Grow these — a great green thumb isn’t required — to punch up your favorite foods
I have been accused of having numerous talents. Sadly, gardening is not one of them. Oh, yes, I have planted many gardens in my life, having ample opportunity, time and space, but then my dedication wore off, weeds conquered and my interest dwindled. And there is a downtown farmers market where you can shop for gorgeous fruit and vegetables in pretty baskets and mingle with friends, all the while not having to tackle weeds to get what you want.
My mom, and back in the day even my dad, had green thumbs. Regrettably I did not inherit this trait. Absent a green thumb, it is difficult to be a successful gardener. I am trying not to take it personally, but even my mint did not come back this year, a clear sign it may have been lacking a desirable home.
Growing up, my parents maintained an enormous garden, roughly 50 feet by 70 feet, that was the envy of all the neighbors in the valley. You name it, they grew it. It was a kid’s playground, minus the zucchini. The neighbor kids and I would play for hours among the corn rows all the while nibbling on crisp lemon cucumbers, popping peas out of the pods and eating warm, ripe cherry tomatoes.
An old tin salt shaker hung on the wooden garden gate. Dad would pick fresh produce early in the morning, giving his garden breakfast a little dusting of salt before heading on his way to work. My sister and I were paid a penny a piece for smashing the “green lady bugs” that nibbled on the plants. Much of our lives evolved around that garden.
Looking back, I am envious of their commitment to that garden and to feeding us well. I, too, want that for my kids, but in today’s busy world I have to be honest with myself and focus on what I am good at.
What I do know, aside from me killing mint (who can kill mint?), is that I can and do grow most common herbs successfully each year. If I can do it, anybody can. My motivation is partly budget-related and due to convenience. I use an abundance of herbs in my cooking and cringe each time I have to buy them at the market. For less than $4 you can purchase herbs at the nursery and, with little maintenance, keep them happy and healthy for years to come. (Excluding my grumpy mint.)
For the past six years or so I have successfully maintained a beautiful herb garden in a long brick planter directly outside my kitchen window. The herbs are within reach and I can happily see them as I am cooking in the kitchen. Usually mint, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, thyme, sage, chives and occasionally the parsley come back successfully year after year.
I trim them (mostly by using them), water them every few days when I remember or when Mom comes over, pick out the occasional elm tree sprout (ugh!) and that’s about it. In spring, I plant annuals like basil in between the perennials and, if I remember, mix in some new soil. It’s minimal effort with huge payoffs. Whenever I cook a meal, I look out the window and wonder what herb(s) will not only make my final dish look appealing but taste better.
We eat with our eyes first, and one of the ways to brighten up any dish visually and nutritionally is by incorporating fresh herbs. When they are within reach, using fresh grown herbs on a regular basis is a snap.