Renewing the herb garden

Even though perennials return year after year, they are not forever.  Eventually old age or inclement weather takes its toll.  It seems that my on-the-deck herb garden has reached it’s expiration date and is in serious need of refreshing. That’s my project for the weekend.

img_3910.jpgSome of the herbs that I’ve grown were plopped into pots in a rather topsy-turvy fashion.  With the summer heat here it takes a lot of watering keep the smaller pots going, and some things just didn’t make it, whether from erratic watering or just plain old age.  This year I’m going to try to be a bit more organized and make the herbs a little easier to care for.

I’m fortunate to have a good friend and neighbor who is a serious plant person, and gardener, with a garden consulting business–Sharyn Caudell at Gardener to Go.  She’ll look over your garden space and give planting advice, show you how to plant, make suggestions about what to plant and where to plant it.  I’m shamelessly taking advantage of her know-how to  improve my herb plantings on the deck.  In exchange for some help on one of her projects she’s made suggestions about how I can improve the container herb garden. She is going to do a post on growing herbs in containers for us.

First thing on the  list was bigger pots with several plants in each so that there will be less watering.  I’m sure that some of my herbs that were in smaller pots bit the dust because of erratic watering during the last summer.  Others were just old plants–even perennials don’t last forever.

For my plants, it’s a trip to Gunter’s Greenhouse and Garden Center since their plants are locally grown.  They will have big bags of soilless mix for potting too.  Then it’s time to get my hands in the dirt–well, the potting mix.

Herbal joys of spring

Chives with blossom

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Even though we’ve had the occasional chilly day, it does feel as if spring is close.  I felt that especially going out on my deck and seeing that green was showing amongst my pots of herbs.   For some herbs, I take their hardiness for granted–sage, rosemary, lavender, mint, oregano, marjoram, chives.

There are others that make me breathe a sigh of relief when I see the green shoots coming up in the spring.  Even for the hardy ones, it is such a pleasure to see them return each spring: it means more freedom to improvise with seasonings.  I don’t try to winter-over in the house.  There is not enough room, or light to have really flavorful herbs.  During the coldest parts of the year, I depend on good quality dried herbs, or purchase fresh ones from the grocers.  The problem with having to depend on buying fresh ones is that it really dampens spontaneity in the seasoning process.  So the green shoots of spring are especially welcome.

Several weeks ago I was able to pick a few sorrel (Rumex acetosa) leaves to make sorrel butter to add some sparkle to my griddled salmon.  I had to be careful not to get greedy as there were so few leaves there at the time.  Now it’s  a lovely

Sorrel

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

clump of bright green foliage.  Sorrel sauce for salmon is in the offing.  While discussing herbs with a customer at the Durham Farmers’ market last week, it was mentioned as something to be added to white bean soup.  I’d not thought of that, but my mouth says that might be really interesting, given the bright, tart,  somewhat citrus-like  flavor of sorrel.  That got me to thinking that I might try it in the lentil soup that I like so much (instead of the lemon–definitely not with the lemon juice).   Sorrel leaves are very delicate and will cook down and almost literally melt into a sauce.

Greek oregano

Greek oregano (Origanium vulgare hirtum)

Another herb that I’m always happy to see showing new green in the spring is oregano–it’s one of my favorites.  I grow the Greek, and usually the Italian (or marjoram), and Syrian as well.  In addition to all the things like pizza and pasta sauces, I like to toss haricots verts (grown in a pot on my deck) with just a little extra-virgin olive oil that has been carefully infused with some fresh oregano (Greek or Italian, depending on my mood at the time I’m cooking them).  While oregano and marjoram do well as dried herbs, there is nothing like the flavor of the fresh herb to wake up your taste buds and say that the season has changed.  Spring is on the way!