Friday, July 15, 2011

Herbs under way

On Sunday, I bought four potted herb plants. On Monday, I planted them in my garden. On Tuesday, I started cooking with my homegrown herbs, though I have to confess that I wonder just how early in the process I can refer to them as “my” homegrown herbs. At this point, the fragrant greens the little plants produce were born at the nursery where I bought the plants, not after I put them in the ground. So right now, I tell myself, it’s no different from buying herbs at the supermarket. But eventually, they’ll start generating new leaves, and those I can take responsibility for having grown.

I’ve wanted to grow herbs for years, and it was one of many back-burner interests for which life just did not seem to allow quite enough time. It’s not that I believed it would be all that much work or all that much money; it’s just that there were always more pressing demands on both time and money. So the herb idea went unpursued, year after year.

But when we moved into our current home, I inherited a fenced-in vegetable patch, ready to go. I spent a day last week weeding it and knew there was no reason not to go ahead and plant before another summer got away from me. I even had a gift card from a nearby nursery that I’d been carrying around for quite some time: it was a gift from Holly’s first-grade teacher to thank me for being a room parent, and Holly just finished third grade. The nursery, in a town about 30 minutes from here, always seemed too far away for a special trip. Preparing a plot seemed like too big a job. Tending to my plants seemed like something I just couldn’t fit in to my schedule. So instead, I bought herbs for summer cooking, year after year.

Last weekend, with the garden weeded and ready, I did the half-hour drive to the nursery (which turned out to take less than 25 minutes). Going on little more than advice from a library book and suggestions from my sister, who is a very good gardener but lives several states away, I focused on those herbs that I find most indispensable in cooking: rosemary, thyme, basil. A few days earlier I’d visited my friend Jane, and when she heard of my interest in gardening, she pulled up some garlic chive seedlings and gave them to me to replant. So with these new additions, I’d have a range of four different herbs in all. I hoped to buy cilantro as well, so that I could make fresh salsa all summer (tomatoes seem way beyond my agricultural capabilities at this point, not to mention jalapeno peppers, but I can buy those at our local farmers’ market), but the nursery didn’t have any cilantro, so I returned home with the other three.

The rest of the day was busy with other responsibilities, but the next afternoon I found time to put them into the ground. I patted down the earth around them, watered them, and hoped for the best. Like a parent with a sleeping newborn, I went outside several times over the next 24 hours to check on them. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but they looked fine to me: stalwart, with good coloring and no visible predators.

Tuesday night I roasted potatoes and tossed them with snippets of my herbs. Wednesday night, I used my herbal pickings in a pasta dish. Thursday I whirled handfuls of herbs in the food processor along with cottage cheese and sour cream and used them as a dip to serve with blanched broccoli.

My sister is a talented gardener who grows all kinds of vegetables. Years of family history have led me to believe that if she can do that, I probably can’t. But maybe herbs, I can manage. Maybe not actual vegetables; maybe I can’t actually produce a whole salad, but flavorings? That seems about my speed.

As of now, the plants seem healthy, though as I remind myself, they are really still the very same plants I brought home from the nursery or from Jane’s house. I can’t really take credit yet. But give me some time. By next month, I’m optimistic enough to think I’ll be producing herbs in abundant supplies and beautifully flavoring every dish in sight. With enough time, and thyme, who knows what I can accomplish.

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