Savoring Summer: Harvesting and Drying The Garden’s Finest Herbal Treasures…

August 19th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Drying Herbs in the Stairwell

One of the great pleasures of living in New England is, of course, the seasons. The natural world operates on a distinct schedule here, and all life flows along with it at a steady pace. On these late August days, the song of the hermit thrush —an ever-present twilight melody enjoyed throughout summer— begins to fade as flocks of songbirds gather for migration before the full moon. And the sun, shifting position and setting earlier each day on the horizon, glimmers low and gold in the trees now. Although the noontime hours of late summer can be quite hot, and evenings are still spent bare-shouldered, it won’t be long before downy quilts and lavender-scented sweaters are pulled from closet shelves.

August is a month of preserving; of putting up and setting things by. Jars of jam and pickled produce form neat rows in the cupboards, and my freezer is packed wall-to-wall with summertime’s bounty. This is the time of year when my voluptuous herb garden literally spills from its neatly-edged confines. Borders? Fiddle-dee-dee, the mint seems to say, as it runs wildly wherever it may. But I never mind a bit of excess in the garden -it’s so nice to have plenty to spare. Mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender and lemon verbena; their scents perfume my fingers and fill the cellar stairwell with beautiful fragrance. …

Freshly-harvested basil – Tied with twine for drying…

Basil and Mint Bundles

With dry air and scant rain, August is a great month to begin harvesting and drying herbs for winter. In the coming months, I will be grateful for a hint of summertime’s pleasures in warm cups of tea and fragrant breakfast scones. Drying herbs is simple and economical; an easy way to trim your monthly grocery budget and add flavor to daily meals. Have a look at the price of dried, organic basil next time you visit a grocery store. If you need a bit of convincing before bundling up the harvest and making room in your rafters, that little bit of sticker-shock should do the trick.

I grow herbs in my potager amongst the vegetables, on my terrace in containers, and throughout the ornamental gardens as well. Once the morning dew has dried —usually by 10am— I head outside with harvest baskets to gather whatever tempts my eye. Some days, I focus on aromatic herbs for cooking; including basil, rosemary, thyme and mint. But I also keep other uses in mind; gathering lavender, bergamot and hyssop for scenting oils, soaps, and sachets. Dried bundles of artemisia, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod and other herbs are also useful for wreaths, swags and dried flower arrangements. Once the cellar stairwell and loft are filled —mostly with herbs for teas and cooking— I string clothesline in my dry cellar to hang bunches of herbs, protecting them from dust with loose paper bag ‘hoods’…

Herbs in the Potager

Keep potted herbs attractive by frequently pruning. More than you need? Try drying bundles to use in recipes —including soup and salad dressing— throughout the winter…

Once I’ve collected herbs, I spread them out on the terrace and pick them over; stripping lower leaves and forming small bundles. I like to use natural twine to tie the herbs together, but I will use recycled rubber-bands as well; particularly for large bouquets of flowering herbs. Once bundled up, I hang the herbs in a dry, dark place. When they have completely dry-cured, I will strip the leaves from the stems and store the herbs in tightly sealed jars (clear is fine for closed cupboards – use dark glass if storing herbs in brightly-lit spaces). Although I try to harvest most culinary herbs before flowering —for best flavor— I do allow some herbs to blossom, in order to provide pollen for bees and other beneficial insects in my garden. Flowering herbs make great companion plants in the potager…

Bundles of herbs are picked over and thinned, then bound together with twine…

Harvesting Herbs in Late Morning, After the Dew Has Throughly Dried

Sorting and Bundling Herbs in My Kitchen

Some sage is left to flower in the potager. Other plants are kept tightly pruned through regular harvests…

Rosemary is a beautiful, as well as a useful herb. I like keeping aromatic herbs near my door, where I brush against them as I come and go. Here, I can quickly snip bits to flavor teas, salad dressings or garnish cocktails…

And as wonderful as dried herbs are in winter, there’s nothing quite like the flavor of fresh rosemary and basil —is there? I keep pots of herbs just outside my kitchen door all summer long, where I can easily access them if I need to add a sprig to a special sauce or evening cocktail. Come late autumn, I will bring the potted rosemary inside to my windowsill, and in late September, I will begin sowing flats of basil to grow indoors beneath lights.

Yes, I enjoy thinking ahead to the coming seasons, but I’ve never been much of a pleasure-delayer at heart. I believe that being prepared for the future should never detract from the importance of the present moment. From lemon-mint sun tea and caprese salad with fresh basil at lunchtime to ice-cold mojitos and herb-infused ice cream enjoyed by the light of the moon; savor the rich tastes and sweet smells of the season while you can…

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea (Click Here for Post and Recipe)

Mentha piperita (Peppermint flowering in the garden)

Cuban Mint Julep (aka the mojito) – Click here for recipe and story

Some great herb gardening resources to give as gifts, add to a wish-list or purchase for your own horticultural and culinary bookshelves…

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Herbal Kitchen by Jerry Traunfeld

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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The Art of French Vegetable Gardening in Honor of La Fête Nationale…

July 14th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

A Country-Casual Potager from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones with photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer

A Formal French Garden of Culinary Herbs, Fruits and Vegetables featured in The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (image ⓒ Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer)

In remembering La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day), my attention has turned to the French and their spectacularly stylish potagers. Louisa Jones’ The Art of French Vegetable Gardening, with extraordinary photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer, was given to me as a gift nearly ten years ago. Although it is currently out-of-print, to this day it remains one of the most inspirational books on kitchen garden design that I have ever seen. The French have an instinctive way with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, designing beautiful, edible gardens that are so much more than practical. When planning my own kitchen garden, my goal was to create a welcoming place, where I would eagerly stroll on a hot summer day. By luring frequent visits, a garden is likely to remain well-tended, with weeding and watering chores becoming part of the daily routine. If you can find a copy of Jones’ book, I highly recommend it.

Companion planting with edible flowers and herbs is a great way to make the kitchen garden attractive both to beneficial insects and human visitors alike. Add a bench or a table to encourage prolonged visits or impromptu meals in the potager. Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead’s stunning Gardening with Herbs is another favorite title, absolutely bursting with European edible-garden style. One of my favorite images from the book, the thyme seat shown below, is but one of the book’s many great ideas for luring guests to the potager. Great kitchen garden design need not be expensive, but it does take a bit of creative thinking and resourcefulness. Keep on the look-out for recyclable furniture and containers to repurpose, or if you are particularly ambitious and crafty, visit Ana White’s Knock-Off Wood for some fantastic outdoor furniture plans and get to work building your own raised beds, planters and benches. I find my kitchen garden always performs best and is enjoyed to it’s fullest potential, when I am spending a great deal of time there. A beautifully designed space makes that easy to do…

A Pretty Destination Makes Everyday Gardening Chores a Pleasure. Inspiration from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

Inspirational Places Lure Visitors into the Garden with a Place to Rest and Enjoy a Drink or an Alfresco Meal…

Fruit Trees, Arbors and Aromatic, Clipped Hedges Lend Structure to French Kitchen Gardens, While Ever Changing Arrangements of Pretty Pots and Herbs add Artful Accents. Images above ⓒ Le Scanff & Mayer from Louisa Jone’s beautiful, The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

An Aromatic Thyme Seat – Design Featured in Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

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The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones
-out of print but available used-

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Nasturtium Seat in My Potager ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs of Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other photography excerpts included in review are copyright as noted and linked below the images.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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