Possessing a mild aniseed flavour, chervil is a biennial herb grown for its leaves that are a key ingredient of fines herbes, or used to perk up salads, egg, potato and fish dishes. The flavour is lost if the herb is dried or cooked for too long, so add leaves just before the end of the cooking time. A useful herb for growing in a cool shady position outdoors.
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Seeds can be sown directly into well prepared soil anytime between March and August. Sow in shallow, 1cm (½in) trenches and cover. Rows should be spaced 30cm (12in) apart. Seedlings can take up to three weeks to appear. When large enough, thin out to leave seedlings 15cm (6in) apart.
Alternatively fill small pots with seed compost, dampen, sow seeds thinly and cover. Place pots in a propagator until germinated. When plants are large enough to handle transfer seedlings into pots of their own.
Water plants regularly, especially during hot, dry summers.
Ensure plants are grown in a cool shady spot – plants will run to seed if subjected to high temperatures and dry sunny spots.
Chervil is a prolific self-seeder. Remove a proportion of the flower heads to prevent being over run with seedlings, but allow some to remain to provide you with new plants for growing on.
Chervil can be grown as a winter crop. Protect with cloches or grow in a cold frame.
Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
Slugs and snails
These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
Plants flower and set seed prematurely.
Unless growing for seed sow bolt-resistant varieties. Sow or plant at the correct time and keep the soil or compost moist.
Young chervil leaves should be ready for harvesting around nine weeks after sowing.
Cut repeatedly to encourage new leaves, and use fresh as required through summer. The leaves are unusable once plants start to flower, so re-sow regularly.
Chervil has a mild, delicate aniseed flavour, so is best used raw to flavour salads and herb butter, or added at the end of cooking, especially to sauces and egg dishes.
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