One of the world’s most popular herbs (coriander) is actually very easy to grow at home in the garden,” announced a website I was looking at the other day.
It’s not. I’ve been trying for several years and, I was relieved to find, so have other gardeners all over the globe. The world is actually full of coriander failures.
“It’s so easy you don’t even need a garden as it will happily grow in a pot,” said the website. Rubbish. Mine won’t grow in the garden or in a pot, and I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t even be happy planted in Heaven.
But because so many people want to grow it and can’t, I’ve given it the benefit of the doubt and spent quite a long time engaged in global research to find out what the bloody thing wants. Interestingly, coriander, or cilantro as it is also known, is related to parsley and carrots, so you’d think the books and websites are right when they tell us any fool can grow it.
There are two common varieties in New Zealand – European coriander, which has small seeds with a high oil content, and the Indian variety which has bigger fruit but a lower oil content. Both are sweet, astringent and cooling, which is why this herb goes so well with hot, spicy foods.
It makes a refreshing tea, and is reputed to soothe upset stomachs and calm burning in or on the body. I‘ve even read that it can bind to heavy metals and helps to detoxify the body, but scientific proof was not forthcoming. Heavy metals notwithstanding, there’s every reason to give it another shot. My main problem has been that it bolts as soon as I plant; it goes to seed, turns yellow and dies. Heaven knows what happens to the seeds – no seedlings have ever turned up in my garden. Possibly the cats eat them.
Happily, there is a variety that is less inclined to bolt. It’s called Slow Bolt, for obvious reasons, and the fact that someone has developed it is a fair indication that the bolting problem is common. I have no idea whether the one I bought this morning is a Slow Bolt: it was an impulse buy and I didn’t even look at the label. Possibly I just felt in need of a challenge after the New Year’s break.
Evidently, coriander can be grown all year round. You can plant in spring, late summer and early autumn. At least I’ve got that bit sorted, since I plan to bang mine in the garden this evening.
I’ve already sorted the perfect spot because coriander doesn’t like change and moving it around can be fatal. (That’s assuming it lasts long enough to be moved.) Sun is vital, but not too much heat, and the soil needs to be fertile and well worked over with heaps of compost. Dry clods are not going to do the job for you.
If you’re going to plant it in a pot, the bigger the better as it likes to spread its roots out and down. You’ll need a container about 30cm in diameter and at least 30cm deep to make it happy – and here’s the thing.
It likes to be kept moist every minute of the day and night so you’re going to have to water it often, especially during summer and autumn. Treat it like a baby. Get up in the night if you have to. The instant it dries out, it’s all over. If you manage to nurture it through babyhood, feed it with liquid fertiliser in the summer.
Now for the good news. Pests and diseases don’t seem to bother coriander much – possibly because it usually dies before they can get to it. Aphids occasionally have a go at the new leaves, but a natural bug spray will deal to them.
Harvesting is easy if you keep it alive long enough. Pick the leaves as they mature because if you leave them too long they can be bitter.
If it starts to look a bit dodgy, trim off all the leaves and with luck, that’ll encourage new growth. Should you ever get to this point in the life cycle of the coriander, I take my hat off to you.
About Lee Ann Bramwell
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author