Toss chive flowers, wild rocket, french parsley, crunchy purslane and spicy mustard leaves with lettuce, and you have a salad to suit all palates. Herbs fulfil everything one needs in a garden: they look good, taste good and do you good. What more can you ask of a plant?
Growing for the table is short-term gardening; you can experiment and be optimistic, for there is "always next year". Even growing a pot of herbs on a windowsill or rows of rocket in a container connects what you eat to the process of growing.
A herb container
Choose herbs you will use often in the kitchen. By picking them regularly, it's easy to keep plants healthy because you can see if they need watering and whether they are being attacked by pests or diseases.
For an average-size windowbox, select three plants; choose carefully, and you can plan for a perennial to spread into the space vacated by an annual or biennial. That way, your container will last for several seasons without major repotting, as long as you feed it weekly from March to October using a good liquid fertiliser such as seaweed feed. For annual herbs, go for potting compost made up of composted bark or a coir alternative.
For perennial and shrub herbs, or a mix of perennials and annuals, use a soil-based potting compost of organic topsoil mixed with composted bark or John Innes.
A herb garden
First choose your site; it should have an area in full sun and another in semi-shade. If you cannot have both in one spot, go for two small dedicated areas. Partial shade is a boon for salad and annual herbs, because it protects them from the midday sun and helps prevent the soil from drying out; full sun is best for Mediterranean herbs because it helps bring the essential oils to the surface of the leaves, intensifying the taste.
I have often been asked, "Is it really necessary to prepare the soil? Can't you just sow your seeds?" Yes, you can, but you will not get such a productive crop and you may be overrun with weeds. Dig over the soil and remove as many of the perennial weeds, such as couch grass, bindweed and ground elder, as possible. If you have clay soil, salad herbs will thrive provided you prepare the ground well, so it does not dry out in summer. Dig it over in late autumn or early winter, to allow the frost to break up the soil, then in spring dig in loads of well-rotted, home-produced compost or mushroom compost to open up the soil. Sandy soil is ideal for Mediterranean herbs, which hate sitting in wet soil in winter. Dig over the ground in spring and add plenty of compost or manure to give body to the light texture. After planting, mulch the surface to help protect the soil from drying out.
Once you have prepared your site, draw a plan. Even a rough one will help clarify how much space you have and how much you can grow in it. If I am creating a herb garden for a client, I tend to incorporate into the scheme the size each plant will spread to in three years.
The scheme pictured here, for example, is for a small herb garden set against a wall, with a path around three sides and a cross through the middle for maximum access. To sow seeds direct, sow in a row rather than in circles - this makes it easier to see when they germinate and to harvest your crop.
For vegetables Chives (perennial), wild rocket (short-lived perennial, renew every two years), winter savory (perennial).
For meat Rosemary, (perennial), sweet marjoram (annual), sage (perennial).
For fish Sorrel (perennial), celery leaf (biennial), fennel (perennial).
For poultry French tarragon (perennial), french parsley (biennial), lemon thyme (perennial).
This special herb collection is perfect for growing in pots on the patio or the kitchen windowsill: chives and wild rocket for veg; rosemary and sage for meat; fennel and celery leaves for fish; thyme and parsley for poultry. Buy one collection of seeds for £6.40 (half RRP), including UK mainland p&p. To order, call 0330 333 6851, quoting ref GUOB041. Dispatch within 28 days.
• To order a copy of Jekka's Complete Herb Book for £15.99, with free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.
• Next week Carol Klein on primroses, and planting garlic and onions.