Perennial Herb Garden

Last summer I started a perennial herb garden just on the other side of our orchard.  Although I grew up eating fairly bland food and have cooked that way myself for years, as I get older I realize that I enjoy herbs and spices more than I thought I did!

Perennial herb garden

Here is my Perennial herb garden looking from East to West, with the oregano section in the foreground.  The oregano started out as one small plant, but has spread and will probably fill in the bed this year.

I decided to start a perennial herb garden because I found that buying fresh herbs at the market can be quite expensive.  Even when I find the price reasonable, sometimes I have to buy too much for the recipe I am following and end up wasting some of the herb.  So, I decided to start growing my own.  Of course I will continue to plant basil seeds every year, and red peppers to make my own red pepper flakes, but the perennial herbs seem to take care of themselves.  In fact, it’s rare that they get bugs.  That’s probably because of the aromatic oils in the plants themselves.  My only problem has been with our &%$#(@# vole that insists on tunneling right through my beds!

The rosemary plants look pretty good. They are fairly drought tolerant and have virtually no pests, but our honeybees will absolutely maul the rosemary blooms when they appear later this spring,

I grew rosemary for years at our old house and ended up with huge rosemary bushes that weren’t very well tamed.  Our kitty cat used to sleep under the rosemary during the hot summer afternoons and she would come into the house smelling like heaven!  I am just learning to cook more with rosemary, and made a delicious rosemary sourdough cracker a couple of years ago.

I have also tried growing oregano before and really enjoyed learning to make Italian and Mexican dishes with fresh oregano.  However, I have never grown sage or thyme, which I had heard are fairly easy to grow, especially in my 7B/8A climate. In fact, when our new house is finished being built, there is a hill right behind our covered patio where I will be planting thyme, as it is supposed to be a great ground cover.

I decided to locate the garden right behind the log retaining wall that is terracing our orchard because many herbs are deterrents to deer. In fact, my research reveals that deer detest rosemary!  We haven’t had a real problem with deer in our orchard/garden, but I’m all for double purpose plants!

So, I decided to plant the herb garden with the four basics:  oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme. Did I just hear Simon and Garfunkel in my head? 😉  All of these are perennials.  Up in the garden I also have a few other perennial herbs including lemon balm, spearmint and lavender.

Growing lemon balm in a perennial herb gardenThe lemon balm is in a planter right next to the bee hives.  There is an old folk tale that bees will not abandon a hive (swarm) where lemon balm grows, so that is why we planted it there.  We also have another lemon balm plant right next to our bee watering pond, so you can see I put a lot of faith in some folk tales!  We’ll see how it goes this year.  Lemon balm was once called a “poor man’s lemonade” plant, because not very many pioneers had lemon trees, nor could they afford lemons, but lots of people can grow lemon balm!

I am keeping the spearmint plant contained in a large pot.  Spearmint is known to spread willy-nilly and is hard to get rid of once established.  That is why, even though it is crowded, I am keeping it in a pot.  I will find a wider pot for the spearmint later this spring, however, so it can spread it’s roots a bit more. But I must warn you, my plant kept trying to escape this past summer by producing runners down to the ground seemingly overnight!  Of course, these runners are what I snipped and used for my kitchen. I love putting a few bruised spearmint leaves in hot water with a touch of either honey or a few stevia leaves, letting it cool, then drinking it over ice.  Ahhhhh.  So refreshing on a hot summer day! Growing spearmint in a perennial garden

The lavender is located just above the log retaining wall, near the strawberries.  Lavender lavenderinfused water is also yummy, and I just love putting a few dried sprigs in my drawers for a fresh, clean scent.

My dresser drawers, silly.  🙂

When Ray and I went on a farm tour a couple of years ago, we visited a farm that specialized in aromatic herbs including lavender, clary sage and lemon verbena.  In their gift shop they gave away lavender cookies and let me tell you, they were absolutely delicious!  As you can see in the picture to the right, I haven’t cleaned the lavender bed yet, but I will get to that soon.  My husband gave me the beautiful garden armillary for our anniversary several years ago, and my father made the concrete pedestal.  When the lavender is in bloom, this is such a beautiful vignette in the garden. And the armillary actually keeps pretty good time!  Speaking of thyme…

Thyme

This is the thyme, which has spread triple from what I planted last spring.

All of the herbs survived well over the winter, despite all of the wind, rain, hail and snow, and are showing signs of good spring growth.

The sage is  the herb in my garden that looks the most winter worn, but it is showing signs of new spring growth, so I have faith it will do just fine. Ray and I can’t wait to try a new sausage recipe that uses fresh sage. Yummy.

I pinched a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme the other day for one of our new favorite veggie cooking with rosemary and thymedishes:  roasted root vegetables!  All I had on hand this time were potatoes and carrots, which is just fine, but parsnips, rutabaga, even radish works in this dish. Just a couple sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary, chopped fine, salt and pepper, drizzled with olive oil, and the vegetables come out browned and caramelized, seasoned to perfection. What temp to set the oven?  Just about anything from 300 to 425, so you can roast meat or bake bread while roasting these healthy and delicious root vegetables – just knowing that they will cook faster at higher temperatures  MMMMMMMMM…

 

And the cute little kitty reclining on a rock that you may have spied near the sage?  That is in memory of my sweet kitty, Missy, who was queen of our neighborhood for 15 years and will remain forever in our hearts.

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Harvesting Rosemary

As many of you know, we are preparing our home in the Sacramento Valley to sell, so we can eventually move up to our future homestead.  One chore for dear hubby last weekend was to trim the bushes in our backyard to make it look more tidy, which included the huge rosemary bush that was threatening to completely engulf our pool deck and take a plunge!

Dehydrating Rosemary

A few sprigs of rosemary, ready to be stripped of it’s leaves.

Every year at Christmastime I enjoy decorating with rosemary.  It is a beautiful evergreen bush that smells absolutely devine.  In fact, all I usually do is take a few sprigs (about the same amount in the picture above) and tie a beautiful red ribbon around the top!  Simple, beautiful, elegant.   I also enjoy cooking with rosemary, so instead of throwing all the beautiful herb into the compost pile, I decided to dehydrate some to keep on hand.

Dehydrating Rosemary

The final rinse.

The first thing to do with the rosemary is to strip the leaves off it’s woody stem.  If you plan to barbecue, save the stems to use as  shish kabob sticks!  They add a wonderful flavor to meats (excellent on lamb and chicken) and most vegetables. If you are using them right away, you are good to go.  Otherwise soak them for an hour or two before using them, so they don’t burn.

Next, thoroughly rinse the leaves in cold water.  Then rinse again.  It’s amazing how much dirt the rosemary will give up when washed!  I think it holds onto dirt because of the amount of oils held in the leaves.  Anyway, I washed mine four times before I didn’t see dirty/cloudy water anymore!  Preserving Rosemary

Next, spread the leaves out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, or put into your dehydrator.  That’s it.  Seriously!  They dry nicely in a day or two on the parchment paper, or in just a few hours in a dehydrator.  I put mine into a spice bottle, but you can just as easily store yours in a mason jar with a lid.

One of my favorite recipes to use rosemary is in focaccia bread.  The recipe below uses both rosemary, parmesan cheese and sea salt.  It is so good as is, but would also make an excellent pizza crust.  You can cut the bread into strips for dipping into a marinara sauce or perhaps the iconic balsamic vinegar/olive oil mixture.  Or, just eat it plain out of the oven.  If you roll it pretty flat before baking, you can also use the focaccia as a sandwich bread.  So good!

Rosemary Focaccia Bread

Rosemary/Parmesan Cheese Focaccia Bread

ROSEMARY and PARMESAN CHEESE FOCACCIA BREAD

1 tsp raw white sugar               2 cups all-purpose flour

1 packet active dry yeast         2 tbsps olive oil

1/3 cup warm water                 1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp parmesan/ shred           1 tbsp rosemary, roughly chopped

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water.  Let it stand about 10 minutes until it is frothy.  In a large bowl, combine the flour and yeast mixture, adding water 1 tbsp at a time to make a soft dough.  knead briefly on a lightly floured surface.  Place into a lightly oiled large bowl, turn to coat with oil, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until approximately doubled, which takes about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just a few times.  On a lightly oiled cookie sheet, roll or pat the dough out to an approximately 12″ circle.  Brush with 1-2 tbsps of olive oil, sprinkle salt over, then rosemary, then parmesan.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until crust is golden.

Enjoy!

Rosemary plants

Three rooted rosemary plants waiting to be planted near our orchard on the future homestead!

Dearest hubby also found that some of the rosemary had rooted itself, so we pulled these up and put into a bucket of water.  The next time we go up to the future homestead, this rosemary will be planted on a downward slope that is right next to our fruit and nut orchard.  Not only will this be a great start of rosemary on the future homestead for eventual cooking, but deer do not like the scent of Rosemary, and doing this will deter them from the orchard.

Preserving Rosemary

Dehydrated Rosemary

Do you cook with rosemary?  An old friend of mine makes cookies with rosemary – I must remember to get her recipe!

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