Fresh herbs impact seasonal gardens, dishes

By Josette Keelor

Nothing else compares to the taste of fresh herbs from the garden. They dress up any dish and even the tiniest bit makes a difference, said Master Gardener Paula Brownlee, who admits her enthusiasm for the subject has grown with her since her childhood in England.

“It’s not just for very fancy gourmet types of cook,” she said. According to her, everyone with a planter can grow a few herbs.

In an April 29 class for ages 55 and older through the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department, she plans to teach on the benefits and ease of growing and cooking with herbs.

Growing up, all she knew of herbs were parsley and the many varieties of mint — basically all her parents used. It was kind of by accident that she discovered basil, and after that she began to experiment with other herbs.

“I’m a great believer with experimenting with things to see what you like and then keep on doing it,” she said.

“I started to grow them and then added them chopped up in my salads” — a practice she called “absolutely magical.”

Until you’ve tried it, she said, “You really have no idea how delicious just that little bit of addition makes your meals.”

Unfortunately, a predisposition for gardening didn’t help her much once she moved to the United States. Climate affects how plants grow, and as she recently recalled, “I had to start almost from scratch.”

Having lived in five different states and other parts of Virginia, she said, “I’ve had to adapt to it.” Even the difference between the soil in McLean and here is significant, but she said she’s found her niche as a Master Gardener in Middletown.

“McLean is milder than here,” she said. “I like the climate here pretty well.”

In her class she will teach on a range of herbs, such as annuals like basil and perennials like mint. She’ll instruct on how to grow herbs, dry them, use them in vinegars and add them to dishes.

To start with, she said to plant only the cold weather herbs now and wait until mid-May to plant others.

“It’s rather too early now for the basils and dills and things like that,” she said. Even the slighted frost will kill basil, but she said rosemary, lavender and certain perennials will do better if planted now.

“For most people, I would say if you were starting from scratch, wait.”

Grow herbs from small plants instead of from seed, she said, and never use a fertilizer, which “doesn’t allow the essential oils in the herbs to come out as strongly.”

“I don’t know the reason for it,” she said, “but it’s very frequently mentioned in gardening sources, and I kind of believe it.”

“I never fertilized my herbs out in the garden at all, and they do extremely well.”

The Growing and Cooking with Herbs class for seniors will take place at the county government center, 600 N. Main St., Suite 102, Woodstock, from 2 to 4 p.m. on April 29. The class fee is $5 and registration is required by calling 540-459-6777.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com