by Cari Schribner
It’s Time to HERB Your ENTHUSIASM…and Make Fresh Herbs Part of Your Home Garden
Of course, you can purchase dried herbs in the spice aisle at the supermarket, but why not indulge in freshly grown leaves from an herb garden in your own backyard? From basil to chives to parsley, herbs thrive in raised garden beds, potted on backyard decks and on windowsills basking in the sun. They are colorful, cheerful, bring an abundance of flavor to recipes, and best of all, easy to grow.
“You can plant them in teacups, vintage flea-market finds, or clear plastic troughs,” says Wendy Trayford, who works at Faddegon’s Nursery, a family-owned business in Latham. “Really, anything goes.”
Faddegon’s has herb starter packs out on their sales floor year-round, as these fast-growing plants do well indoors in every season, as well as outside in the spring. “You can get the seedlings going and once the temperatures warm up in April, move them outside,” Trayford says.
HERB GARDENS LOVE LIGHT
Most herbs favor sunlight, but if you are doing indoor gardening and don’t have a sunny windowsill, consider using a fluorescent “grow light” overhead. Don’t overwater the plants indoors. If they are outside in the spring, regular rainfalls should be sufficient.
If you’ve always believed you have a black thumb, stick to a couple of varieties in a planter and try to avoid the most common mistakes: neglect and overwatering. As far as favorites, parsley, sage, rosemary, and basil are most commonly grown. But don’t be afraid to branch out into the more exotic lemon verbena and English lavender.
COLLECTING YOUR HERBS
When it comes to collecting the fresh herbs, plan to do this when your plants are flourishing, and harvest throughout the growing season to promote new growth. As a general rule, you can continue to harvest until the first frost. Adding a little parsley to your favorite salad can be just a snip or two away.
Always use clean, sharp shears to avoid damaging the leaves. If you’re like most gardeners, you want your herbs to be abundant and regrow even after being cut back. To be sure that you don’t cause any harm to the plants, don’t cut down more than one-third of the plant that you can see.
Drying herbs enables you to preserve them long after the growing season ends. Some herbs dry better than others; favorites include lavender, rosemary, bay leaves, oregano, and marjoram. Drying methods vary. Some gardeners hang the herbs in bunches. Another option is placing the leaves flat on a tray or drying rack. You can also purchase a dehydrator, which will dry your favorite herbs in just a couple of hours.
WORKING WITH FRESH HERBS
At the Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant, a lush herb garden on the property provides fresh ingredients for all sorts of entrees, including even dessert. Their outdoor herb array includes dill, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, chamomile, rosemary, and many more.
“Dried herbs just cannot be compared to fresh,” says Andrea DeCiero, pastry chef at the restaurant in Galway. “There’s nothing more satisfying than going out to the garden before preparing a dish. It’s something that you planted, watered, and cared for.”
As a bonus, fresh herbs are lush and hold onto their color. “We grow and freeze enough basil to last us all year long,” DeCiero says. “It’s a staple ingredient in our Italian sauces.”
Mint leaves are one of her favorite herbs to incorporate into dessert and drinks. She also adds a touch of flair with edible flowers such as pansies.
“Last year was a great summer for herbs,” DeCiero says. “The gardens are part of what we do here; they make dishes look and taste gorgeous.”
To join the popular herb-growing trend, just choose your planter, get a starter kit at the garden center, put it in a sunny spot, and prepare a good recipe (see right).
“I grow herbs all year long in my kitchen,” Trayford says. “It makes me happy when I wake up and go into the kitchen for coffee. They bring the garden inside.”