The herb garden… Your kitchen’s best friend!

Nature… your kitchens best friend!!!

Today is the beginning of the May 24th weekend (Ok I wrote this BEFORE the weekend.  I’m late posting I know, but I wanted AFTER pictures dammit!!!  LOL!).  Yes, I know that sounds absolutely crazy.  Especially since today is ACTUALLY May 15/15.  But that’s just the way things are.  (Now before anyone from outside of Canada starts being smart about all this, let’s just remember that May 24th weekend is all about Queen Victoria’s birthday.  And NO ONE wants to celebrate a queen’s birthday AFTER THE FACT!!  So since NEXT Monday is the 25th, IT.  JUST.  WON’T.  DO.).

For those of you reading who don’t live in the centre of the universe Southern Ontario, I guess I had probably better explain that the 24 weekend as it’s often called, is the starting pistol for the gardening season!!  Ready! Set! Go!  Time to get your nails dirty and your property looking spectacular!!!  Like every one, I do enjoy a nice showy blanket of colour about my property.  One that makes me smile and gives me that warm positive feeling when I pull into my driveway after a hard days work.  For all the beauty a garden can provide though, there isn’t much “practical” in return for all of the hard work that is put into it.  Now before you tell me that gardens aren’t practical things, take a breath, think for a second… because if you plan it out right, you CAN have a practical, low maintenance garden.  An Herb garden!!

Several years ago, because of Todd’s love for the kitchen, and my love of food in general, I built a raised herb garden.  It was one of the first things I built for our backyard.  It is high enough to keep things easy.  I know myself very well, if it were ground level there would be no chance whatsoever that I’d weed the thing that’s for sure.  It’s portable.  Despite the solid look of it, it is not heavy at all.  That of course it thanks to the fact that herbs do not need huge amounts of soil to grow in, so while the box is large, the soil “containers” which it holds are shallow and much lighter than you’d think.  This garden has resided in several places on the property over the years, depending on our mood, the sunlight and the overall esthetic we were trying to achieve.  Years later, it is still a very serviceable piece of our garden repertoire, and this year will be no different.

Just to help you with any plans on building your own, let me tell you briefly how I built ours.  FIRST.  choose some “window boxes” from your local hardware store.  Buy the cheapest ones you can find that are the size you’d like.  When you are done you will see very very little of the container.  I chose to use two plastic window boxes.  I think I paid about $7.50 each for them.  Once you have your window boxes, you will need some 2×2 lumber and some left over fence or deck boards (deck boards are thicker and heavier which is great for durability but also make it a little less easy to move about but that IS what I used for ours).  Determine the hight you want your garden to be (this depends on your height, your ability to bend and weed the garden, as well as your planned placement of the garden related to any features it may block if it is too tall….  basically?  I’m saying just pick a height you like…).  Cut all of your deck/fence boards to the desired height.  Then make a frame of 2x2s that will accept and support your window boxes at their rims.  Make a matching frame for the bottom and simply fasten your deck/fence boards around, connecting the two frames.  Set the frames an inch or two up/down from the ends of your boards so the frame is not visible.  You may choose to make 2×2 legs to keep the entire garden slightly off the ground so that the boards do not soak up moisture, but this is not a must (especially if you used pressure treated wood).  Now you can stain or paint the box (or like me just leave it alone to weather), drop in your window boxes, fill them with soil and plant them up with all your favourite herbs.

And just what herbs should you plant???  Well, that does in fact depend on your own personal tastes, and the types of dishes you like to cook in your kitchen, but there are obviously some common favourites.  I would seem no herb garden would be complete without some BASIL.  Now, how much of this wonderful herb you plant will depend on how much you like Margherita pizza, caprese salads and pesto.  So Plant a lot or A LOT.  You can’t go wrong.  Remember that there are many varieties of basil as well, so you can plant more than one type and experiment until you find your favourite.

Rosemary.  Personally rosemary is one of my FAVOURITE herbs.  Sometimes, I simply run my hands through it as I pass in the garden, just to disturb it, and smell the fragrance.  I know most people think of LAVENDER as a calming scent.  For me though, it’s rosemary.  On top of that, rosemary goes so very well with some of my favourite things in the world, like LAMB!!!  Or with some raspberry preserves perched atop a small wheel of brie baking in the oven.  I also ADORE taking some fresh rosemary and placing it in my lump charcoal BBQ when I’m cooking meats, allowing it to infuse it’s herbal deliciousness into the smoke that then bathes the meat in flavour that simply cannot be replicated in any other way.  So PLANT.  SOME.  ROSEMARY.  (We like it soon much that I don’t usually plant it in the herb planter, but in a LARGE pot all to itself, since I like to buy a larger specimen, because not only does it smell terrific it also LOOKS wonderful).

I’m also an advocate for sage and thyme.  And of course no one can fault you for growing oregano (in any of its varieties) either.  I’m going to tell you that a nice stuffing for a chicken or turkey made with sage fresh from your garden just cannot be beat!!  Of course oregano is a staple if you are planning to create a summer pizza on your BBQ (that should be a whole other post too I think).  And as for thyme, well, there’s a wonderful “apple thyme martini” recipe that I should probably share with you guys for later in the season when you have some thyme to clip….  it’ll be well worth your trouble I promise.

Of course some people like to plant mint.  That’s fine too.  Actually, if you HAVE to plant mint, this is definitely the way to do it.  Why?  Because mint is invasive.  If you put that stuff in your garden, it won’t take long before it has choked out everything else around it.  It will send out underground “runners” and propagate in places you never dreamed possible.  It will traverse distances under your fence and invade your neighbours lawn, it will choke out your prized peony, it will ruin your lawn.  In a container is the best and probably ONLY place you should grow mint.  Of course, if you LOVE a good mojito feel free to plant it anywhere you like, the more mint the more mojitos right??

One “underlooked” herb in my opinion though, is TARRAGON.  In the days (before calorie counting) when I could expect to have an affirmative response to my request for béarnaise sauce with my delectable grilled steak, tarragon was a very inportant herb in our house.  It also was featured in some cream sauces for our mushrooms frequently.  Of course béarnaise and cream sauces are less likely on our table for the time being…  (but I’m sure they’ll be back, just in smaller doses, once we reach our weight goals), but it does still pair very well with mushrooms and chicken dishes.  For that reason alone it will be something you will find in our herb garden year after year.  I don’t see that changing any time soon.

I will admit that each and every year I do get hooked by some “new” thing at the garden store when I’m looking for herbs for my garden.  There was a year when I just had to have “chocolate mint.”  I remember growing “lemon thyme” (it was quite good).  There has been “pineapple sage,” “purple basil,” and “hot oregano” as well.  Each and every time it was a fun experiment, gave a wonderful fragrance to our yard, and did in fact even show up in recipes in our kitchen.

But what ended up in the herb garden THIS year you ask?  Well I got drawn in by the “thai basil” this year.  I also planted a couple of sweet basil plants.  There was a small period of confusion when I planted some lavender thinking it was tarragon (be careful, the leaf structure is very similar).  It seems that someone had placed the tarragon and lavender side by side, and while I was searching for the best, fullest, most wonderful tarragon plant, it seems I found the lavender instead.  But not to worry, now I have some fragrant lavender in a pot as well so, SCORE!  After that slight mishap though we have tarragon and sage as well as oregano.  I couldn’t help myself, so there is also some hot oregano.  Thyme is included, and of course the lemon thyme caught my eye again.  For the first time ever though I also planted cilantro.  And in a separate pot (just like I recommended) there is a little clump of mint (for mojitos).

I guess what I’m trying to say is simply this.  Have some fun with your garden.  Blur the lines between garden and kitchen, planting and cooking, beauty and food.  Allow yourself to sit on your deck, or in your yard surrounded by the scents of the herbs you are cultivating, enjoying the aroma, think of how they will enhance the foods you will prepare.  Dining alfresco is what the coming summer should be all about.  Enjoy it while you have the chance….  I know we will!!  And let us know what you are up to in your gardens this spring!!

Thanks for reading!!


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