The Herb Gardening Handbook by Andrew Perry (Hardie Grant) Photography: Philippa Langley
How to Create Your Own Pizza Pantry Herb Garden
With the magical ability to transform any meal, engage the senses, lighten your mood and enhance your space, growing herbs is so satisfying
Growing living flavour is great for your physical health.
This is something that I know from personal experience. It turns out that plants do not allow you to have lazy ‘sofa days’. They don’t allow you to drop out of your gardening hobby as you would an annual gym membership. Growing plants is a lifestyle that demands gentle, but routine physical exercise on a daily basis. I run a small business growing and stocking thousands of pots of herb plants, so I take this hobby to an extreme. In the spring and summer months I routinely lose weight gained during the winter months. Sometimes I feel tired but I always feel fulfilled and ‘well’. There is something incredibly rewarding and relaxing about the gentle, rhythmic nature of growing; the simple activities of planting, watering and pruning. These physical tasks change and evolve throughout the growing season, keeping you engaged; sowing seeds in the cold days of early spring, potting themon, planting them out and finally admiring the results of your work while watering on a daily basis as summer arrives. The physical benefits of growing your own herbs don’t end when you leave your growing space, allotment or garden. You will also find yourself wanting to use the fresh ingredients and flavours in the kitchen, to experiment with new and exciting plant-based flavours.
Growing your own flavour is fantastic for your mental health.
This might be the most important reason why you should grow your own flavour. Not only is this relationship with growing great for your physical health, it is amazing for your mental well-being, too. Again, this is something that I know from personal experience. Embracing a relationship with growing plants promotes engagement with the world around you; it brings you in tune with the seasons. Increasingly, we all live lives that are separated from the seasons. We can buy imported produce 12 months of the year. Most people live in well-heated, well-lit and insulated homes that shield us from the seasonal variations in heat and light. However, if you have an addiction to growing things, as I do, then you are forced to engage with the changing seasons and embrace them. Seasonal change is no longer a thing to dread, or even worse, something that happens without us noticing it. It is a gentle shift to be savoured and enjoyed as the weather slowly warms and cools and foliage emerges and blooms before finally providing one last display of colour in autumn. The chill on my skin in early spring reminds me that better days are to come and the warm humid air of midsummer acts like a magnet, pulling me outside into my growing space. The growing calendar is full of small joys. I am sure that each of us will have our own personal favourite point in the growing calendar. That first blue-skied spring daywhen you notice seedlings coming up. It seems impossibly cold for those little shoots to be emerging, but they do. It’s inspiring. The onset of autumn is no longer something that I dread – I actually long for the late September morning when I once again wear a jumper and woolly hat at work and feel the magical chill in the early-morning air. Growing grounds you and has an amazing ability to remove you from the cares of your day. I am so grateful for that.
When you grow your own, you are helping the environment.
There are so many reasons why this is amazing. When you plant a small pot of French tarragon outside your kitchen door and harvest a little foliage to season your evening meal, you are using an ingredient that has arrived without food miles. You are using an ingredient that is so fresh that it was picked seconds ago. You have also eliminated the need for packaging altogether. Growing your own flavour places you in control of the production, supply and delivery of your ingredients. It is certainly a responsibility, but with this responsibility comes huge opportunity. So many now consider the provenance and ethics behind their food. When you grow your own you can take responsibility for the growing medium that you use and the sustainability of the container, and you can make a conscious choice not to use chemicals. You are in charge and in control of the flavourings and food that you eat. Planting amazing sources of pollen such as chamomile, hyssop or beautiful lavender hedges actively invites wildlife into your space. I adore watching bees working away busily on a midsummer morning, harvesting from stunning flowering herb plants. It is such a strong reminder that your personal environment is being shared with the wider local ecosystem – isn’t that magical?
Growing your own flavour is great for your finances!
Perhaps most of you reading this book are gardeners; the man writing it certainly is. Sure, I run a business retailing and growing pots of herbs each year, but personally I am a gardener. I have worked long hours at busy markets and then excitedly come home to water my own vegetable garden, to check my potatoes are doing okay and to review the progress of my onions. It’s such an amazing hobby that brings me all the health and environmental advantages that I have mentioned already. But it doesn’t save me money; it’s a hobby. I know that, ultimately, I can go to a supermarket and purchase a huge bag of potatoes for just a few pounds, saving myself hours of labour, digging, watering, firming up, harvesting and seasoning home-grown potatoes. So, what should you grow to save yourself money? Grow expensive things in small quantities. Anyone can do this, even if you only have access to a small windowsill. Have you ever been into a supermarket needing a tiny bit of tarragon or chervil for a recipe? It’s one of those things we never seem to have in the cupboard. Buying a small packet of these cut fresh herbs costs £1–£2. After a few purchases this cost begins to mount up. Instead, if you purchase a living pot of tarragon for a few pounds and you use that plant only a couple of times, then you are saving yourself money; if you plant the tarragon into a larger pot, grow it on and use it ten times during that growing season, you have saved yourself a lot of money. By the time you have filled your patio with relatively expensive ingredients such as tarragon, chervil, Thai basil or Vietnamese coriander, you are not just feeling healthy and helping the environment, you are also saving yourself money.
Growing your own flavour is so much fun.
This is the most important reason – and one that I really hope you keep in mind as you read through the rest of this book. Growing your own is so much fun.
It’s important never to forget that. Sometimes it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of Latin names, expert advice and forget that growing things is really fun. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I grow and sell a plant called blackcurrant sage that smells like blackcurrant and goes into cocktails. How cool is that? Seriously?
It is the reason why I do the job that I do. It’s the reason that I am writing this book. And it is also the reason why I am so passionate about sharing and promoting the many beautiful varieties of herbs that I grow throughout the year.
This is a lovely project that won’t take long to complete. It’s a really easy way to grow beautiful flavours for your home-made pizza creations.
Outdoor dining is a magical experience that brings family and friends together during good weather to share a love of tasty food with amazing company.
It’s awesome to enjoy a lovingly prepared homemade pizza, to appreciate the aroma as the cheese melts, the dough browns and the general anticipation of the food arriving increases.
This project will show how you can grow a pantry of ingredients close to the pizza oven, which you can then harvest without leaving your guests and breaking up the party. Perhaps they might enjoy choosing, cutting and seasoning their own pizzas?
What will you need?
Four planters with drainage holes
Horticultural grit *Optional
Four 9-cm (31/2-in) potted herbs
Suggested plants for this project
Oregano ‘Hot ’n‘ Spicy’
This variety couples the delicious, deep and classic flavour of oregano with a surprisingly strong, spicy kick.
Marjoram is a gorgeous ‘background flavour’ that is perfect for adding depth to a pizza. Its musky tones have a magical ability to season the entire pizza base, ready for the slightly stronger flavours from other pizza toppings.
This is a variety of rosemary that has the wonderful classic flavour that we know and love, but you will also notice a distinctively smoky flavour as you chop this herb for your pizza.
Sweet basil is a classic flavour that is perfect for adding to pizza. As you chop this foliage onto your pizza, you will notice its delicious sweet aroma immediately. It’s perfect for adding a pop of colour to a classic margherita.
The herbs within this project contain strong flavours that provide different options across the culinary spectrum. All are relatively low maintenance and will provide a huge flavour.
Add multipurpose compost to your chosen pots, leaving enough room for the depth of the root balls of the plants you will add.
Optional: Mix a handful of horticultural grit into your multipurpose compost.
Gently tease the plants from their pots and place in the pot close to their final position.
Add additional compost around each plant, filling to the edge of each pot up to the base of the plant above the root ball.
Gently firm the plants into place.
Water the pizza pantry garden once all the plants are in place.
Allow a little time for the plants to become established before harvesting them for your pizza creations.
As the plants continue to grow, prune back the top third of the plants to promote vibrant productive growth. The plants will grow happily within these pots for a full season. The BBQ rosemary, oregano and marjoram can be potted on into larger pots as your pizza pantry expands. They can be harvested during the colder months, too. The basil is an annual and can be enjoyed until colder weather arrives in autumn.
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