Cooking with Kay: Need a little parsley? Dill?

By Kay Harrod Published:

We have plus and minus weather going on, as I call it. Those plus days send us rushing outside and make us want to plant everything we can and those minus days make us wish we hadn’t.

Having recently spent time with my gardeners extraordinaire – you know that duo of nationally renowned landscape designer Jon Carloftis and his former teacher U.K. horticulturist Sharon Bale – I am filled with ideas on how to incorporate food items into my yard.

I don’t have a vegetable garden; no tools to make one, like a roto-tiller in particular. But I do have lots of flower beds and Jon with his creativity has given me some ideas.

Some of my herbs are already growing outside my back door in large concrete planters, leftover from last year. I love having them there and being able to go from my kitchen with a pair of scissors and sniping what I need for the recipe I am making. 

I recently made an assessment of what I like to use in the summer and what will become my additions this year to my ones already growing in the planters. I encourage you to take a little time to do the same.

Grow your own

Growing your own herbs is so much cheaper than buying them, plus as I said they are ready when you are, with no running to buy them at the store.

While a bunch of flat leaf parsley may cost almost $2 at the grocery and may be way more than you need at the time, a whole plant can be purchased for about that much. I normally put in two plants of basil and parsley because I use both a lot in my summer cooking.

This year I am adding dill, cilantro, tarragon, and more chives to my two varieties of sage, thyme, rosemary and oregano which remained with me throughout this winter.

My aromatics of spearmint and lavender are doing well and after a rain, a breeze brings their fragrance right in the kitchen window.

Local garden centers have herbs in abundance right now and the sooner you plant them, the quicker you will reap the reward.

As for those vegetables, that’s where Jon and Sharon have inspired me. When I was at the Arboretum at U.K. with them a couple of weeks ago, I noticed flower beds edged in lettuces. Jon told me that keeping them closer to things you are tending, such as your flowers, provide both interest to your gardens and he believes you are more likely to cut from them more often and keep them growing.

That also goes for chard and kale. The chard with its beautiful red stems and red-veined, deep green leaves is beautiful as an accent to flowers. The kale’s dark color also adds interest. 

And as Jon says if they get too big and turn bitter, they are lovely leaves to add to flower arrangements.

So you guessed it, I am purchasing lettuces to border several of my little gardens.

Then there are those who live in apartments or patio homes and don’t feel they have the outdoor space to accommodate herb or flower beds.

‘Think big pots’

Think big pots and stuff them full. Just put taller herbs like dill and basil in the center and those that cascade like thyme and oregano on the outer edges. You can even use lettuces, like oakleaf and baby Bibb in potted flower arrangements.

And don’t forget large pots for vegetables. While at a local  store recently, a worker in the greenhouse pointed out these big, handsome planters of cherry tomatoes and bush cucumbers with a heavy wrought iron trellis anchored inside the pots. 

She said she thought they were one of the best deals the garden center had. I bought two and plan to center them in my small beds of herbs and lettuces. 

Who says Mrs. McGregor can’t have a garden?

Jon even offered an inexpensive way to protect a yard garden. He used the technique last year in the garden he and Sharon did at the Arboretum for Country Living Magazine.

If like farmer McGregor you have those pesky rabbits that enjoy feeding on newly planted tender leaves, Jon suggests taking tobacco sticks and placing them in the ground about three feet apart. Then take finely woven wire – like screening – and attach it to the sticks with a staple gun. 

You basically need tobacco sticks, a hammer or mallet, the wire, cutters and a staple gun. He said softer ground after a day of rain provides easier placement of the sticks.

I have rabbit and all his relatives hanging out in my yard right now. It’s going to be interesting to me to see how close they will come to the house, when I set out my lettuces that won’t have one of Jon’s fences to protect them.

Mint time is here

The flavorful mint which is the centerpiece for a Mint Julep is about as easily grown as anything on the planet and extremely hardy. Once you plant it you’ll never have to do it again.

There are many varieties of mint, but my favorite is the spearmint with its ruffled edge. 

Like rabbits, mint multiplies, so plant it somewhere it can either be contained or in an area like I have where you don’t mind its proliferation. It likes shade and doesn’t mind damp soil; it does  well in the sun, it just doesn’t seem to last as long.

There was a time in my youth when at supper time the ice tea in our glasses always had a sprig of mint. It was also served in the evening when we sat outside and enjoyed visiting with the neighbors.

Mother would also take leaves and put them in ice trays and freeze water around them.

There was something special about that sweet tea, filled with those large ice cubes, a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint that made something so ordinary truly extraordinary and refreshing.

Summer was never personified as it was with a pitcher of homemade lemonade where sprigs of mint floated in it.

Mint also makes a fragrant and lovely garnish when added to a bowl of fruit. In Mediterranean cultures it is used in many dishes and especially with lamb.

As for that mint for the julep, I recommend steeping several sprigs in the simple syrup you make – a cup of water to a cup of sugar – simmered for five minutes on medium low heat.

Once you pour the syrup into a jar or container to store, remove the mint.

To reinforce the aroma of the mint on the julep class, be sure to take a leaf or two and go around the lip of the glass. This technique along with the sprig of mint you put in the julep will definitely reinforce its fragrance on the drink.

Something fun for kids

If you have young children or grandchildren, pumpkins sure are fun to grow. Yes, they form a vine, but just plant them somewhere you don’t mind the vine taking over.

I planted some seeds one year next to some shrubs and the vines grew all over the shrubs and the pumpkins seemed to hide at the bases.

This year, I am headed toward the fence to see how the pumpkins do.

Plant them early because they need all the growing season they can have to develop into mature, nice-size pumpkins. But be sure to wait until after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has  warmed.

What will be more fun for kids than growing their own jack-o-lanterns?  Again, seeds don’t cost much and you’ll get a big bang for your buck.

Let me hear about your creative summer gardening so I can pass along the fun to our readers:

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