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Fresh Herbs at Hand

These aromatic plants yield delicious and fragrant results.

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Whether you’re growing herbs to use in cooking or simply for their delightful scents, they’re an attractive and versatile addition to any garden. “Some of the easiest herbs to grow include rosemary, dill, lemongrass and mint,” says Emily Wenzel, president of the Florida Herb Society.

Many herbs can be grown year-round in Central Florida, although some, like cilantro, garlic, rosemary, dill, sage and parsley, prefer the cool weather months. Says Wenzel: “The only time I don’t plant is June through August; it’s just too hot.”

Planting a raised herb bed is as simple as it is economical. “All you need is a couple of two-by-fours and some good soil,” says Chris Brown, executive chef at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. He suggests compost—a rich soil made up of decomposed leaves and plants high in organic matter—which is full of good nutrition for an herb garden. It’s also advantageous to position your bed heading north to south to maximize sun exposure.

Before planting, separate your perennial herbs, such as sage, tarragon and thyme, from annuals like basil and cumin. Perennials will need more space to grow in the garden, while you can use the annuals to fill in gaps or plant them in pots. Mint, thyme and oregano are well-suited to container gardening. They make good groundcovers, but can take over a garden if left unchecked.

“Mint, in particular, has runners,” Wenzel says. “Many gardeners grow it in a container to keep it under control.”

Once your plants are in the ground just “keep the weeds out, spray the herbs with soapy water as an organic pesticide, and you’re good to go,” Brown says. The JW Marriott hotel kitchen staff uses the herbs grown in the Primo restaurant garden and at Whisper Creek Farm (both located on the hotel’s property) to season and flavor dishes and cocktails. “Having these herbs at our disposal really gives dishes a local flavor. There are many times when we can plan a dish around what’s looking good in the garden, including the herbs,” he says.

Brown also suggests experimenting in the kitchen with more exotic herbs. “Lemon thyme, chocolate mint, purple or Thai basil–there are lots of variations on classic herbs that can change the flavor profile of foods and that are just as easy to grow,” he says.

Many herbs can be harvested and preserved for later use. Herbs that don’t have a high moisture content, such as rosemary, oregano and thyme, are easily preserved by air-drying. Just cut the healthy stems, rinse and pat dry and tie the branches together at one end. Put them in a loosely tied paper bag and hang upside down in a dry space for about two weeks until you’re ready to store them. Leafy herbs such as basil and cilantro don’t dry well. Instead, Wenzel recommends chopping the herbs into small pieces and freezing them in ice cubes for later use in cooking.

Tip: You don’t want your herbs to blossom; just pinch off the blooms when you see them first pop up. “Pruning” the flowers keeps the plant flavorful and encourages growth.  


Disney’s Garden Extravaganza

Rainbow-hued flowers, illuminated gardens and almost 100 topiaries, including the debut of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, are on display at the 21st Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, running March 5-May 18 at Walt Disney World Resort. Goofy, Donald Duck and Daisy Duck topiaries greet visitors at Epcot’s front entrance in a garden vignette that depicts the characters celebrating spring with a butterfly hunt adventure. Other floral topiaries throughout the park include Tinker Bell, Peter Pan and, of course, Mickey Mouse.

Florida agriculture exhibits highlight statewide crops such as citrus, sugar cane, berries and vegetables. And outdoor food-and-beverage marketplaces offer favored menu items from past years, such as watermelon salad and barbecued chicken legs, as well as specialty cocktails and floral-flavored lemonades with hints of rose and violet. 

The event, which is presented by HGTV, features gardening guest speakers and interactive workshops for outdoor DIY inspiration, as well as home/garden/design seminars hosted by HGTV design celebrities, Fridays-Sundays.

The Flower Power Concert Series returns with live entertainment provided by such bands as The Guess Who, The Village People, Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Alan Parsons Live Project.

The festival, including all gardening programs and exhibits, is included in regular Epcot admission. For more information, call 407-934-7639.
 

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