Monday, May 25, 2009

Sight, sound, touch, taste, scent

There is a “Savory Walk” in my garden—a 12 by 16 foot plot filled with herbs and aromatics. Basil, oregano, 3 kinds of mint; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Rue for the poetic name. Salad burnett because it's mentioned in Shakespeare. Savory, summer and winter, chamomile, caraway, coriander. Wormwood and Russian sage, with the added bonus of beautiful silver foliage.

Elsewhere in the garden are other herbs and aromatics, as well as medicinal plants—basil, cilantro, marigold, and parsley as companions in the vegetable plots, lavender in one flower bed, fennel in another. Borage for strength, beebalm for the bees, and of course, since this is Chicago, our own wild onions, everywhere.

Marigolds are one of those stealth aromatics— you always forget that marigold is an herb, and that it has a wonderful smell. I want to say strong smell, but that’s misleading. What I mean is that the smell makes you think “strength.”

I love to walk past the fennel. If you brush against it the whole yard gets a whisper of the anise scent. Sage will do this too. It was this that inspired the Savory Walk—a slightly-too-narrow path lined with aromatics so that you have to brush them on your way past.

A garden is sensory. You can experience it in so many ways. There’s sight of course— what most people think of when they see a garden— it looks nice. And taste— you can grow the things you eat. This is where gardeners start, I think, with a desire for beauty and food. But gardens also have sound. Buzzing insects, and singing birds. Rustling of small animals in the brush, maybe running water. Gardeners know about touch. The fuzz of a lambs ear, or the prick of a rose. A crisp forsythia leaf, the hard shell of a nut, the heavy sun on the back of your neck and of course the wonderful feel of the soil around your hands.

Scent is subtlest sensory benefit of a garden. It’s why I feel you can’t really plant too many herbs. I never feel bad about not harvesting all of them, because the dried and dead plants will retain their scent right into the winter. You can brush your hand over dead thyme in the middle of January and get a rush of midsummer hitting your nose.

Mint-Lavender Soda

2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups water + 1/2 cup water
splash of lemon juice
one cup of lavender blossoms
one cup whole mint leaves

Bring the sugar, lemon, and 2 1/2 c. water to 200° F and maintain for 10 minutes. The sugar should be completely dissolved and the syrup clear. Add the rest of the water, the mint and lavender, and bring back to 200 and boil for 10 more minutes or until the liquid is reduced to two cups.

Add 2 oz. to a 12 oz. glass of sparkling water with ice, with fresh mint leaves to garnish.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I should follow your lead and grow more aromatic plants. I'm so stuck on planting and collecting plants that look nice that I forget about the other senses we experience the garden through.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about.