Monday, June 18, 2012

Herbaceous D

That's rosemary and mint at the bottom right, with thyme behind.
The basil is at left, in front of the oregano. The hole in the middle
was supposed to be cilantro. Better luck next year.

I don’t have the urge to garden, and sotto voce, I don’t think that fruits and vegetables from the backyard taste better than those from the farmers market, or even from the grocery store for that matter, with the possible exception of tomatoes, and the beautiful, but always disappointing strawberries from Florida and California.

On the other hand, I do believe that fresh herbs generally taste better than dried or frozen, and for that reason, I’ve always thought about growing some at home. I did plant some basil when we lived in DC, and I enjoyed having it around, particularly for pesto, always a favourite, especially with the vegetarian set, and perfectly suited to be served on the side, should certain diners prefer their pasta tout simple.

Our yard, can most flatteringly be described as a woodland garden, although that is not the term a writer from House Beautiful would probably choose. We have finally succeeded in removing all of the ivy in the back, and Worldwide has labored to fill in some of the front with grass.

There is a sort of a curving path from the porch to the street, and alongside this, at the front of the yard, which receives the most sunlight, I dug up a piece of land about 10 feet by 10 feet, in sort of a u-shape, bounded at the open end by some larger stones and the drainage ditch at the front. After turning over the earth, I made a border out of some of the many field stones that have sent our lawnmower to the shop on numerous occasions, and added some store-bought top soil and a layer of compost from the bin in the backyard.

Last year, I planted basil, oregano cilantro, rosemary, chives, mint, lavender and thyme from seedlings. All thrived without much attention from me, except for the cilantro, which died, and the basil, which needed lots of watering. Plus--and this is another reason for sticking to herbs--the many foraging deer won't touch anything with a strong taste, so there is no need for unsightly fences or cages.

This year, I started with older, bigger editions of the oregano, rosemary, lavender, chives and mint, all of which handled the Piedmont winter without complaint. I planted some more basil, including a shorter leaf, Greek variety, as well as some cilantro from seed, two jalapeno plants, some sage, lemon verbena (which I bought by accident) and something called “bee balm,” which our neighbor—a retired professor who seems to spend all of his time on his flower garden—had given us, no doubt secretly hoping that we might be inspired to spend a little more time on backyard beautification.

All have done well, except for the cilantro, which apparently can’t stand the heat (this is the empty spot in the middle). I picked the first jalapeno--which the BG and I would check carefully on the way to the bus stop in May--last week, and there is another one coming. I also planted some onions, using the roots of a batch of spring onions from the supermarket. No maintenance to speak of, beyond the occasional can of water or weedpul: I'd venture less than 10 minutes/week. 

I use the chives in twice-baked potatoes (another vegetarian favourite), and the oregano, thyme and rosemary have come in handy where you would expect them to (the rosemary is a particularly nice complement to roast chicken). The mint I like to use in ice tea, mixed with green or black tea bags. I’ve made one cup of lemon verbena tea as an evening beverage for the BG, but have yet to use it for anything else.

It was nice to be able to fulfill Sarah’s request for a handful of basil as a pizza topping for a convivial dinner last Saturday night, and I make pesto about once or twice a month, I guess. I always keep almonds, pecans and walnuts in the pantry, so I usually use those, rather than the traditional pine nuts. I also tried this recipe substituting sage for the basil, and I was ok with the results, although Worldwide did not care for it.

Using a food processor, make a rough paste out of 2 cups basil leaves, 1/3 cup nuts, 2 cloves peeled garlic and ½ cup grated or shredded parmesan. Add ½ cup of olive oil, process again. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Did I mention the deer? This mother and daughter were checking out the pickings in the back yard at lunchtime today. Smallest fawn I've seen since we moved here.

1 comment:

  1. Sweetie, I do love your pesto, but I am not sure that one clove of garlic wouldn't suffice.