one was more surprised than I was when my husband and I planted our
first vegetable garden a couple of years ago. Long known among friends
and family as The Woman Who Kills Plants (even the supposedly
hard-to-kill ones), I found that I like gardening outdoors much more
than I like tending houseplants, and much to our surprise, we ended up
with a steady stream of lettuce, zucchini, and peppers all during that first summer (the tomatoes are another story for another day).
Last year, encouraged by our modest success with the veggies, we expanded our efforts to include an herb garden. In a four-by-four raised bed, we planted two kinds of basil (Italian and Thai), mint, lavender, rosemary, parsley, and cilantro. I chose my plants to complement my cooking style, and that turned out to be a good plan.
The Italian basil yielded lots of leaves for pesto and tomato sauces, the Thai basil encouraged me to make Thai basil chicken throughout the summer, and the rosemary was the perfect note for grilled pork tenderloin or pan-roasted potatoes. And while I didn't exactly cook with the mint very much, it provided the perfect excuse to make mojitos every weekend.
Not everything was a huge success. The cilantro, sadly, was a bit of a bust, and I might leave it off this year's team roster; neither did my parsley win any prizes (a shame, because I throw it in almost everything when I cook). I was hoping to use the lavender in some homemade soap, but I never got around to it. The real reward to growing lavender is its magnificent fragrance - I found it soothing to come home at the end of a workday and wander out into my heavenly scented backyard.
Herbs are a great choice if you're a budding gardener (no pun intended, honestly) - they're easy to grow, and they don't take up nearly as much room as vegetables. In fact, you don't even have to grow them outdoors, which is great if you happen to live in an apartment or condo. You can grow many herbs in pots in a window where they'll get at least partial sun, and if your pots are pretty, your herbs will make a nice table arrangement, too.
If you have a small deck, they'll be very happy out there as well. If you do venture outside into the yard, you won't need to do much, if any, soil preparation because most herbs grow as easily as weeds (in fact, be careful where you plant your mint - it's invasive and will take over the world if you don't keep up with it).
It's time to plant; if you like to cook, consider an herb garden. I'm definitely going with the basil again this year, the mint, lavender, and rosemary are already underway, and I think I might add some sage and thyme to the mix. There's really no excuse for not having an herb garden: they don't have to take up a lot of room, they'll make your house or your yard smell great, and they'll inspire your cooking.
And once that mint starts coming in, here's one way to enjoy it:
Mojito (yields one drink)
- 6 or 7 fresh mint leaves
- 1 ounce of simple syrup (see note)
- 2 ounces white rum
- Club soda
- Fresh lime
- Put the mint leaves, a wedge of lime, and the simple syrup into a tall glass. Break up the mint leaves and lime with a muddler
- Add rum.
- Add ice cubes and fill the glass with club soda; stir gently.
- Garnish with some fresh mint and another slice of lime if desired.