Strawberries would have to be the most rewarding plant in my kitchen garden. Not only do I plant them for their deliciously sweet fruit, but I love nothing more than watching the look of wonderment on my son’s face as he devours them and smears his face with their juicy sweetness.
After what was the longest winter here in Europe, spring finally arrived. Although it disappeared after a brief visit and summer has now suddenly pounced upon us. I wasn’t planning on doing much gardening this year, especially since the little one has been keeping me busy and I still feel guilty for abandoning some plants during the first few months after coming home from the hospital. But once the warm weather made its long-awaited return, so did a glimmer of green-thumbed enthusiasm.
In my previous gardening post, I had introduced you to the selection of herbs which I had started to grow on my kitchen balcony. To date, I am happy to report that all have been flourishing and thankfully still looking green and healthy, except for my coriander and parsley.
Summer has been quite late to arrive in Zurich, making its appearance only now after what has felt like months and months of constant rain. I think the generous rainfall didn’t do any favours for my coriander and parsely, both of which started to become extremely tall and ragged from the excess water, before deciding to yellow and die in a tangled mess. I was not too disappointed in losing the coriander, especially since I didn’t think the taste was as pungent as those sold by my Asian grocer. But I was sad to see the parsley go, especially since it features regularly in my cooking. I think I will be content to resort to buying these two herbs; I’m quite happy not to have needy plants in my garden
But everything is otherwise looking good and I thought it was time to give everyone a glimpse of the fruit and vegetables which I am currently growing. Prior to embarking on this new gardening hobby, I would never have imagined that it would be possible to grow certain fruit and veges in containers and I queried about whether it would be worth the effort. But the time and money invested so far has proven to be well worthwhile, making me realise that maintaining a garden (albeit one on a balcony) can be a rather relaxing hobby with many happy returns.
Herbs form an important part of my cooking and I can’t think of a dish where I don’t use a herb as a garnish or as a main ingredient. Perhaps it is because of my affinity with Vietnamese cooking which, at its heart, is all about fresh flavours and fresh ingredients, that I like to use fresh herbs wherever possible to enhance the flavours of a dish.
So often, I have planned a meal and embarked on the task of grocery shopping, only to find that the specific herb I was looking for was either not available or was sold out. Some might still proceed to make the dish, but not I; for me, a missing herb is like doing without the main ingredient. If coriander (cilantro) is unavailable, I simply will not make my mother’s Vietnamese chicken noodle soup; this addictive herb is, in my mind, an essential ingredient in most Vietnamese dishes. The same applies to the rice paddy herb, a citrusy, cumin-flavoured herb which, as the name suggests, grows in rice fields and imparts the most wonderful flavour to Vietnamese soups like Canh Chua (tamarind broth).
The same can be said, too, for more commonly available herbs, such as the flat-leaf parsley. My local supermarket is a very small one, which means that it is rather unpredictable as to what they might have on offer. Sometimes, they will have a wide selection of herbs on display. Quite often, it’s just limited to basil and curly parsley, the latter being something I seem to associate most with garnish in the 1990s, best pushed aside on the plate. So faced with curly parsley, I prefer to change tracks and make a different dish.
So given the limitations that I often face at the supermarket, it made sense to me to have a herb garden on my balcony. Moreover, it is a rare occasion when I can finish a packet of herbs bought from the supermarket, something which makes me frequently think of the cost of herbs on my weekly grocery bill.
So here are the selection of herbs which I like to have on my balcony. Given the climate in Switzerland (and most of Europe), growing plants in containers require some attention and planning. I’m still relatively new to container gardening so if you have any tips for any of the following herbs, I would love to hear from you!