted some under three weeks ago and already I am pulling some. Really delicious too.

  30. My parents have courgette plants in their garden, in the ground and in pots, and i have been solidly eating courgettes for weeks now as they are producing so much that we can hardly keep up! As far as I’m aware they don’t need a gardening expert to grow either…

    • I’ve had mixed results with courgettes, some years they grow like crazy, other years they’re hopeless. It depends on the weather. My mum and dad are up in Scotland so they have a short growing season but they have a great trick for courgettes – they grow them on top of one of their open compost heaps. The heat from the decomposition really gets them going. Apparently this was an old Victorian gardening trick.

  31. WOW this is an awesome herb garden. I have always thought of having one of my own, as I have grown up with great kitchen gardens thanks to my mum’s interest in them. However, since I moved out and went through several apartments (with no real space for even a potted plant), I just pretty much gave up, till I found your blog today. Inspired! I am still living in an apartment, with no balcony, in China. My kitchen window has a tiny ledge. So just a question – would these kind of herbs (I mainly want mint, coriander and basil) thrive this well indoors with limited sunlight?

  32. Sweet garden! I recommend some kale plants. I’ve been out of work a year and got a hernia surprise this spring so was limited in my job search knowing I’d get a call for surgery at any time, which thankfully finally happened, so now another month of no lifting etc… so could barely afford to have a garden this year even though I spent a good deal of time and energy recovering some old beds to expand my garden. My husband wasn’t willing to invest too much as money is tight. Last several years I was able to buy heirloom organic bedding plants and seeds. ladeeda. My broccoli from last year survived winter and still produces but only a handful every few weeks, new broccoli still not so much. I planted purple sprouting broccoli seedlings in the fall, a few plants have survived slugs and are now huge towering plants. I had pea and purple bean seeds left over from last year, saved seeds from tomatoes and squashes and had some luck with squashes, the plants growing massively so far only one massive squash… I did buy a bunch of cheap tomato plants, no heirlooms this year(boo hoo), and they are late. But I did buy one little tray of organic kale seedlings and oh it was the best thing ever! I eat kale nearly every day and I always hated it before because I had not had much fresh from the garden, not yet bitter. I am so thankful for those plants as kale is so nutritious and saves money on having to buy greens. It’s so super healthy, grows so easily. Having a garden is so empowering. A herb garden is a good start, and veggies are not really that hard, nor do they need much space really. I have medicinal and culinary herbs that are well over ten years old, bought, planted and moved with me over the years. But I didn’t get any parsley or cilantro in this year, just one basil plant.
    If you can ever afford to I highly recommend buying staples like rice and oats in bulk. Oatmeal is very healthy, cheap, a little makes a big pot, and can be dressed up with sugar, jam, molasses, honey, or fruit. I’ve had many times when I’ve had to eat it plain this spring… Where I worked we regularly got in ‘damaged’ bag skids of grains, rices, flours, lentils etc that had been damaged in warehouse accidents like forklifts, being dropped etc. It’s a bit of a grey area, but a food coop might know about this. Officially they are supposed to be trashed or something, but total waste of food. Sometimes there is just one hole in the bag that had to be taped over. Customers would know to ask, or we’d divide into small amounts for sale.
    I know you have been relying on value line foods, but one thing I recommend is cutting out all junk/processed food, only eating real food, which I am sure you do! So much processed junk food is full of chemicals, sweeteners etc that make you hungrier, want to eat more. They are designed to hit pleasure and reward centres in the brain, so you eat more, and more. I cut it all out and felt so much better, and the silly cravings for crispsquickly vanished, which I was spending more on than I care to admit! Cooking from scratch, even with the most affordable basics is totally doable.
    Best wishes with your blog and book. It’s a hard struggle, and I do not see things getting better, no happy endings or miracle jobs that change everything. My husband and I had been earning more money the last few years, but no money left over as in the past. He even got bumped into a higher income tax bracket which is ridiculous as we had less and less money to work with. Just empty handed over and over. My husband’s jobs come and go. I got sick last year and my boss was compassionate to lay me off so I could get unemployment insurance, my husband had also gotten laid off and was lucky to get it too. Because there is little work in the area I at least had some grace from the government and no pressure, so was able to use unemployment insurance for the first and likely last time in my life. We had a window of money coming in and time to look for work without a panic. Things seemed promising enough for my husband this year with free lance work, but it suddenly has dried up. I assumed I’d find a job again once I was better, but no such luck. Money buys less, the cost of living goes up, more people out of work, now my husband is currently jobless again. I held onto a stressful job at a small organic food business because I got so much free food, it was a pretty great place to work, the boss flexible. But the work was too hard for me, I got run down, the hernia probably started there. But in my neck of the woods, even with a university degree there are no jobs out there. Mostly menial, labour, heavy lifting which I can no longer do.
    We haven’t sold stuff yet, but are getting there. from buying cute shoes on ebay, to selling cute shoes on ebay. And bike parts, and clothes, tools. About ten years ago I was in different but more dire straits and sold the things that I had waited years to be able to afford and it was hard. Digital piano, guitars, music making, my dream forfeited for rent. Since then all dreams of art and music have been stuffed away, see little point in even dabbling or making art.
    Nasturtium tip: all parts edible, just check the flowers for bugs first. I brought one in with an earwhig the other day! When seeds form, you can either eat them too, or replant. It’s good to remove them to keep the plant growing and producing more flowers. In the fall I gather up as many seeds as possible, dry them and replant the next year.

  33. Try borage!

    The flowers are an amazing blue, and edible. If you freeze some ice cubes, but only half full, then put a wee flower on top, fill up with water and let freeze again, the flowers are one of the few that retain their colour.
    The little man will like them πŸ™‚

    The leaves are edible and taste of cucumber. Goo in iced home made lemonade with mint leaves.

  34. May i suggest lovage? Perennial, grows huge, incredibly healthy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercetin), good free substitute for celery in soups and stews, help cutting down on salt/stock cube consumption because of ist “umami” taste …
    You can also dry the leaves and make a quick herb salt (just pound fresh or dried lovage leaves and salt in a mortar, ratio about 1/3rd to 2/3rds
    Tomato salad with an oil-mustard-lovage dressing, yum. Or scrambled eggs … herb butter … cream cheese …
    good luck

  35. A favorite Italian recipe for sage is to make a tempura type batter and dip individual leaves in it. Then fry. Delicious.

  36. Just a little tip about Nasturtiums – they will not flower in good soil (just send up more leaves). They flower when they are distressed, since they are expecting to die and need to produce seeds for the species to survive. If you love the leaves, no problem. But the best place to grow nasturtium flowers is in very poor soil without nutrients – think rocks, sand, or even kitty litter mixed into garden soil – probably in a container separate from the herbs that like to be fertilised well. πŸ™‚

  37. I’m sure you know already but you can eat the leave from your mustard seed plants, small ones great in salad the large ones cook well. You can grow loads of things from kitchen scraps as well, celery, turnip greens, tomatoes from seed, peppers and chilli, ginger, lemon grass, onion greens (cut the onion 1cm above the root and plant you won’t grow a new onion but will get green onion stalks you can use instead of spring onions and chives) plus loads more if th Google it. It’s a great way to get extra food for free.

    My window bottom must have though is pea shoots, great in salads or soups, really easy to grow from any dried peas, and ready in just a few weeks! Simply soak overnight in cold water and push 1cm deep in a pot of soil each seed about a cm apart and your done just keep moist unroll they germinate. And pea shoots are SO expensive in the shops, also works well with broad beans too!

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