• T.M. O’Shaughnessy

The weekend gardener

Eating the garden

PHOTO BY T.M. O'SHAUGHNESSY

Mint, sage, and oregano happily grow together with pansies that can be used fresh in a salad, or candied with dessert.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but garden centres these days are incredibly busy. They can’t even keep themselves in stock.

From bags of earth running out to the scarcity of the common tomato plant, it would seem that in this COVID-19 summer, more people than ever are gardening. And a lot of them are choosing vegetables and other edibles in addition to planting their usual flowers. While the edible garden was a trend even before the coronavirus had us returning to the basics this summer, a burgeoning part of that trend is cultivating an aromatic and delicious herb garden.

You only have to look at all the new varieties of herbs that are now available to see what I mean. From Greek oregano to Thai basil to peppermint, spearmint or applemint, there are as many choices of a specific herb to savour as there are the original types themselves.

Here is my Must Have Herb List for the gardener who likes to cook.

Basil

Available in many different incarnations, you can buy the broad leaf, incredibly aromatic sweet basil, the purple leaf kind or the tightly knit almost bushy kind of Greek basil. You can make pesto with any of them – or even branch out into the Thai flavour kind, for example, for a different taste experience. I would get three basil plants (two for your pesto and one to harvest leaves for flavouring your drinking water. Try about five or six large leaves in a glass bottle of water that you keep in the fridge. It’s surprisingly fresh tasting and good, not to mention good for you).

PHOTO BY T.M. O'SHAUGHNESSY

Rosemary is an absolute necessity for any basic herb garden. Pansies are edible too.

Rosemary

The very scent in your imagination of a garden in Tuscany… Get a fair sized pot of rosemary for your balcony, or perhaps three plants for your ground garden. I find the nicest way to cook with rosemary is to simply snip a branch of it and sautee it, perhaps flavouring the olive oil you’re warming in a pan to coat a chicken with before roasting, for example. It’s also perfect for making infused oils with hot peppers and other good things.

Thyme

Another essential to the kitchen herb bouquet is thyme of every kind – from English thyme to French thyme to lemon thyme, buying a pot of this for your herb garden is a must. Fresh or dried, roasting potatoes in thyme you grew yourself will mean you never go back to the old way.

Oregano Visiting Portugal, I was surprised by how many dishes included infused oregano oil in either its preparation or cooking. Warmed oregano olive oil is perfect for dipping grilled bread or for seasoning a toasted sandwich, so a pot of that is a must as well. (Come to think of it, they also brew rosemary tisane in Portugal for an afternoon – so go back quickly and add an extra pot of rosemary to your herb garden for making tea).

Parsley, sage & savoury are just self-explanatory and, when dried, make the most delicious and piquant herbal coat for your Christmas turkey. So I would make sure to have those too.

I would say these are the basics for your cook’s herb garden – and keeping them in pots is probably a better idea than planting them in the ground. It makes it easier to follow the sun, which they all prefer, and saves them from the occasional deluge of rain which can wash them right out.

Ask anyone who has tried to rescue a sodden basil plant from a sudden rainstorm.

There is nothing delicious about it.

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