Herb of the Year? Says who? The International Herb Association will have you know that the 2012 Herb of the Year™ is the Rose. They’re a trade organization so I suppose that little trademark symbol is inevitable, but it still made me squirm. And this upcoming week is National Herb Week—as declared by the International Herb Association. Or if you don’t want to spend a whole week on it, there’s HerbDay—May 5 this year—brought to you by a consortium of various herb organizations. Isn’t there some kind of official proclamation for these things? I couldn’t find one anywhere and I googled for at least 30 seconds. Anyhow, we kicked off our herbal celebrations a little early by visiting Herbs Galore & More last Saturday at Maymont in Richmond. It was a good plant sale, although most of the vendors didn’t have much to do with herbs.
I’m planting more herbs this year, after concentrating the last few years on vegetables. Fresh herbs are so expensive to buy as food (farmer’s markets, grocery stores) and so easy to grow (seeds, nursery plants). A few weeks ago I started seeds of my favorite basils which aren’t always easy to find as plants, but readily available as seed—Mexican Cinnamon Spice, Mrs. Burns Lemon, and Sweet Petra Dark. I’m going to start more basil seeds in a couple of weeks, so they’ll be still be young and fresh when the tomatoes are ready. I’ve read that in Liguria, home of pesto, basil plants are grown quickly under glass and the entire plant is harvested when still quite young. For better flavor or a better bottom line? I don’t know, but I’ll assume they know what they’re doing. The selection of basils at the Maymont show was overwhelming, but I came home with only one basil plant – Cuban. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I loved the fragrance.
Up in Northern Virginia, I shopped for herbs (and more) yesterday at DeBaggio’s. The first time I visited there, years ago, it was in the middle of nowhere. Last time I went, suburbia was encroaching. Now, DeBaggio’s is a rural holdout, totally surrounded by housing developments. The plant selection is outstanding if you’re interested in edible and aromatic plants. And some well-chosen ornamentals too.
But back to the Herb of the Year™. Yesterday, I cut a few flowers for the house—’Krinkled White’ peony, ‘Vi Luihn’ Siberian Iris, and ‘Hugh Dickson’ rose. It’s astonishing to me that roses are in bloom here in the first days of May, and what’s more astonishing is that my ‘Hugh Dickson’ is blooming. I tried to evict him from the garden in 2005 and thought I’d succeeded, until last year. I started to see rose shoots where he used to be, but I thought, “Well, they were probably grafted plants. This is probably some weedy rootstock that survived.” But no. Those shoots are now blooming and they do appear to be ‘Hugh Dickson’. Hugh has a good pedigree, bred by the illustrious Dickson family of Northern Ireland. I remember that I chose him based on a catalog description of the fragrance and disease resistance. The fragrance is fabulous, but disease resistance? I guess that just means that it doesn’t get blackspot and mildew as bad as some other roses do.
I considered making that bouquet my entry for this week’s Garden to Table Challenge. It was on the table, but the combined fragrances were too overpowering and now it’s in the family room where I can still catch whiffs of it as I sit at the kitchen table and type this.
But I searched my memory, and remembered that early in the week, I did make food with garden ingredients. It was a Caribbean-style Black Bean Soup, made with a sofrito including Ají Dulce and Brown Habanero peppers from the freezer, and topped with chopped fresh scallion from the garden when finished. My version was adapted from a recipe in an old Time-Life cookbook, but this recipe is similar although much more complex.
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