How Does Your Garden Grow? – by Charlotte Canelli

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts.  Read Charlotte’s column in the May 29, 2014 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

As a very young child, I played outside in every season (as children of past generations did). In the 50s and 60s, our parents said goodbye to us on a summer day and simply hoped that we would show up for lunch and dinner. This was a childhood in a small city: tennis and swimming lessons, backyard croquet, day camp in the California foothills parks.

Then came my teen years when I developed allergies to grass and tree pollens that made outdoor living virtually impossible for me from spring through summer. I was a miserable, sniffling mess for four months of every year – either in complete misery or groggy from allergy medications (none of the daytime use prescriptions had been invented yet).
As an adult, my allergies accompanied me to New England where I escaped and retreated to air conditioned classrooms, offices, and apartments. The pollen cycle was a bit delayed in Massachusetts and Connecticut and I gave up on enjoying the outdoors during late spring and summer through mid-July. For me, outdoor living was restricted and gardening was taboo. I couldn’t enjoy it and never realized the glories outside of my windows, much less getting to know them.

Later in life, my allergy sensitivities waned and now they have all but disappeared. In recent years, I have discovered the beauty of gardening. Slowly, I have learned how to plant bountiful herb gardens and am practicing pruning, nurturing and feeding everything in my gardens.

This year especially, I’ve found some incredible local nurseries and am learning the names of perennials and annuals that I’ve just come to love. I’ve also determined that there is one drawback to my new hobby. That is that I’ve gotten a bit carried away. I have a plethora of a variety of herbs that might just overrun the planters, porches and pots. I’ve also spent a small fortune.

I guess I’ll need to harvest them all summer long and my friends and coworkers should be content with my overabundance. That said, I’m sure I’ll find wonderful ways to cook with them, store them, and turn them into gifts.

This book might have been written with me in mind: “Herb Gardening For Dummies” (revised in 2011) by Karen David Cutler, Kathleen Fisher and Suzanne DeJohn, all editors of the National Gardening Association. There are chapters on harvesting and preserving herbs, using them not only in culinary creations, but also for healing and soothing. A chapter titled “Ten Gifts To Make From Herbs You Grow” might be useful for me. Another is “Herb Gardening From the Ground Up: Everything You Need to Know About Growing Your Favorite Herbs” (2012) by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan. “Better Homes and Gardens Herb Gardening” (2012) is an updated version by one of the most-trusted publishers. Another must for transplanted New England gardeners, which many of us are, is “Northeast Fruit and Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Eat the Best Edibles for Northeast Gardens” (2012) by Charles Nardozzi.

Herbs are the heart of a kitchen garden just steps from your door. “Grow, Cook, Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Kitchen Gardening, Including 50 Recipes, Plus Harvesting and Storage Tips” (2012) by Willi Galloway includes recipes and ideas for the herbs that you grow. With many excellent farmers’ markets and grocery stores like Whole Foods in our vicinity, we can easily pick up some healthy choices for experimenting with interesting produce. Having a variety of herbs handy makes it all the more fun. It’s frustrating to buy a package of basil, sage, mint or chives and toss it out when it isn’t used fast enough. When you have it growing in your backyard or on your porch, it only takes a few sprigs to use in cooking or beautify a dinner plate. Other suggestions are “The Kitchen Garden Book” (2012) by Richard Bird with photography by Jonathan Buckley and “The Beautiful Edible Garden: Design a Stylish Outdoor Space Using Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs” (2013). Authors Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner suggest planting a border of lettuces along a flower garden – all ideas that expand your gardening space.

I learned a few years ago that some backyard bunnies loved my parsley, dill and cilantro. I’ve watched the entire plant disappear overnight. Planting these herbs on the deck or in railing boxes keeps them away from cute and furry pests and leaves some for us to enjoy. “Grow Your Own in Pots: With 30 Step-by-Step Projects” (2013) by Kay Maguire includes ideas like growing your tomatoes with basil in the same pot and planting edible flowers.

Of course, reading cookbooks is my passion. One of my favorites that includes lots of creations using herbs is “The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods” (2012) by Sara Forte. Her recipes are full of uses of fresh herbs. Spiced Sweet Potato Wedges and Roasted Tomato Soup are some examples. “Bountiful: Recipes Inspired By Our Garden” (2013) by Todd Porter and Diane Cu and “Cooking with Herbs: 50 Simple Recipes for Fresh Flavor” (2013) by Lynn Alley also include great combinations of for using fresh garden herbs.
Another of my favorite reading cookbooks is “Vegetable Literacy” (2013) by restaurant chef Deborah Madison. She explores all the vegetable families, including herbs and the book also contains 300 recipes. She inserts a whole chapter on herbs that are in the mint family. Who knew that basil, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme have so much in common with anise and mint? Deborah Madison writes that there is nothing like cutting a leaf right from the plant. She admits that cooks might use too much oregano or thyme in a week before the herbs in the store-bought plastic clamshell container dry up or blacken. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Debora Robertson has written “Gifts from the Garden: 100 Gorgeous Homegrown Presents” (2013). Who wouldn’t love a rose and chamomile bubble bath or a shower with a spiced body scrub right from the garden – especially after a hard day at weeding, planting, and tending to plants on your deck or in your backyard or community garden. For help finding or reserving these books in the Minuteman Library catalog, be sure to call or visit the library, 781-769-0200.

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