26 Sep 2009

Herb Garden (Part 2)

My original herb garden situated along a narrow stretch of land between my back garden fence and the cul-de-sac (and which I now purely keep for decorative purposes) testifies of the mint take-over. Chives have been relegated to the sides of the border, while sage has completely disappeared. Thyme and marjoram didn’t fare too well from the beginning either, and my once beautifully thriving rosemary bush gave up the ghost 3 years ago after being assaulted by next door’s dogs and their bolshie owner, and by strong winter winds…

Proud of my parterre of lavender, mint, chive and rosa canina!

Meanwhile that little patch of greenery has become an interesting ecosystem, harnessing bees (a welcome attraction as bees are on a steep decline) and butterflies. Meanwhile a wild rosa canina has developed over the years into an imposing and robust bush, delivering a splattering of white single roses in spring and guarding the back gate.

A riot of purple blooms!

There is also a lavender bush which, despite not looking like much in winter, keeps its best for the summer when it turns into a riot of purple blooms. My secret: to trim back all the summer shoots the following March, and clear up any dead branches in the process. You have to be a bit ruthless with lavender (and rosemary, come to think of it), otherwise they will turn to wood and lose their bushiness and blossoms.

Lavender is considered an aromatic herb by a wide cross-section of the cooking fraternity, although I am not an aficionada. Culinary applications include honey, infusions, ice creams, and as a bouquet garni to flavour pork roasts and other white meats. For a touch of unabashed luxury, lavender-flavoured salt is available from Harvey Nichols (or just blend your own)…

Arachnid friend on the bay leaf

Bay leaf is another treasure of mine. I trim a couple of branches at a time, rinse them carefully, pat them dry and then let them dry undisturbed on the work-top, flat on a clean kitchen towel for a couple of weeks. Then using the secateurs I separate each leaf from their twig and put the leaves away in a tin, together with the twigs and bits of branch.

Bay leaf flavours meat gravies beautifully, and I infuse tomato sauces with it. My ready stock means I use it quite liberally, throwing a leaf or two into the cooking water of rice or pasta. Bay leaf twigs are also incredibly flagrant and a good substitute for the leaves.

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