Friday, May 30, 2008

Planting a Window Box Herb Garden

One of the best ways to start learning about herbs is to grow them. You just have to get your hands dirty. A window box is a wonderful way to begin the introduction to plants that will last a lifetime.

When you grow an herb, you get an opportunity to live and learn from it. You watch the seedling emerge through the soil, watch the plant expand with new growth, smell the flowers as they bloom and rest with the plant during the colder months. You get to know the herb in a way that connects you to the rhythms and cycles of the earth and the individual plant. Experiencing living herbs best connects us to the energy and vitality that the plants offer.

Of course the pleasurable side-effect of growing a window box herb garden is that you get to have the green goodness of the plants close at hand for adding a pinch of this to recipes, a snipping of that for tea, and a whiff of all of them for inspiration. The “Fun with Herbs” class that I teach begins in the early and cold days of March, so the first class is always dedicated to planting an indoor window box. It’s always a crowd pleaser and many students have commented that the overwhelming herbal aromas, scent of the soil, and textures of the young plants are just the right blast of green to kick start the spring season.

In class, we focus on only a few plants at a time rather than a multitude. Like a good friend, it takes a while to get to know each one so we take a fewer but more exhaustive approach to learning. For each herb that we plant, I’ve created a brief data sheet that discusses some of the folklore, identification, cultivation, harvest methods, and uses (including recipes). You can click on the plant links below to download the pdf of each. There is also a planting resource data sheet that includes planting zones, a list of mail order seed & plant companies as well as and some local (to southern NH) nurseries and garden centers that I’ve found to be reputable.

The first plant we get to know is basil, a symbol of love and good wishes. Basil, a tender annual, is one of those plants whose fragrance calls to you with seductive allure. Ah, Basil, the king of herbs. Next we get an introduction to thyme, a symbol of courage, vigor and strength. This tender perennial is a standard in kitchens all over the world where many a cook has said “when it doubt use thyme”. The third herb we meet is rosemary, a symbol of love and remembrance. Rosemary is a tender woody perennial whose pine-like needles add a distinctive scent or flavor to many herbal combinations. Rosemary holds a special place in my heart and I have placed a sprig of it with both my grandmother and father when they left this world, to express my love and unending memory of them in my life.

So, dig in and plant your own window box herb garden. You may find some great friendships with plants that you didn’t expect but that you’re sure to appreciate.

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