Gardening: Summer herbs all year round; Hannah Stephenson on how to make your aromatic harvest last.
IF your herb garden looks set to produce vast quantities of delicious, aromatic leaves, you should be planning to freeze or dry much of your harvest to allow you to enjoy those home-grown flavours all year round.
But which are the best varieties to freeze or dry?And in what state should they be preserved -coarsely cut,finely chopped or bunch dried?
One of the secrets is to pick herbs for preserving on a dry, sunny day,choosing young fresh shoots which have not yet flowered, says Rosemary Ward of the Consumers' Association's Gardening Which? magazine.
``Almost all herbs can be dried,but with some herbs, such as parsley and chives,it results in a significant loss of flavour,'' she notes in the latest edition of the magazine.
Many gardeners simply freeze chopped herbs in ice cubes, which is fine if you are only adding them to soups and casseroles later on,but would not do for dishes that you don't want to add any water to -dill for baked fish or tarragon for scrambled egg.
So, what are theoptions? Leafy herbs such as basil lose their flavour if they are chopped up, so remove the main stems and freeze the leaves whole,getting rid of any showing signs of disease. Spread them on a tray and put them in the freezer overnight, transferring them the next day to an airtight container.
When you want to use them, thaw them and use whole or crumble up while still frozen. You can also freeze tarragon and dill in this way.
Other herbs are better preserved chopped, such as strong-flavouredmints,chives and fennel. They should be chopped with scissors and then packed into airtight freezer boxes or similar. When you need them, scrape out the amount you need with a fork.
Bay leaves and sage are best flat-dried,by interleaving them in the pages of an old book and putting that under a pile of books for a few weeks. Leaves can then be stored in an airtight tin or jar. They keep their colour best if you keep them out of the light.
Many of the coarser herbs such as rosemary and thyme can be bunch-dried by tying them in small bunches and hanging them in a well-ventilated spot untilcrisp. They can make wonderful kitchen decorations as well.
Once dry, the sharp leaves can be stripped from the stems and packed into airtight jars. Make sure you don't chop up these herbs until you come to cooking them, so that all the aromatic oils are held in until the last minute.
THIS year's garden shows are awash with them,from bold-flowering specimens with four foot stems, to tiny alpines peeping just above the earth.
The most common,bearded irises,have been given many names -flag iris,German iris and June iris -and there are literally thousands of hybrids.
Blue is the in-colour for this year, so good tall choices include `Jane Phillips'.Other popular beardless irises include I. Sibirica `Perry's Blue', while in the bog garden look no further than I.
Kaempferi,a wet soil-loving variety which flowers this month.