Archives for posts with tag: herbs

I’d been watching for weeks, stalking DeBaggio online. Finally the words I sought were flashing across the nursery’s website: “Basil, tomatoes, peppers now available.” CRR and I were both running Saturday morning errands and I texted him: Time to drive out to Chantilly.

Our friend Anne swore by DeBaggio’s for these garden necessities. She said the nursery wouldn’t put anything out for sale until the overnight temperatures would let them survive and thrive. Indeed the website says, “I can guarantee the quality of our plants because we grow them ourselves.” So weeks earlier we had decided on a road trip for this year’s tender veggies and drove 33 miles out to Chantilly.

DeBaggio’s Herb Garden and Nursery dates to 1975. It was once surrounded by Virginia countryside but exurban growth has encroached to within a block of the nursery. The founder, Thomas DeBaggio, wrote several well-regarded books about gardening – and later, stricken with Alzheimer’s, he wrote about the disease and advocated for research on Oprah and NPR. His family carried on after he died a few years ago.

We browsed the stock, astonished at the variety. 23 kinds of oregano – after tasting several leaves, I settled on Greek Mountain, which the DeBaggio catalog said would “make the tongue tingle.” 27 types of basil – I picked up Napoletano, Genoa Green and a pistou miniature. The catalog said the Genoa Green “is the only variety we use for pesto.” OK then!

DeBaggio’s had 16 varietals of rosemary, an herb described as “shrouded in ancient legends and the smoke from modern barbeque grills.” By chance, I had read an article in the Washington Post last week about the severe winter kill-off of rosemary plants in our region. I lost two. So I chose Hill Hardy rosemary, which DeBaggio’s said was winter hardy below zero. That should defy the winter gods. The catalog had three essays dedicated to rosemary, one on “hardiness of rosemary and growing outdoors,” “growing rosemary in containers,” and “ranking rosemary varieties for use.”



It was a pleasure to shop for herbs at a nursery that obviously cares deeply about its products and relates to gardeners as professional-to-professional, even for us amateurs.

Next week: our tomato selections.

P.S. Since we were so deep into the Virginia suburbs, we drove the extra 10 miles to Arno’s pastry stand at Gilberts Corner for a treat. CRR chose a cream-filled éclair and I picked a tart lemon meringue tart.  As I wrote earlier, delicieux!

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

Watching the tall trees in our backyard sway in the 60 mph winds of Hurricane Sandy (love the name, not the destruction) was a lesson in the laws of nature.

As gardeners and horticulturists, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. As the winds subsided, I saw a squirrel (Drat! The evil squirrels!) nibbling at a herb container garden on the patio.

I was stunned – I have never seen a critter interested in herbs. So either the squirrel had hidden away some morsel in the container, or it was actually reduced to eating the herbs that I love. I have grown herbs in my backyard for years, but I went all out this year after seeing a beautiful arrangement in a Kinsman Garden catalog.

herb garden

I took a wrought iron planter that had been planted with flowers for many years and turned it into an herb garden. It turned out gorgeous: A tumble of rosemary, chives, sage, oregano and thyme. In addition to the beauty, I loved having fresh herbs at my fingertips. In nearby containers, I had mint, tarragon, basil and parsley. Did I miss any important herbs? (suggestion here: ______)

I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than stepping outside your door and snipping fresh herbs for tonight’s dinner. Sage or rosemary with potatoes. Basil and parsley with tomatoes. Tarragon and chicken. Oregano with anything Italian. Chopped chives over almost anything. Mint with drinks or salads. Thyme with meats or roasted vegs. Or mix it up and chop a blend of herbs for a surprise taste.

CRR has turned into a dried herb dervish. I prefer mine fresh but the memories driven by our own dried herbs are a blessing in dead of winter. Or even after a hurricane. Whether you live in an apartment or have a spacious yard like ours, container herbs are a window into culinary bliss.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.  

Confession: I have never been a fan of mint. Never liked it with chocolate, or in a julep, or … is there anything else? And its promiscuous growing habits, ugh. I made the rookie mistake of planting mint in the ground, where it threatened to take over the entire garden. So I moved it into planters, where its minty roots would sneak through the drainage holes and reappear – surprise! – as evil volunteers around the pots.

Finally, after many years, it occurred to me to put the mint into a container and set the container on a stone wall. Ha! Mint tamed.

Once I established my dominance, it became easier to admire mint. It resurrects early in the gardening season with other hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and chives. I love these fresh herbs and greedily scatter them in my spring cooking whilst everything else in the garden is just a promise of goodness to come.


Then I experienced a mint epiphany: linguine with cremini mushrooms, lemon and mint. At Big Bear Café in Washington, chef Clementina Russo rocks this pasta. She calls it “Sicily in a bowl.” I agree. (see my review at Flavor magazine)

I don’t have Clementina’s recipe, but I am so enamored of this pasta that I’ve tried to replicate it. Enjoy mint in a new twist. And tell me if you have a savory mint dish; it might help reinforce my changing opinion of it.

Pasta with mushrooms, lemon & mint

4 ounce carton of mushrooms, preferably creminis, sliced or chopped

½ Tablespoon each of butter and olive oil

1 Tablespoon chopped mint

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest and juice of one lemon

½ c vegetable or chicken broth

One 8 oz package Trader Joe’s lemon pepper pappardelle (this pasta enhances the other flavors of the dish but of course you can use regular linguini or other pasta)

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the mushrooms in the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, heat water for the pasta to the boiling point. When the mushrooms are tender, immerse the pasta in the boiling water and cook to al dente. Add the garlic, mint, lemon zest and juice to the mushrooms in the pan. Then add the broth with salt and pepper to taste. Drain the pasta and add it to the mushroom mixture in the sauté pan. Briefly cook to blend the flavors. Divide among pasta bowls, top with a sprig of mint, and serve with shredded parmesan cheese. With salad, a crusty baguette and a crisp sauvignon blanc, this is a memorable and minty meal. Serves 3-4.