Dapto Community Farm
Herbs by Ian Percy
Ian Percy is a horticulturist and professional nurseryman. He grows a range of commercial landscape plants as well as some unusual hard to find garden plants. He also has a small bed at Dapto Community Farm.
More often than not my enthusiasm for a particular plant falls on deaf ears. I discovered this variety of mint growing amongst weeds on an abandoned community garden plot. The leaves are round and very furry and in summer the creeping stems and leaves have a white bloom on them. The smell from the crushed leaves is clean and sweet without that trace of rankness which often is present in common garden mint. So now I am growing it as my preferred variety, but putting a correct name on it is all but impossible. Even the experts say mints are hard to identify correctly and often new hybrids emerge when different sorts are grown close by each other.
Herbs books will always say to plant mint with caution as it is likely to take over the entire garden. Not true in my experience. I would love to have a three metre square patch of mint actually. Imagine how nice it would be to lay on during a hot summer day. When using it in the kitchen I think only the top four leaves are the best part to use as these are soft and have the most flavour. No tough stems to deal with.
In mild climates mint is at its best right now, while in cooler regions it has probably gone underground, silently spreading its long thick stems in all directions to re-emerge far from where it was planted originally. Like all so called invasive garden plants you can afford to be a bit rough in your maintenance of it . Rip up runners, mow it down , curse and swear at it but all in vain as it will return with vigour in a most rewarding way
Jekka McVicar is a very well known British nurserywoman who specializes in growing over 300 hundred varieties of herbs including this species of thyme which bears her name. What the exact species name is remains to be found but it is a terrific addition to any culinary garden regardless. Late last year I bought this form through a specialist shrub and perennial nursery in Victoria. It is a dense low mounding plant with quite large leaves and characteristic aromatic thyme smell. It has just had a flush of tiny pink flowers which smothered the plant entirely and was much appreciated by bees. I am thinking it is one of those no water or fertilizer plants as I lost a few plants from too much water and probably too much shade over winter. Cuttings strike fairly easily and the spreading shoots send down roots as they cover the ground and these are easily detached for planting or potting on.
I have a metre square ground space dedicated to it in my community garden plot as I like crushing the leaves which are warmly aromatic and reminiscent of lemon mixed with caraway, reminding me in fact more of freshly baked rye bread rather than beef. It has not flowered for me and I wonder whether it needs a colder climate to do this. It is also difficult to pick a bunch of it as it stays fairly flat on the ground but stems which hang over the edge of the garden bed are easy to pick off before they send down roots.
I keep a seedling tray of it growing at the nursery in that section of my plants which are not very commercial. I think it may look too nondescript in a pot for sale. That said, it is a very hardy plant and not fussy as to soil or watering and worth growing for the scent even if it may look somewhat like a moth eaten carpet from time to time when patches of it die off.
Continental / Italian / Flat Leaf Parsley
I have been trying to keep my continental parsley from going to seed by cutting off all the emerging flower stems but this may be a waste of time as a plant always makes up its own mind what it wants to do regardless of any human intervention. It did get me thinking about the word 'Continental' and how it may disappear from general use in the coming 'Asian Century'. For Australians, the word had its peak of popularity amongst the beau monde who travelled abroad in the 1950's and 60's ,coming home in search of anything sophisticated to remind them of their time in Europe. Author Ted Moloney had probably got the ball rolling in 1952 following the publication of his book Oh for a French Wife. However the most European style food on offer, if you were dining out, was Spaghetti Bolognese, Steak Chasseur or Wiener Schnitzel. Olive oil was purchased from the chemist shop, garlic and strong tasting herbs were not in general use. Though continental parsley started to become more readily available from the middle of the 1970's, it was really curly parsley which reigned supreme. Used primarily as a garnish and for decorating trays of meat in butcher shop windows, it most likely had more nutritional value than the plates of food it was displayed on.
Herb gardening books of this era in Britain coined the term continental parsley perhaps as a reminder that it was really a bit foreign and undesirable, linked not only to their weedy and poisonous Fool's parsley, Aethusa cynapium, but to all those strange meals consumed abroad. Though credit was given to the Germans who cultivated a particular variety known as 'Hamburg' where both leaves and roots were used to make suppengrun, a strong tasting and hearty vegetable broth.
My favourite use of continental parsley is for gremolada, that mix of chopped garlic, parsley, anchovy fillets and lemon zest as a final pre-serving topping to Osso Bucco Milanese.