Round Robin: A Newsworthy Herb Garden

This herb expert did an emergency spring cleaning of her garden when it was chosen to appear on CNN.

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CNN comes to visit

Atlanta, Georgia—When CNN contacted the Atlanta Botanical Garden looking for “an herb expert with a garden to photograph”, someone gave them my name. Though I was flattered to be chosen, I did my best to persuade CNN that the filming should take place in the botanical garden, there­by avoiding a massive cleanup and pruning efforts on my part; I could just appear, wearing a ­lovely dress and sporting polished nails. But they’d “been there, done that” and insisted, “No, we want to come and see your garden.” Now I was in for it.

They phoned on Friday and were due the following Thursday, which sounds like plenty of time to whip a garden into shape. But that week, my aunt and my cousins and their two children were visiting from Seattle, I was scheduled to teach a class on woody plant identification, the front lawn was being resodded, and I was trying to get our son ready for three weeks of computer camp.

By Tuesday, I’d made no progress on the herb garden, but my gardening friend Nancy volunteered to take me in hand. She arrived at 7 a.m., and by the time she left two hours later, we had made great headway on taming the vegetation. Gardening with a friend always seems to produce a synergy that accounts for more than just two pairs of hands. We tidied up the patience-dock, gathered up masses of ripe love-in-a-mist seedheads, and pruned out rain-blackened parts of the gray santolina and creeping thymes. The brick walk got weeded, the hollyhocks staked, miniature blue petunias and pink and cherry red globe amaranth planted in strategic places, and catnip blossoms and yarrow arranged to show their best faces. The lawn was mowed and edged, and I was ready.

Then CNN called to postpone the filming.

When the crew finally did arrive, five days later, a light rain was falling, but I handed out umbrellas and led them down to the herb garden. There I proudly pointed out the huge angelica and old roses. I planted dwarf sage and harvested lemon balm on camera, jabbering about herbs all the while. I thought the session was going quite well until the crew asked to film my method of freezing chives—in my kitchen!

I had spent all that time primping and preening the herb garden, meanwhile letting the house “go to seed”. But inexplicably, I heard myself saying, “Sure!” and in trooped the story director, her assistant, the cameraman, and the soundman, wet feet and all.

I tornadoed off the counters, got out the chopping board and the big triangular knife, and with the camera rolling, cleaned and minced the chives. I spread them in a metal cake pan in a single layer. But when I opened the freezer door, I saw that there was nowhere to cram a toothpick, let alone a pan of minced chives. Everybody looked around at everybody else, and the camera stopped rolling. In my wildest dreams, I would never have thought to tidy the inside of my ­freezer. I would have been just as glad to stop right there, but the crew persuaded me to unload the top shelf and try again. This time, I managed to get the pan inside the freezer.

We all stood around my kitchen, waiting for the chives to freeze. The camera was running again a few minutes later as I prepared to take out the now-frozen chives and pour them into a sealable container. But as I reached inside the freezer, I bumped the pan against the edge of the shelf, knocking it out of my hand and scattering frozen minced chives all over the floor. The camera stopped again. The crew reassured me that Julia Child dropped things on her show all the time.

When I finally saw the segment on television, my klutz parts had been edited out. And good riddance.