Some herbs grow happily on the window sill and will supply fresh leaves over several weeks, especially if picked or cut regularly. The most successful are those with soft leaves, such as parsley, chives, basil and coriander. While woody herbs, including thyme and marjoram prefer to be grown outside, indoors they will have softer stems and leaves, and a more delicate flavour. The cooler and lighter the conditions indoors, the stronger the flavour.
Fresh basil is the most wonderful herb – truly a taste of the Mediterranean. Its sweetly aromatic leaves work a special magic on any dish containing tomatoes, cooked or uncooked. Just a few torn leaves and a drizzle of olive oil transform a ripe sliced tomato into food fit for a king.
Basil is simple to grow, but it needs warmth. Outdoors it grows weakly in cool, cloudy weather and is killed by frost. However, it makes the ideal subject fir a sunny window sill and, with warmth and plenty of light, it can be grown indoors at any time of the year.
Basil grows quite quickly once it gets going. When the seedlings have produced two pairs of true leaves, pinch out the tips of the plants to just above the first pair of leaves. The plants will then branch, producing two stems. Repeat this after every two or three pairs of leaves appear on each stem to promote bushy growth. Harvest in the same way.
It is important not to overwater basil, as the stems rot easily. Wait until the post is dry before you water each time.
Parsley is notoriously difficult to germinate in open ground; the seed emerges slowly and erratically, which is frustrating. You are likely to be more successful with parsley sown in pots, and the plants can be kept indoors to produce fresh leaves for a garnish or light flavouring. It does best from a spring sowing, but can be sown anytime.
Sow about 30 seeds in a 13cm pot of multi-purpose compost with added John Innes. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them out, to leave ten seedlings in the pot. Use thinnings to sprinkle over pasta or buttered carrots.
Fresh chives are extremely useful to have growing on the windowsill, to add that light onion flavour to your cooking. Chives tend to disappear from the garden in winter so, even if you have them outside, grow a pot indoors for winter use. Sow as for parsley, but use 40-50 seeds per pot. Do not thin; simply cut down a few leaves at a time to within 2cm of the compost surface. A new crop of leaves will soon appear. It is best to snip chives with scissors.
Even the thinnest coriander seedlings have a high pungent flavour. Grow as for parsley. Thin when the seedlings have developed two or three fern-like leaves. The thinnings can be used in salad, to flavour Indian or Thai dishes, or on buttered new potatoes.
Widely enjoyed as a salad herb, rocket is always in demand. It germinates best in cool conditions, so a warm window sill is not ideal. However, in a cooler situation, such as an unheated conservatory, it can be grown very successfully in a pot. Sow thinly in spring in multi-purpose compost and start to pick as soon as he leaves develop their peppery taste. The flavour is never quite as good as that of rocket grown outside, and the leaves are softer, so mix it with crisp lettuce for a perfect salad.
Growing your own herbs, whether inside or outside, is a great starting point for those that want to get into gardening and is especially fun for kids. Windowsill herbs are also the easiest and most convenient way of herb growing because they are easy to maintain and easy to reach when required without having to head off into the garden for a sprig.
About the Author: Jade is a great gardening fan, read more in her gardening blog.
Main Image: Tamara Buross, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.