Thursday, May 22, 2014

Homegrown Garden Glamour at Afternoon Tea: How to Grow a Summer Herb Garden

My scheduled talk, “How to Grow a Summer Herb Garden” for the United Way of Great Mercer County (UWGMC) has been moved to the garden!

Originally planned to be held in the pretty pink room of the Victorian home that is now Laurie House (at Chauncey Hotel & Conference Center), the crackerjack professional of United Way of Mercer County, Jodi Inverso, Vice President Brand Management & Communications, told me the event was sold out.

Wonderful news for a spring afternoon tea, herb talk, and potting-up demo.

Shortly thereafter, Jodi wrote that in order to accommodate more guests and the burgeoning demand, they moved the event to a beautiful tent near the lake, in the gardens.

It doesn’t get much better, does it?

Except to learn the invite read, “Back by Popular Demand.”
Reading that I couldn’t help feel Sally Field channeling her “You like me. You really like me!” speech exclamation.

In fact, everything about this invitation is screams lovely: Butterflies, herbs, scones, afternoon tea, and gardens.
And the honor of autographing my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook for the garden guests…

It’s all about Building Bridges

While the afternoon tea’s garden guests find their way down the garden path to build a bridge to a healthy, tasty, herb lifestyle, this is a benefit, after all, with the ticket price and 10% of my book sales going to the Mercer County United Way’s Summer Bridge program.

Jodi wrote me to explain. “The money raised at this event is going toward a Summer Bridge program. This is a summer reading and literacy program with students (Age5- 6) who are English Language Learners (ELL) and entering 1st grade in September. The purpose of the program is to avoid the growing disparity and gaps in literacy that occurs between ELL children when compared with their counterparts especially during the summer months when there is no exposure to structured learning. This program will help children maintain and/or strengthen their school year academic learning, specifically reading skills

How to Grow a Summer Herb Garden

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about one of the plant world’s most fascinating topics. 

Herbs possess a compelling and sometimes mysterious history.
From potions to elixirs to hallucinogens to religious ceremonies, herbs play a leading role.

Their use in culinary, medical and spiritual applications is widespread but more often misunderstood and in my humble opinion, herbs are not used frequently enough.

Crops in Pots

I will talk about how herbs can be used in grilling, cooking and cocktails.

I will share how it is that herb plants are easily grown and add subtle flavor, nutrition and visual punch to most every dish.

I will show how to pot up herbs, and to create a Summer Herbal Composition utilizing the “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller” guide to creating beguiling container and windowsill plantings that are beautiful to look at, while adding pizzazz to the menu.  

I will also talk about growing and nurturing an herb garden.

The homegrown team at UWGMC secured the following herbs to sell at the afternoon Tea and Herb talk:

Nufar Basil

Triple Curled Parsley

Greek Oregano

Garlic Chive


Summer Thyme

Santo Cilantro

Fernleaf Dill

Their thoughtful herb selection was in part determined by the timing of the Herb talk.  Jodi told me the team figured that guests might have already planted their more commonly used herbs so they looked to get ones to sell that might not be as well known.

For example, most summer herb gardens include the “King of Herbs:” Basil, most frequently, Genovese Basil or Common Basil Ocimum basilicum ‘Genovese.’  
Genovese Basil, photo courtesy of Sweet Valley Herbs

The Nufar Basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Nufar F1 Hybrid’ for sale at the UWGMC Herb event is a wilt resistant variety of Sweet Basil. 
It is said to have a bit more anise or licorice, peppery, minty flavor.  The Nufar grows to two feet and the leaves are correspondingly, very big.  
Nufar Basil, photo courtesy of Sweet Valley Herbs

Both types are wonderful for pesto. 

Parsley is a must-have herb in the garden.  It’s a culinary draft workhorse used in a plethora of recipes.
Most recognize it as a garnish. 
While it’s true that a sprig placed just so on the plate like a flower behind the ear adds romance and drama, remember that the herb is also nutritious, flavorful and aromatic – adding taste to stews, sauces, soups, cocktails, egg dishes, and pesto, too.
Face it; everything tastes better with cheese and blended!

There are three types of parsley and the two most common ones are: 
Curled Leaf (Petroselinum crispum)   
Curled Leaf Parsley, photo courtesy Eden Brother

and Flat Leaf (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum).

Flat Leaf Parsely, photo courtesy Garden Shop Telegraph, Co.UK

Flat Leaf or Italian parsley is considered more robust.  
See the difference: Flat Leaf Parsely (L) & Curled Leaf Parsely (R)

Parsley is related to carrots, parsnips, celery fennel and dill.

The Triple Curled Parsley that is to be featured at the Summer Herb Garden Tea Party is heat tolerant with a pleasant flavor, and sporting a croptop that would make Shirley Temple blush, it is the prettiest of the parsleys. 

The featured Santo Cilantro is a popular, versatile, “global” fresh herb grown for the leaves (cilantro) and the edible seeds (Coriander). The raw, fresh, flowers of Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) are also edible and add to the plating of a favorite dish.  

Fernleaf Dill is a rather diminutive herb that like a good wine – goes with just about everything, including pickling. 
Because its feathery leaves are so attractive and lush it is also a container garden favorite marking it as a composition ornamental.   
Fernleaf Dill, photo courtesy Pantry Garden 

We Love it in our herb garden not only for its culinary grace but also because it is a “butterfly hotel.” 

The glamorous Swallowtail butterfly take up summer residence in dill. 
Plant enough for both of you.  
Butterfly Hotel, photo courtesy PantryGarden


An herb-shopping tip: Get there early, select and purchase. No deliberating.

From my experience - whether it was at the BBG Annual Plant Sale or last week’s trip to a Garden State nursery for garden clients Peter & B, and Maria, there was almost a clash of the “Herbies!”  A food fight of sorts. 

Here, it was a smack-down with local Master Gardeners who were grabbing – er – scouring - the nursery for their own plant sale.  Like locusts, they wrested the last of the basil and rosemary.  I had to post "Sold" signs to keep their thymey-fingers off!

Looking forward to a lovely afternoon talking about how to plant a summer herb garden.

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