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Grow to eat: salty samphire is perfect with fish

Fresh marsh samphire
Fresh marsh samphire Credit: Elena Moskalenko / iStockphoto

Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) reminds me of Norfolk, where I’ve seen it growing in coastal marshes while searching for showier wild flowers. Crunchy and salty, it’s a fantastic natural flavouring in any fish or vegetable dish, and popular with chefs. As it’s one of our native plants, I love that connection to our wild lands even more than the flavour.

Grow some from seed this weekend, available from dtbrownseeds.co.uk, or as plants from victoriananursery.co.uk. Sprinkle seeds sparingly on top of compost or soil and water in gently, eventually thinning to one plant every 5in (13cm).

The clue to healthy growth is samphire’s love of full sun and salt water in that tricky combination of free-draining sandy conditions that never dry out. I prefer not to add salt to the ground on my allotment, instead growing samphire in a 12in (30cm) pot in my herb garden. Use terracotta for good drainage and a homemade mix of one part horticultural sand and one part peat-free multipurpose compost.

Once established, plants must be watered using a teaspoon of sea salt in a litre of water to create the saline conditions they need. Pop a saucer underneath and keep it topped up with ½in (1cm) of salt water, which I find to be the secret to never drying out – or drowning – the plant.

By summer, plants should be large enough to begin harvesting new growth. Give them time to grow back before picking again and in winter move pots to a sheltered, frost-free position.

In the wild, there is also the entirely unrelated rock samphire, Crithmum maritimum (chilternseeds.co.uk). Found clinging to sea cliffs with pale yellow umbels of flower, it’s a rare native wonder.

Find Jack’s blog at jackwallington.com. Follow him on: Twitter @jackwallington Instagram @jackwallingtongardendesign