Whether you’re an indoor gardener during the cold winter months or an all-year-rounder, why not include herbs, a lemon tree or exotic ginger among your houseplants? They look, smell and taste good, so add a little extra to a room.

These edibles can be divided into two main groups, and, as ever, you get best results by trying to mirror their natural growing conditions. Some wallow in a hot, sunny environment while others are from forest floor habitats. These forest dwellers need warm temperatures, some humidity and bright, but not intense light.

Although some of our favourite sun-loving Mediterranean herbs will cope with our uncertain summers, they’re worth bringing indoors over winter. Rosemary thrives in a warm dry atmosphere and captures enough light when grown close to a sunny windowsill. Mediterranean herbs grow more slowly during the short daylight hours, but can still be picked.

Bay, thyme and sage, with all their different sizes, shapes and aroma do equally well, but there are more exotic possibilities. The forest floor ginger family, the Zingiberaceae, includes 52 genera and more than 1300 species, and though most would struggle indoors here, a few will work.

The hardiest ginger is Galangal, Alpinia galangal, which I’ve been growing for more than a decade. For several years I had it in the house in partial shade, but it’s now in the new greenhouse, even surviving last winter. Virtually all the foliage died back and I was convinced it was a gonner.

But it burst into life and, at a metre, achieved a little over half its normal size. And because of the higher light levels, it even produced 3 white flower spikes with a wonderful fragrance that permeated the whole greenhouse. And this vigorous grower produces more rhizomes than you could manage. A winner in any book.

It’s almost impossible to buy galangal plants, but the fresh rhizomes are sold in Thai food shops and online. So choose one with a fat growing point and pot up. Let the rhizomes build up over 1-2years before cutting any for use. They’re a little less fiery than true ginger.

The leaves of other gingers, Zingiberaceae, are also invaluable. The tender young Turmeric, Curcuma longa, leaves will soon be ready for you, even if, as a houseplant, this metre tall spice won’t produce useful roots. And you’ll get plenty of mildly fragrant leaves, though not seeds, from Cardamon, Eletaria cardamon. They both need a large, 20 litre, pot in a saucer to allow for copious watering.

Although there’s no shortage of plants offering a lemony tang, the lemon tree does make a good houseplant. Lemons insist on a quiet life: cool, with very little fluctuation in temperature or humidity. But cool doesn’t mean cold, as the lowest acceptable night time temperature is 13C.

The easiest citrus to grow for fruit in a container is Calamondin, x Citrofortunella microcarpa. This self-fertile specimen reaches no more than a metre, with a bushy 80cm spread. You might even see flowers and fruit on the bush at the same time. And, though the flesh is quite bitter, the thin rind is sweet, fragrant and delicious, according to my son, who’s grown one for a few years.

And impress the neighbours by growing some of your own tea. Camellia sinensis makes a good container plant for a few years, reaching no more than two metres. And you’ll have a fine display of yellowish-white little flowers in spring. You’ll get little more than an occasional cuppa, but could always use an infusion to flavour sorbets, marinade chicken, or plump dried fruit in Christmas baking.

Plant of the week

Pinus heldreichii, Bosnian pine ’Compact Gem’. This neat, dense form slowly grows to 3metres. It is fully hardy but needs well drained soil. Dark blue cones in summer.