Herbs and flowers to make your salads delicious

Now that I am in the early autumn of my days I am completely sold on a handful of fresh mint mixed w

Now that I am in the early autumn of my days I am completely sold on a handful of fresh mint mixed with chamomile stuffed into a tea pot - Credit: Archant

Some beautiful flowers aren’t just for looking at. They can make delicious additions to garden salads as well, as Sir Roddy Llewellyn explains

March is the time to think about herbs for the garden and while planning their future positions, close your eyes and dream of hot days as you are walking around the garden in a hat with a pair of scissors in one hand and a basket brimming with herbs in the other. Most herbs (and many vegetables) can be grown in amongst plants grown purely for their flowers. Since I introduced nasturtiums to my vegetable garden they have self-seeded most obligingly ever since and pop up all over the shop. They jolly up mundane crops like broad beans no end. Their red and orange flowers that taste exactly the same as their leaves make salads a very attractive prospects especially with the extra additions of the flowers of chives, basil and thyme.

Unsurprisingly, borage has long been a favourite plant in the vegetable garden because of its prolific display of gentian blue flowers. The cardoon, or ‘globe’ artichoke, is what is known in horticulture as a ‘good doer’. With the appearance of a huge silver-leaved thistle this beauty makes an excellent two-metre tall addition to the back of the border and its boiled or steamed flower heads, picked before they open, make a most delicious first course served with melted butter poured over them. Angelica is another statuesque addition although it does come with a safety warning as one small innocent plant can grow up to 2m (6ft) or more with a spread of four to five feet. It is wise to dead-head this beautiful thug otherwise it will self-seed like mad.

The Jerusalem artichoke (sometimes referred to as ‘fartichokes’), has delicious tubers that can be made into dreamy soups. This is a close relation to the sunflower and often produces tiny sunflower-like flowers right at the very top of the plant. Treated as an annual it makes an excellent instant screen for the summer months. Runner beans on cane tripods also create colour and excitement at the back of the border. The variety ‘Painted Lady’ and red and white flowers. Rather than having empty borders during the winter, I have, in the past, planted spring cabbage, onions and leeks in groups in amongst the dormant herbaceous perennials. This technique comes in very handy in a smaller garden where annuals are grown for the most part. Parsley and chives always come in very handy for filling in gaps towards the front of the border whereas the yellow and purple-podded varieties of French bean as well as rhubarb chard look splendid towards the centre. Purple or green sage will eventually grow into a wide-spreading weed suppressing carpet in a hot and sunny part of the garden where the soil is quite poor and the ground dry most of the year.

In my original vegetable garden I now also entertain a wide variety of herbs and picking flowers. Of all the herbs I grow, I think the most delicious and most versatile is French tarragon. It succeeds in enhancing the taste of any egg dish or soup and most particularly, chicken. I never used to enjoy herbal teas or tisanes, but now that I am in the early autumn of my days I am completely sold on a handful of fresh mint mixed with chamomile stuffed into a tea pot. And yes, it really does wonders for my digestion. I am becoming keener and keener on cooking : I suppose it’s an older person’s thing. Try putting a handful of mixed herbs like basil, fennel, marjoram, savory or whatever else you happen to be growing, roughly cut up, into olive, sunflower or rape seed oil in an old plastic bottle for about a month. It gives an extra je ne sais quoi to all sorts of dishes. You’ll never want to buy the potted stuff once you have home-made pesto sauce made with a mixture of basil and garlic along with parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil.

Things to do in March

• Evergreen trees and shrubs are best planted this month now that the worst of the cold weather is behind us.

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• Only shrubs that flower in late summer like Hydrangea paniculata and Buddleja davidii can be cut back hard this month. Wait until soon after spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia have bloomed before you touch them.

• Lift and move snowdrops ‘in the green’ the minute they have flowered, if so desired.

• Bear-rooted roses are best planted by the mid-March.

• May you all blossom and flourish.