Finding a natural solution
I forget from year to year that planting herbs is about the easiest imaginable, most low-impact way to garden. Growing in pots can put a kitchen garden just outside the door, and watching herbs grow can restore one’s faith in natural processes.
I didn’t have time or energy for much gardening this year, but one Saturday morning in May I harangued myself into getting to the garden store, buying a few bags of organic potting soil and plopping some herbs in the big pots I’ve used for years.
This year’s container garden is utterly utilitarian and prosaic: basil (‘Genovese’ and sweet), sage, chives, flat-leaved parsley, lemongrass, lemon verbena, thyme and oregano. I forgot pineapple sage, to my great chagrin, but will muddle on without it.
And look at this now! I have herbs aplenty with absolutely no additional work other than watering every day or so. I've been using something from these containers every day for the past week and expect to keep that up through the rest of the summer. The oregano and thyme are in separate containers in an even more sunny spot:
I also planted nasturtiums and morning glories because I love the blossoms and because contributing editor Jim Long gave me a dandy little bentwood trellis he made at a workshop in early May at the Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seed festival. He made this nifty trellis in about an hour—while he was talking to the workshop participants, which I think is awfully cool. These nasturtiums and morning glories are just a few weeks old and already reaching out to twine themselves around this trellis (photo updates later this season—stay tuned!).
On Saturday I noticed that the basil was already starting to bolt (flower), so I snipped some leaves off right away and headed to the store for tomatoes and fresh mozzarella to make my favorite summer salad, Ensalata Caprese. (NOTE: We’re doing a story in August/September on Caprese, so if you have any variations on the basic recipe—tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, balsamic and olive oil—to offer, please send them to email@example.com.)
On Sunday I cut a couple of handfuls of parsley—remember, with herbs, the more you harvest, the more you get—and made some delicious pasta that takes roughly seven minutes to concoct, start to finish. The recipe is here. The lemon verbena I minced and mixed with strawberries fresh from my friends’ farm, and on Sunday evening the chives, sage, thyme and oregano soon found themselves in a wonderfully savory omelet, with shredded local cheddar and a dollop of Greek yogurt. Honestly, does life get a lot better than this?
Even this surpassingly modest attempt at container gardening has already improved the appearance of my front door, don't you think? So please believe me when I tell you, planting herbs is absolutely the place for the beginning gardener to jump in:
The mere fact of having these leafy, healthy, delicious-smelling herbs right outside the door encourages me to cook more, instead of trundling off for take-out, and greatly expands my recipe repertoire. (“Hmmm … what else can I make with sage tonight?”) But best of all, it reminds me of how willing life is to renew itself, and how enthusiastically it will do that if we give it the proper ingredients and don’t fuss over it too much.
Sometimes, that’s a very important lesson to remember.
(And sometimes, it even exceeds beyond our wildest dreams, like the spearmint I've tried to contain to one flowerbed. This started out in the late summer last year as one itsy bitsy sprig planted under my downspout. Be careful what you wish for.)