Giveable City

The treat of Austin eats

Help Them Grow Their Own Herb

What could be better than doing some grunt work for a friend or loved one as a Christmas gift? Something that they might not do for themselves or might postpone indefinitely? You're giving the gift of fresh herbs, edible flowers, and salad greens, mere seconds from the plot to the plate; the gift of big organic flavors within a few steps of their kitchen door, for as long as they choose to maintain the garden.

There are a few requirements you need to keep in mind. An herb garden has to be easily accessible from the kitchen door, or the giftees will have a lame excuse to use it less frequently. It needs full sun for at least half a day and a convenient water source. It requires excellent drainage, so deep soil work is called for; double-digging with a strong garden fork is the best method. Lastly, the time to amend the soil with compost and nutrients is before you plant; it's better mixed into the soil through the root zone, instead of on top of the soil.

A planting plan is called for, regardless of the size. Concern yourself with the mature height and width of the plants you want to install, so the plants don't crowd each other, and so the taller plants don't shade the plants behind them. You also need to know whether they are evergreen or deciduous (plants keep their leaves year-round, or drop them in the winter), perennial or annual (plants grow year after year, or die after one season, either warm or cool).

The kind of cooking that your giftee does will determine what plants they will need. Different cuisines use different herbs, so find out if they cook European, Latino, or Asian-style foods, and select varieties accordingly. The following perennials grow well around Central Texas: bay laurel, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, savory, mint, chervil, chives, rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, and sorrel. For annuals, you should consider basils (Thai, holy, Genovese, etc.), cumin, chiles, dill, fennel, cilantro, arugula, flat leaf parsley, and tarragon (technically a perennial but grown more as an annual here, or you can substitute it with Mexican mint marigold).

Edible flowers can be mixed into the bed or used as a decorative border. "City of Lights" rainbow-hued chard, which thrives almost year-round, makes a colorful edible accent. Microgreens and salad mixes can be sown sequentially and harvested weekly. The size of the bed planted is really the only limitation to what can be grown for your favorite cook.

Everything you need to install and maintain an herb garden for your partner, friend, or family can be purchased at It's About Thyme Nursery (11726 Manchaca, 280-1192, www.itsaboutthyme.com). They carry a huge range of culinary herb plants in assorted sizes, as well as seeds, soil amendments, and mulch, and if you don't have the time, they'll be happy to install the herb garden for you. Regardless of who puts it in, a kitchen herb garden is the type of culinary gift that will keep on giving for many meals to come.

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