This week I've made the Tuesdays With Dorie recipe early (more on that in a future post.) The Pizza Rustica tart used 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley in the filling. That's not a lot, but it added a welcome note of freshness to the very rich filling. Would you buy a whole bunch of parsley at the store for just 2 tablespoons? I bet a lot of TWD'ers will be tempted to skip it. Where did my parsley come from? Just steps from the back door.
This got me thinking about the plants that hung in there with me through the winter months. No, I'm not talking about houseplants. I'm talking about herbs. Are they in your garden? They should be. Why? Glad you asked.
1. They're easy to grow. Most will be happy with full to part-sun, well-drained soil and room to spread out.
2. Having herbs outside will improve your cooking, opening you up to a new world of possibilities. Need a marinade for chicken? Mix olive oil with a little lemon juice, garlic, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Grill that baby up. Want a new spin on garlic bread? Add some fresh oregano to your butter mixture. You'll be glad you did. Bored with your veggies? Add thyme to cooked carrots, or mint to peas, or rosemary to a potato gratin. Instant interest.
3. Herbs are out there all year round. In my sheltered backyard in central Maryland, most of the perennial herbs are useable through most of the winter. Rosemary, thyme, parsley and sage are all pretty hardy. Will your neighbors think you're insane if you're harvesting sprigs of rosemary in a snowstorm? Probably. But you'll be glad when you take that first bite of herb focaccia.
4. They're economical. One herb plant will grow larger every year. I've got plants that have been in my yard for 5 or 6 years. Plus, have you seen the price of fresh herbs at the grocery store? Yikes!
Here are 6 herbs that will overwinter. All, except parsley, are perennials. These pictures were taken in late March.
This is an easy herb to grow. It tolerates partial shade and it likes to stay moist. It's a biannual, which means that it grows for two years and then dies. I've actually had it last longer than that, but it gets bitter as it gets older. This sometimes dies over the winter, but this year it was fine. I admit that I came out a few times to find it totally wilted. I thought it was dead for sure. But it came back.
Oregano loves the sun. Put it in the sunniest spot you have, and make sure there's good drainage. Oregano is a perennial, so it'll come back every year. When you buy it, make sure that your plant has a good smell. Some species of oregano don't have much scent. This plant will benefit from a sheltered spot and a nice layer of mulch over it's roots.
Rosemary likes full sun and good drainage too. But rosemary is actually a perennial shrub. You'll buy this cute little plant at the garden center and sparingly snip leaves the first year. Then, it'll wake up in spring and, overnight, it'll be this huge plant literally taking over the bed, smothering its neighbors. By the end of the summer, you'll be trying to figure out where to move this towering behemoth. I usually lose a couple of branches to winter each year, but the main plant just keeps coming back for more.
Chives are part of the Allium family (onions, garlic, shallots). They will multiply every year with very little input from you. They last well into the winter, but a heavy coating of snow will do them in. Luckily, they are one of the first things to poke out of the ground in spring. Plus, in late spring they get cute little pink pom-pons on top of their stalks. Do yourself a favor and cut these off before they dry. Otherwise, the wind will spread them around the yard and you'll find them growing between the cracks in the sidewalk. (Really. Sigh.)
I know you're not supposed to play favorites, but I love thyme. There are lots of options. There's lemon thyme, variegated thyme, creeping thyme, French and English thyme. There's even wooly thyme, but you can't cook with it. (It's fuzzy.) Once it's a year or two old, thyme benefits from hard pruning (that means cut the hell out of it), since it gets woody. The new shoots are the ones to cook with. Plus, it's a bit of a garden bully, spreading out to fill in its bed. But if you really want to talk bullies, let's talk about:
This is a great herb to have on hand. I mean, who doesn't like the idea of mojitos on demand? But mint is a weed. Really. I planted mine in a bed that's cut off from the rest of the yard by bricks and a sidewalk, and I still find creepers in the lawn. I cut mine down to the ground every spring and it always comes back. Seriously, it's like the zombie-plant apocalypse in my backyard. Plant your mint in a big pot and inspect it during the summer. It'll be putting out tendrils, just trying to escape. Hack them off and make yourself a drink.
I hope you'll try a couple of these in your garden or patio this year. Let me know how it goes.