Tuesday, June 4, 2013

That herbal time of year

I have said before that my annual herb-planting ritual embodies the triumph of hope over experience, as Samuel Johnson said about second marriages. But every year it seems my herbs grow a little better, and I have a good feeling about harvest season ’13 so far.

It’s only been four days since I bought them and three since I transplanted them from small plastic pots into large planters, but to me, they look really happy and healthy in their new home on our deck. The hot sunny weather last weekend followed by warm rain and high humidity yesterday might have been just what they needed to get off to a flourishing start.

It also helps that completely by chance, I found some particularly robust seedlings with which to begin this year’s aspirational green thumb project. For the past two years, I’ve gone the high-end route and purchased my seedlings at upscale nurseries with room after room of plants, shrubs, bushes, blossoms, and trees of all kinds. This year, the obligatory nursery stop sat on my To Do list for three weekends in a row. Then, after taking the dog to the vet one morning, I pulled into the Kmart parking lot with the plan of picking up some athletic socks and was surprised to see several racks of plants in front of the store. “Vegetables and herbs!” proclaimed a large sign.

Vegetables? At Kmart? It was so counterintuitive. And yet not only did the plants look healthy and well-nourished but there was even a flat containing cilantro, something I’d searched for in vain for the past couple of growing seasons. And since it was Kmart, the price was one-third of what I’d been paying for seedlings at the high-end nurseries. If they failed to thrive, I told myself, at least I wouldn’t have wasted much money.

But in fact they show every sign of prospering. The basil leaves are shiny and large; the cilantro and rosemary are perky. Even the fragile dill seems to be holding its little leaves high in the warm late-spring rain.

Gardening is not one of my talents, but I always tell myself that’s no reason not to give it another try.  It’s good to try something outside your comfort zone, I tell myself. I’ve downsized my expectations over the years, from tomatoes to herbs, and I’ve downsized my herb goals from many to just four varieties. And I think this may be the year that my herb-growing really takes off. The thought of fresh cilantro available whenever I want it makes my mouth water, and the fact that it could be as easy as a stop at Kmart amuses me.

Unlike fruit trees or tomato plants, these seedlings won’t need to yield a large harvest to be useful. A sprinkling of herbs now and then will be enough to make me feel successful. I may not have a green thumb, but if I can have the luxury of rosemary, cilantro, dill, or basil by just walking out to the deck, I’ll feel fruitful indeed.

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