After what felt like months of lousy weather, we’ve finally got a stretch of decent days ahead of us. Here at Capital Spice, that means one thing: it’s time to pick out greenery for our planter boxes. Like most DC residents, we’re working with a pretty limited space when it comes to growing things.
And unlike Robert Weland at Poste, we’re too lazy to turn our backyard into a makeshift garden. So what’s an aspiring locavore to do? Make use of the space you’ve got to grow the herbs you know you’ll be using anyway.
When it comes to bang for your foodie buck, growing herbs is right up there with owning your own goat. In most grocery stores you’ll pay close to two dollars for a bunch of herbs – more for the good stuff like sage and thyme. And the petroleum-based plastic packaging that so many herbs come in adds exponentially to the environmental impact of your purchase.
Rather than swearing off the green stuff altogether, why not try your hand at raising your favorites at home. Even if you live in an apartment with only one window, you’ve got room for a few herbs. And there are some that are so hardy that nothing short of a significant snowfall will kill them (we had so much rosemary that there may still be some living from last year).
If you’re feeling agriculturally inclined, you can even go so far as to raise your herbs from seeds…but ideally you’d have already done that. We’re not especially good at raising plants, so we opt for the slightly easier approach: we buy the young herbs and then plant them.
A few thoughts on where to buy herbs locally and a call for help after the jump.
At this time of year, you can find multiple vendors at each of the local farmers’ markets offering their seedlings for sale. Not only can you support your local farmers by buying from them, you can also ask them questions about the herbs’ growing seasons, their care and maintenance, and other insider info. Buy whatever appeals to you – if it grew on a local farm, chances are it will grow in DC, as well.
After the farmers’ markets, our favorite places to buy herbs and flowers are locally-owned home and garden shops like Frager’s Hardware and Garden District. Their staffs are knowledgable and generally friendly – though they can get a bit overwhelmed at this time of year – and they can definitely steer you toward the kinds of herbs that will grow well in our hot, dry (but oh-so-humid) summers. Try getting that kind of response from your average Home Depot employee.
Finally, you can pick up some sage wisdom (pun intended) by shopping for your herbs at landmarks like Mount Vernon, the National Arboretum and the National Cathedral. Mount Vernon’s Gardening Days sale (April 11 to May 10) is a yearly event at which you can purchase plants and herbs that are actually grown at Washington’s home. We’ve purchased some heirloom tomato plants here in the past and had some great success with them. The Friends of the National Arboretum will hold their 18th annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale on Saturday, April 25th from 9 AM to 4 PM. With free admission and experts on hand to offer advice on bringing up your basil, it’s a great way to get started. Though we’ve had less luck at the National Cathedral’s annual Flower Mart, which will be held on Friday, May 1st and Saturday, May 2nd this year, it’s certainly another option for a fun way to blend your herb shopping with a bit of good old-fashioned tourism.
So far, we’ve got apple mint, lemon thyme and rosemary in our garden this year. It’s only a matter of time before we add in some basil and some sage (we like to wait a bit longer for these so that the young plants have a better chance to mature and to survive once we plant them). And though it will require some extra vigilance to keep the squirrels at bay, I’m committed to trying for heirloom tomatoes again this year.
But we’d like your help to fill out the rest of our garden!
We’re definitely open to additional suggestions, and we’re eager to hear from you. What kinds of creative approaches have you taken to growing herbs in your urban space? What would YOU include in your herb garden – and what would you recommend we plant? If you’ve got some personal success stories or a failure you’d like to warn us about, we’d love to hear about it.
Thanks – and good luck with your own herbs.