How to green your home and plate (without buying a country estate)

LOVE COOKING WITH SUPER-FRESH HERBS, but severely limited for gardening space? Or maybe you just never had the courage to grow anything? You can still out-foodie the best of them. Gardening in smaller places is taking off as the joys of greening the world become ever clearer, and worldwide people are discovering there’s nothing like the satisfaction of your own just-picked herbs…
Zing up your meal with a gourmet herb salad!  |  Photo: Tonya Hester


Here’s how to fill your balcony or patio with the aroma of herbs:

What do I need to grow gourmet herbs?

Not a lot. Most important is your container. Use anything that holds soil, from old zinc buckets to state-of-the-art urns. Whatever you choose must have drainage holes, and don’t go for anything totally tiny: a pot that’s too small won’t hold enough moisture for the plant to thrive. NB: Use relatively lightweight containers to prevent overstretching the goodwill of a balcony structure!

It’s simple to prepare your pot. Just put a few small stones (or bits of broken clay pot) on the bottom of your container, and fill with good quality potting soil from your local nursery. When planting up a big pot, try sinking a plastic bottle with holes pierced into the bottom with the top just protruding above the soil. Fill this with water to keep the soil moist for longer.

Plant each seedling by making a hole in the soil with your finger, popping it into the hole and pressing down quite firmly around each plant, allowing some space between each. Water immediately, and keep in a sunny spot. Make sure you water daily in very hot weather, though if you’re growing sage, water sparingly

Keys to successful balcony gardening:

  • Get to know the microclimate of your balcony. Work out the hottest, coldest, windiest, sunniest and shadiest positions. Find out from your nursery what each herb needs, and position it accordingly
  • Water your herbs regularly. Wind and heat on a balcony will dry out plants
  • Fertilise regularly. Plants can live for many years in containers if their nutrient needs are met. Use any organic liquid fertiliser (or “worm tea”) at least once every fortnight
  • Nip off any flowers to encourage your plants to grow more leaves
  • Rotate herbs in containers from time to time to increase your yield, and control disease and insects
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Now try this salad (even if you bought your herbs!)

Instead of making herbs part of a salad, why not make these fresh, flavourful greens thesalad? Just a few well-dressed bites on a small salad plate add a taste explosion to any meal.

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What you need

1 tsp sherry wine vinegar

1 tsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp extravirgin olive oil

Fine sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

60g fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, carefully de-stemmed, rinsed and dried

60g fresh chives, rinsed, dried and minced

60g fresh dill leaves, carefully de-stemmed, rinsed, dried and chopped

60g fresh tarragon leaves, carefully de-stemmed, rinsed, dried and separated

60g fresh mint, de-stemmed, rinsed, dried and leaves separated

What you do

In a large, shallow salad bowl, whisk together the vinegars and salt, then whisk in the oil and pepper. Taste and season.

Add all the herb leaves and toss to coat the greens evenly. Taste and season again.

Serve in small portions as an accompaniment to roast chicken, or grilled/ poached fish.

Other good mixes include parsley, mint and tarragon. Or consider an all-mint salad to accompany grilled lamb, all-tarragon salad for grilled chicken, or sage-heavy salad with roast pork. The idea is to mix and match judiciously. Just don’t use so many herbs that they lose their personality!

Sandwich suggestion: Place your dressed salad, open-sandwich fashion, on top of grilled bread that’s been brushed with olive oil. Yum!

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For more green info, visit the SA Nursery Association website www.lifeisagarden.co.za

Or join their facebook page: www.facebook.com/lifeisagardensa.

More good sources: www.margaretroberts.co.za or Jane’s Delicious Herbs by Jane Griffiths

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