Budget Cooking – The Accidental Herb Garden

My wife and I planted an herb garden Saturday. I know, I know, it’s kind of late in the season, but it all came about by accident. We’re hoping for the best.

Although I’ve always grown a few fresh herbs in pots during the summer, I’ve never had a dedicated garden set aside just for herbs. I’ve wanted one ever since a few years ago, when my wife and I spent a memorable week at the Westward Look Resort, in Tucson, Arizona. It’s a beautiful place. Walt Disney filmed part of “The Living Desert” documentary there back in the 1950s.

During a walk there one afternoon, I unexpectedly came upon a Chef’s Garden. The resort’s chef had set up quite a large growing area along one of the many terraces upon which the resort is built on the side of a mountain. In it, he grew fresh vegetables, herbs and even flowers that he used in the resort’s restaurant.

Great idea, I thought. I’ll have to try that sometime.

Flash  forward to five years later.

About six weeks ago, our area was hit by a freak microburst storm, which caused a lot of damage and the loss of power to hundreds of thousands of homes. Among the casualties was our lilac tree, which stood 20 feet high just outside my home office window. Each spring, I would look forward to the sweet fragrance of the lilac as it wafted past my

During the storm, a party tent erected by our backyard neighbor for a graduation party was hurled into the air and crashed down into our backyard, splitting the lilac tree in two. It took about a week to clear the remnants out, and the space has been vacant ever since.

Lilac Tree Split in Half

Lilac Tree Split in Half

My wife, Sandi, and I have talked about planting a permanent herb garden in the space for weeks, but one commitment or another has distracted us from our plan until this past weekend.

I was a little concerned that none of the area greenhouses would have any herbs left this late in the season and, in fact, several we visited had nothing but annuals and shrubs left.

Just as we were ready to give up we decided to try one more greenhouse and, wouldn’t you know it, not only did they have a good selection of herbs left, but they were all priced for clearance. We got all the herbs for our garden for less than $12!

Jalapeno plant

Jalapeno plant

Now we’re growing basil, rosemary, thyme, Greek oregano, chive and flat leaf Italian parsley, in addition to a pretty little pepper plant we bought at the flea market a few weekends ago for $2.50.

There’s nothing better than running outside to clip fresh thyme or basil to add in the middle of your recipe. That always makes me think, “Now this is living.” The fresh herbs available at the grocery store seem to be expensive year round and are never as good quality as home grown. Farmers’ markets never seem to have much to offer in terms of fresh herbs.

Our vegetable garden already is overrun and half-rotting due to hot, wet weather this summer. We haven’t enjoyed the yield in tomatoes, green peppers or jalapenos that we have in prior years, although the cucumbers did well for awhile. I ‘m hoping for a nice long patch of mild weather for the rest of this summer so the vegetable plants can revive and the herb plants can take root and thrive.

Since the garden was just planted, there are plenty of spaces between the plants and Sandi did an amazing job of visualizing then creating a unique space with some leftover river rock we had and some flagstones rescued from my sister’s garage.

I’ll keep you posted.

The Accidental Herb Garden

The Accidental Herb Garden

Meanwhile, here’s a traditional summertime salad that uses some fresh herbs and vegetables from your garden. There’s nothing in the world like home-grown tomatoes, especially at the height of the season, which around here is right now.

Insalata Caprese

3-6 plum tomatoes, or whatever kind you’ve grown yourself

½ pound fresh mozzarella

6-8 large fresh basil leaves

Cracked black pepper


1 TBS Balsamic Vinegar

Sea salt to taste

Cut the tops and bottoms off the tomatoes and cut horizontally into about four pieces each. Cut the mozzarella the same thickness.

Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices on the plate, alternating tomato slice and mozzarella slice. With one large tomato, make one stack. If you’re using smaller plum tomatoes, make two or three stacks per serving.

Chiffonade the basil by stacking the leaves into a pile, rolling into a cigar shape, then starting at one end, use a sharp knife to cut it into thin strips. Sprinkle decoratively over your tomato and mozzarella stacks. Drizzle the EVOO and Balsamic over the stacks, then sprinkle with sea salt. Finally, crack some fresh black pepper over everything.

Now that’s living.


6 thoughts on “Budget Cooking – The Accidental Herb Garden

  1. Nice stones in the garden ;-). If you ever happen to be walking by Charlie Trotter’s restaurant on Armitage you will see that his herb garden is right in the front of the building before where you walk up the stairs to go in. It’s a city herb garden right on the sidewalk!

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