We don’t have a garden big enough in Melbourne to grow vegetables, which is rather fortunate: unlike my father, I am a hopeless gardener! We do, however, manage to maintain a reasonable selection of herbs. Paradoxically, while my father had an extraordinary vegetable garden, he grew little in the way of herbs – mint, parsley and chives. Instead, like most people then, my parents relied on bought dried herbs, with ‘mixed herbs’ being the one they favoured.
I am writing about herbs just now as we have plenty in the garden and it is time to make pesto sauce and salsa verde and maybe some chimichurri. (Recipes will follow in the next blog post.)
Our ‘herb corner’ was established for us quite some years ago by a gifted landscape designer, who converted an angular section of the garden into a secluded area where we can have an outdoor table and where the herbs, along with a selection of flowers and ‘aromatic’ trees, can happily survive. The corner walls are of rendered brick while the herbs are in raised beds with automatic watering. As the area only receives sun for about half the day the plants aren’t luxuriant but they have an extended growing season because of the shelter from wind and cold and not too much sun and heat in summer.
We are able to grow the main herbs we need for cooking along with some fruit trees. They are listed as follows in roughly the frequency with which we use them:
Parsley (flat leaf) Thyme Oregano Rosemary Chives Garlic chives Mint Bay tree Basil Tarragon (French) Chilli (various) Lime tree Kaffir lime tree Lemon grass Sage Vietnamese mint Nasturtium Cumquat tree
All of these, except for the rosemary, bay tree and kaffir lime are located in the herb corner. Some are better suited to pots. We happily grow flowers and other plants with the herbs. We would like a lemon tree but have not taken the plunge of trying to graft lemon onto the healthy Tahitian lime tree.
Occasionally we try growing the following, but generally we are not successful as they die, go to seed quickly or get out of control.
Rocket Chervil Coriander Dill Curly leaf parsley Marjoram Tomatoes Strawberries Fennel
The four herbs comprising the fines herbes in French cooking are fresh parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil so lack of success with chervil is disappointing.
The kaffir lime is planted in a pot and survives quite nicely.
We have another small section of the back garden which is more open and receives more sun and we plant some extra basil there along with some flowers.
At Olive’s Cottage in Tasmania, rosemary, oregano, mint, sage and chives survive well throughout the year. Our gardener will plant parsley and basil when the weather is suitable. Planted throughout the property are bay, lime, lemon, cumquat, quince and olive trees. All of these are available for use by guests at the property.
It is worth the effort to have a decent herb garden. Fresh herbs make a huge difference to cooking compared to dry herbs or no herbs at all. And often if you are searching for that je ne sais quoi to give life to a dull dish, a herb or too might be the answer. You will save a mint (pun intended) as bought herbs are expensive and a lot of thyme (!) by not having to go to the shops. We freeze some herbs when we have excess or when the season is over (tarragon, chillis, … wash, pat them dry, zip lock bag) or preserve them in some other way, like making salsa verde and freezing that.
In addition, it is such a pleasure to be able to go and collect fresh herbs from the garden or pots that you lovingly watch over!