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The Reluctant Gardener

    Photo by Alice Gao

    The Reluctant Gardener

    Spring has sprung and so have my chives

    April is National Garden Month and I want to be a better gardener but I know my limitations: geography being one, practical knowledge being another, and time being a third. I suppose I could see those limitations as a challenge, but if truth be told, I have a short attention span which sort of derails any momentum I might build to move past them.

    When we first bought our house 25 years ago, my husband and I were determined to have a thriving garden in our backyard. Not acknowledging our limitations, we planted for a degree of sunlight we simply did not possess. Don’t believe the garden pros when they try to sell you shade-friendly grass…it does not grow, likewise tomatoes or anything else that requires more than the 2 hours of direct sunlight at the height of summer.

    But herbs seemed to do well, so that’s what I grew. Along with the requisite basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and chives (the last three have come back every spring for the past 20 years!) I planted tarragon, savory, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage…ah lovage!, chervil, dill, mint, sage, Thai basil, cilantro, and parsley.

    Far from being a mediocre gardener’s consolation, herbs truly are amazing things! Used in pestos, salsas, compound butters, or marinades, they elevate even the most humble seafood dish with not a whole lot of effort or pretense. The rule is tough herbs like rosemary and thyme should be used more sparingly than tender herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro. Here are some ideas to whet your appetite:

    • Mix some chopped tender herbs like tarragon and chives with softened butter and a good pinch of crunchy sea salt and let it melt over a crispy-skin salmon fillet — so good!
    • Grab a handful of parsley, oregano, mint, and cilantro, throw it in a blender with a glug of olive oil, a garlic clove or two, some crushed red pepper flakes, and a hit of red wine vinegar for a garden-fresh chimichurri sauce to spoon over literally anything that comes off the grill.
    • One of my favorite Southern Italian herb-forward sauces, salmoriglio, is so much greater than the sum of its five parts—rosemary, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and lemon. Use part as a marinade for halibut or albacore and the rest as a sauce and let your mind be blown.
    • Treat tender herbs like a green vegetable. Toss torn leaves of basil, parsley, mint, and lovage (ah lovage!) into warm buttery pasta and sautéed spot shrimp. Or use equal parts tender herb leaves and arugula as salad greens and toss with flaked smoked salmon and a tangy citrus dressing. Croutons optional but highly encouraged.

    So, when in abundance, use herbs with abandon. No limitations!

    And if you’d like to share your gardening tips, I’d love to hear from you at

    Happy garden month!


    A corner of Grace's herb garden