Last weekend I was finally confident enough with the Seattle weather going forward to plant my herb garden – one of my favorite moments every year! It’s a milestone marking the season and also a shift in how I’ll be cooking for the next six months.
This year I had the wisdom/humility to admit that “do it yourself” does not mean “do it alone.” Based on the inconsistent performance I’ve had in the past, I could use some professional help to get the most out of my little cluster of pots. So I went to see the good people at Swansons Nursery north of Ballard.
As an aside, I brought along my five-year-old African Violet, which they repotted, split off a pup, and taught me how to properly water. Evidently it’s a miracle this little guy has survived, but I’m glad because he was a gift from one of my favorite clients and always reminds me of her.
Here are the herbs I picked up, some of the ways I’m looking forward to using them, and any nuggets of advice I might have:
Thyme: This is sharing the large pot with oregano and sage, because all three will do well on the same watering schedule. The variety I picked is Narrow French Leaf and should be quite flavorful. I use fresh thyme in risottos, savory egg dishes, and minestrone soup.
Sage: The garden expert steered me to a variety called Berggarten which has very large leaves. His sage advice (har har) was to fry whole leaves and eat them like potato chips. Sounds amazing! I love to use fresh sage with walnuts and a pinch of red pepper flakes in olive oil on butternut squash raviolis.
Oregano: I chose the most pungent – Greek Oregano. I’ll use it in pasta dishes like “cold” spaghetti and Italian soups like cioppino. So in one pot I have the European Union of edible herbs: French Thyme, German Sage and Greek Oregano. What could go wrong?
Fennel: This is my first year growing fennel. I even cooked with it for the first time only this year. If all goes according to plan, I’ll use the fronds as garnish and in salads throughout the summer, then dig up the bulb at the end of the season and use it for Fennel Lentil & Sausage.
Anise: Also a new one for me. I’m planning to use the leaves as garnish and in salads. We shall see!
Rosemary: I usually plant rosemary, but this year I don’t need to because there are nice shrubs of the stuff growing around my building. Rosemary is quite easy to maintain, doing fine with inconsistent sunlight and watering. I’ve even had some survive a winter of total neglect, though it got woody. The only bad luck I’ve had with rosemary is the ones grown to look like a Christmas tree that you see during the holidays. It’s a shame, because they are so cute and I’ve given them as gifts, but they always die and usually very quickly.
Mint: Let’s be honest, this is for Mojitos. I even cut to the chase and bought one called Mojito Mint, which is Cuban and on the sweet end of the spectrum. I might find other uses for it, but they will probably all be alcoholic. Mint is quite aggressive so it should be potted alone and harvested often. Cheers!
Basil: This is the one yet to be planted. It’s more fragile than the other herbs and should not be outside if the temperature ever drops below 50. I’ll need to be patient until sometime in May, but it’s worth the wait because I love fresh basil in spinach salads and caprese salad.
Regarding soil for all the herbs, they recommended just a standard organic potting soil. Because one of my pots still has soil from last year, I only needed one cubic foot. You can also buy herb food which has a 5-1-5 formula to enhance the natural oils for better flavor but suppress flowering. I’m waiting to see if I’ll need it.