Plantwise: Smokin' Herbs
Garnish your spring cocktails with fresh herbs.
Q: Kate, I want to garnish my spring cocktails with fresh herbs, but I only have crabgrass. Is this a good time to get some going?
A: Cold-hardy, evergreen herbs—sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, winter tarragon, and parsley, for example—can be purchased at well-stocked nurseries year-round, although selection peaks in June. You can plant herbs outdoors any time the ground is workable (i.e., not too soggy), or tuck them into pretty pots near your door.
If you buy four-inch plants, you can crowd half a dozen cold-hardy herbs into one 12-inch-diameter pot. Do this now, and the crop will be full and lovely by the time you switch from juleps to old-fashioneds in November. You can start judiciously harvesting sprigs pretty much immediately. This method is particularly useful in early spring for mint, one of the best garnishes, which loses its leaves if temps drop below 30 degrees. Chocolate and apple mint make fantastic accents. Kept from frost, they will grow new shoots year-round. The more you snip, the bushier they become! Lemon balm, like mint, drops its leaves in cold weather, so keep it inside if you want to use it year-round.
Try some exotic options indoors in pots. Look for frost-tender lemongrass and lemon verbena. (Check with local nurseries in June.) Both make pretty and aromatic houseplants. You can also grow shiso and basil (cinnamon basil is particularly nice for garnish) indoors even in winter: give them maximum light and warmth. Wait till warm weather has truly arrived to plant outdoors.