David's Curry Garden Diary

curry garden I usually grow chillies and sweet (bell) peppers but this year I thought I would have a go at growing some other fresh curry ingredients and also keep a diary of my efforts. In particular I fancied trying to grow coriander leaves (cilantro) and fenugreek leaves. I don't have a greenhouse but I grow the chillies and peppers in pots against a south facing wall. Everything else will be planted directly into raised beds in the garden.

The garden is in Oxfordshire, England at latitude 51° 63' N


Year-end roundup

close-up of chillies
some of the Cayenne chillies

Well, it was a pretty mixed year.

The chillies eventually came into their own and produced some lovely hot fruit. I was still picking fresh chillies in early December! The peppers did excellently once the fruit started to set and we had a glut from mid-September right up to the early November frosts. The coriander and fenugreek were a total failure and I never did get round to sowing more seed in the slug-free environment of a container. Maybe next year. The curry leaf plants are still growing happily on my kitchen windowsill and I have great hopes for them next year.

So, that's it. A typical up-and-down year which most gardeners, I am sure, will recognise.

I wish everyone who has followed this blog great success in their curry gardening for the coming year.


14th September

peppers and chillies
peppers and chillies
At last! Finally the peppers are beginning to ripen. You can see a few of the red ones in the picture opposite.

The chillies are now growing to normal size although they are all still green and (sad to say) are pretty mild. I used half a dozen in a curry and still had to add extra chilli powder to beef up the heat to an acceptable level.

Although the fenugreek plants ran to seed before I could use the fresh leaves the seed pods are beginning to dry off now so at least I'll get my own fenugreek seeds to grind up.


21st August It's been over a month since I last updated the blog (due to holidays and things) and the news is not all that good.

The coriander has been completely wiped out by slugs. The fenugreek bolted before I could harvest the leaves. The chillies are steadfastly refusing to set fruit on account of the damp and cold conditions. There are a few fruits on the plants but they are very small.

On the plus side the peppers are doing well and have quite a few fruits on each plant (although they are stubbornly refusing to ripen). The mint is looking cosy in its new home and sprouting side shoots with fresh new aromatic leaves. And my little curry leaf plants survived despite being left with no water while I went on holiday (tough little fellows aren't they?).

I'm planning to sow some more seeds of coriander and fenugreek but I think I'll put them in a container rather than the open garden. That way I might be able to control the slug damage and the watering a bit more carefully.


16th July

fenugreek seedlings
one of the peppers
The Gypsy peppers are doing well and setting lots of fruit. The picture shows the largest one so far looking nice and green and shiny. The Cayenne chillies had been dropping many of their flower buds (probably because of the cool weather) but they too are now showing plenty of tiny little chillies.

Good news too with the coriander. Some of the plants hacked down by slugs are growing again from ground level. So if I can carry on keeping out the slugs I might get enough leaves for maybe one curry!


12th July The recent spell of wet weather seems to have been slug heaven. I had planted 3 clumps of coriander and 3 clumps of fenugreek. Despite the rest of the garden being organic I have had to resort to "eco-friendly" slug pellets but they're not as effective as the old toxic variety.

The current score is :

fenugreek : Curry House 2.5 - Slugs 0.5 (a bit of a nibble here and there)
coriander : Curry House 1 - Slugs 2 (2 clumps completely felled to the ground)


2nd July

fenugreek coriander
clumps of fenugreek and coriander
I've planted the fenugreek and coriander in the garden so we've now got small clumps of plants looking very green and healthy (if I can keep the slugs and snails away).

The peppers and chillies are also now in their final home. I re-potted each plant into 26cm pots using multi-purpose compost. I've put a bamboo cane into each pot and loosly tied in the plants as a precaution against high winds.

The Skindles' mint has been planted in a corner of one of the herbacious borders in the garden where it can grow away to its heart's content amongst the flowers.


28th June

Murraya koenigii
Murraya koenigii

Two beautiful little curry leaf trees have arrived. I ordered them from Old Hall Plants, a nursery specialising in herbs and houseplants. The owner, Janet Elliott, was extremely helpful and has given me full instructions on how to care for the plants. The plants come with just a little soil round the roots so the first thing to do is pot them up.

I have planted the Murraya koenigii in 6cm pots using a well drained, gritty compost. Janet tells me that the plants are quite tender and that I should keep them indoors on a windowsill until next year. Only then can I put the pots outside during warmer weather.
Helichrysum Angustifolium
Helichrysum Angustifolium
GARDENING TIP: the plant on the left is NOT the curry leaf tree. True curry leaves come from the plant Murraya koenigii, but the plant on the left is Helichrysum Angustifolium, commonly known as the "curry plant". It is available in many garden centres and gives off a fenugreek-like smell, similar to curry powder, when the leaves are bruised.


25th June Aaaaaargh!! Silvery trails of snail slime are leading right up to.... my fenugreek seedlings. Some of the seedlings have been cut down at the base; others have had leaves ripped off. The snails could have chosen the nearby peas, beetroot, beans, rocket, coriander or even lettuce but they made a beeline for the fenugreek. If they were edible snails and you cooked them I wonder if they'd taste of curry? Snail watch tonight on the remaining healthy plants.


20th June Good news! I have found a source of Murraya koenigii or curry leaf plants. I have placed my order and hopefully the little plants will arrive next week.

The chillies and peppers are flowering away like mad and the fenugreek has just shown its first true leaves.

The only problem at the moment is that the mint has been nobbled by something and there are holes in some of the leaves. I'll be keeping a close lookout for caterpillars.


14th June Some coriander seeds have germinated. Unfortunately, I didn't check the shed yesterday and the seedlings have become quite tall and straggly from the lack of light. No matter, germination has not been uniform so about half the seedlings are only just emerging and they will get plenty of light as the pots are now outside.

I'm trying to source a "curry leaf" plant for the curry garden. True curry leaves, popular in south Indian cookery, come from a small tree Murraya koenigii. Don't be confused into buying the far more common Helichrysum italicum which is the so-called "curry plant" and which is an ornamental. The leaves smell a bit like curry powder but they are not used in cooking.


10th June

fenugreek seedlings
fenugreek seedlings
The fenugreek seeds have germinated. No sign of the coriander yet.

Fenugreek really is strong stuff. Even the little seedlings smell of curry.

The Latin name for fenugreek is Trigonella foenum-graecum. The foenum-graecum bit means "Greek hay" which hints at how common the plant is in a broad stretch of land from the southern Mediterranean through the Middle East to Pakistan and north-west India. We know from ancient Indian literature that fenugreek leaves were used in cooking at least as far back as 800 BC.


7th June

the "Skindles" mint
I've been using mint a lot recently for both curries and kebabs so I'm going to plant some more in the garden. We already have a pointed-leaf mint which we use for mint sauce and an apple mint for desserts but, a couple of years ago, our friends "the Skindles" sent us roots of their favourite mint which they say has a real old-fashioned taste. Neither they nor I know which variety the mint is (other than that it is a spearmint type) but I'm looking forward to giving it a go. I've grown on the mint in a pot (see picture) and now it's ready to planted out in the garden.


5th June Sowed seeds of coriander and fenugreek.
Coriander variety = "Cilantro"
Fenugreek variety = generic
Seeds sown into 7.5cm pots containing multi-purpose compost; 6 seeds per pot.
Pots are being kept in a semi-dark shed until the seeds germinate.

The fenugreek seeds are sold to be harvested as salad sprouts but I'm going to try growing the plants beyond the seedling stage until they produce spinach-like leaves for use in dishes like methi aloo; a Punjabi speciality of potatoes cooked with fresh fenugreek leaves.


3rd June

one of the Gypsy peppers
Re-potted the chillies and peppers into 18cm pots using the multi-purpose compost.

The plants are looking strong and sturdy (see picture). All plants now have several flower buds.

I'm leaving the pots outside 24 hours a day now that any threat of frost has gone.


14th May Beginning to leave the plants in the garden shed overnight to harden them off.


29th April Re-potted the chilli and pepper plants into 13cm pots using the same multi-purpose compost as before. Because the plants had got a bit leggy I planted them deeper than their previous soil level. They look good and healthy.


22nd April Started putting the pots outside during the day as the little plants are getting a bit leggy from being indoors all the time.


15th April Seedlings now have true leaves in addition to their seeds leaves.

Pricked out the 2 weakest seedlings from each pot leaving just the strongest seedling.


29th March

chillies 2006
"Inferno" chillies from last year
Seeds have now germinated.

Moved pots onto sunny windowsill in the house. I'm hoping they will be as successful as last year's chillies which gave a bumper crop. Grew Cayenne last year too but also Inferno which you can see in the picture. Inferno are supposed to be only moderately hot but mine blew your head off!


21st March Sowed seeds of sweet peppers and chillies.
Sweet pepper variety = "Gypsy"
Chilli variety = "Cayenne"
Seeds sown into 7.5cm pots containing multi-purpose compost; 3 seeds per pot.
Placed pots in a warm (about 23°C) dark airing cupboard for seeds to germinate.


The Cooking Colonel of Madras by David Smith