Tag Archives: garden

Centerpiece for an herb garden: Clay pots paired with glossy paint and VOILA!

You know that feeling you get when you look at the perfect pictures of perfect gardens and landscaping in magazines? Kind of that “oh, I wish my yard could look like that….” But unless you’re a professional landscaper or are willing to spend oodles of money to hire someone to turn your yard into something out of Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart Living, you’re left to your own devices.

And that isn’t always a bad thing. You’ll end up with something much more beautiful and satisfying — if only because you’ve done it yourself. At least, that’s what I tell myself at the beginning of every summer when we begin reworking the gardens and trying to create something different.

My herb garden hasn’t varied much since we first designed this one after moving in 22 years ago — at least in size and shape. Herbs have come and gone, new ones have replaced old ones.

Last year for my birthday, my daughter surprised me with a birdbath that she’d designed from various sized clay pots. It’s amazing what one can do with plain old pots and some bright glossy paint. The birdbath has a place of honor smack in the middle of the herb garden.

It begins with this,IMG_0489[1]

topped with this,IMG_0488[1]

and then….voila!IMG_0485[1]

Advertisements

The annual experiment: Harvesting, drying and freezing herbs

When one lives in a farming community, fall brings with it the frequent rumble of tractors and trailers passing by as they haul their harvest to the local grain elevator. It was that rumble and the threat of an imminent freeze that reminded me that it was high time to harvest my herb garden.Early this summer, as the herbs began to grow…

There is no exact science to harvesting, then drying or freezing herbs. To quote Janet Killborn Phillips, “There are no gardening mistakes,
only experiments.”
Every year, it’s a new experiment: which herbs to dry and which to freeze. Truthfully, the decision usually rests on time and patience  — neither of which I possess in great quantities.
There is also no routine to my process….otherwise, the herbs would freeze in the ground before I got around to begin cutting. I’m sure there is some expert herbalist out there who will argue this point but too bad for him or her. I was raised by a biologist who saw everything as an experiment. Maybe it would work. Maybe not. But it the end, it’s all a learning experience.
To give you an idea of how this ended up, here are some photos. Oh, and one more thing….baby food jars make excellent containers for dried herbs.
Mint waiting to be dried in the microwave
Lovage heading to the freezer

Oregano waiting to be dried in the microwave

Dried oregano and thyme to be crushed and placed in glass jars

 

Aside

When I was a kid, it seemed as if my parents were always doing something new to the house or yard. As I got older, I wondered if they’d ever stop. Would there ever come a time when all of … Continue reading

Lovage and basil and curly-leaf parsley…these are a few of my favorite herbs

Herbs have been a part of my culinary experience since childhood, but my parents never had a separate herb garden. Instead, herbs were interspersed throughout their massive vegetable garden. Parsley often sprouted randomly between flagstones on the patio, and dill….well, dill just grew wherever it wanted to.

About 30 years ago, I took an herb gardening class, which inspired me to design one at our first house. Since then, we’ve moved twice, and each time, the herb garden has grown larger. When we bought this house, we created the garden around a grape arbor. The grapes never did well despite my father’s attempts to school us in the fine art of grape growing.

Along the way, the arbor began to fall apart and we finally dismantled it and removed the grapevines. Don’t ask my husband about this. You’ll be sorry.

Anyway, the grapes left, but the herbs stayed. Some survive above ground throughout the winter, while others pop back up each spring.

Some years the parsley sees us through the winter and rejuvenates in the spring. This year, it is nowhere to be found, which means planting new seed — the same with basil. That means making do with the dried version until the new plants begin to produce.

But the old favorites are back in droves…lovage, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives, summer savory. Dill grows randomly throughout a separate perennial garden.

My all-time favorite is lovage, which is a tall plant with edible leaves and stalks, and resembles celery in flavor but is stronger. The plant in our garden has been moved three times (from one house to the next) and split up and shared with countless friends and family members. Each summer, I have to trim it back two or three times when it becomes too tall and the stalks too woody. New stalks are always ready to take over.

LovageLovage can be added to salads, soups, casseroles, and is easily frozen or dried for future use. It makes a great addition to one of our summer favorites: couscous salad with whatever veggies are available.

Lemon balm grows like crazy. In fact, a former neighbor and I once suggested to our husbands that we just let the lemon balm take over our yards so we wouldn’t have to mow. Let’s just say their enthusiasm didn’t match ours.

We eat a lot of salads in the summer and throw in whatever herbs are available — parsley, basil, lovage, chives. Oregano is a good addition to Italian dishes — anything with pasta.

Oregano

Lemon balm

Lemon  balm has a gentle lemon smell and taste, and is good for flavoring fish like grilled or broiled salmon. My favorite use is to add it to mint iced tea (no caffeine) — good for settling an upset stomach.

Not everything in the herb garden is an herb and not everything is welcome there (e.g., horseradish).  Technically, this isn’t an herb but somehow it found its way into the herb garden. I don’t even like horseradish, but the hubs does. So does my mom…so much so that every summer, she and a friend dig up their horseradish roots to make pots and pots of horseradish sauce.

In a moment of ignorance, I agreed to let my husband transplant some horseradish from her garden into ours. This was before he created what he and our daughters have dubbed “the man’s garden”. And now it is time for the man to dig up his roots and move them to the man’s garden. In its place, I’ll plant a new herb.

Wonder what it’ll be?

Chives

 

 

I don’t make resolutions, but IF I did…

Back in the Babylonian empire, people made resolutions on March 23, the spring equinox and their new year. Actually, that’s not such a bad idea. Because who wants to make resolutions in the dead of winter anyway? If we started our new year on March 23, as least spring would be right around the corner and we’d have more of an interest in moving beyond the nearest recliner.

Here’s another thought: One common resolution among the Babylonians was to give back something one had borrowed in the past year. This holds a certain appeal. Here’s what I’d give back: All the prayers and strength that people lent to me throughout the summer when I was recovering from the abscess-that-baffled-the-physicians-and-me. Or maybe I wouldn’t really give them back…I’d pass them on to someone else who needs them.

When I was young, I toyed with resolutions like 1) eat a whole carton of Whoppers in one day; 2) ignore the stupid boys who were bugging me; 3) collect more dust in my room than Kathy Bohn collected in hers; 4) get revenge on my brothers for burning those stinky black things under my bed; and 5) convince my mom to hem my dress at least three inches shorter than she wanted to.

Technically, I don’t make resolutions but if I did, this is what I would resolve:

1.) Learn how to play all the games Lindsay put on my iPod Touch. Actually, first, learn where they are.

2.) Spend an entire Sunday doing nothing but reading the NYTimes cover to cover…instead of spreading it out over a week.

3.) Read one book per week (I stole this from Stephanie Spencer).

4.) Talk to my daughters once a day instead of texting.

5.) Watch a movie at a movie theater with my husband instead of watching and re-watching episodes of Moonlighting, Monk, Remington Steele, Seinfeld, Hogan’s Heroes, Perry Mason, etc.

6.) Convince the dog NOT to have a growl fest in the middle of the night.

7.) Convince the cat that kitty Prozac really does taste good and thereby, avoid more cat bites

8.) Bike the entire 18.5 miles of the lakefront bike path in Chicago.

9.) Shop at Uncle Fun’s

10.) Keep the garden free of weeds. (Oh, I can hear the laughing already.)

See, this is the thing about resolutions. You either have to realize that somewhere along the way you’ll probably fail to keep them and/or come up with resolutions that you know will happen. At least this way you have a 50-50 chance of success. Don’t ask how I came up with that percentage. I was never any good at math.