With Thanksgiving and the holiday season about to begin, many of us will be hosting gatherings at our homes. For me, it is a time to get creative with not only food, but with decorations. I start bringing the colors of autumn and what’s left of my garden indoors: colorful leaves, branches and edible delights.
Before I start thinking of decorating, I have to take an inventory of what is still available in the garden, and what I will need to make my meals flavorful and eye-catching. Any dish or meal can be heightened to a new level of flavor when fresh herbs are added. If you have never used fresh herbs in your meals, you will be in for a wonderful surprise.
When cooking with fresh rather than dried herbs, decrease the amount from what is called for in your recipe. Fresh herbs are much stronger in flavor than dried herbs. If you don’t have fresh herbs in the garden, don’t worry. Most grocery stores now carry fresh-cut herbs, or you can visit a local nursery and purchase live plants.
Don’t stop with your main course when it comes to herbs. Get creative with your table decorations too. Consider creating herb bowls, table accents with cuttings of fresh herbs, or hors d’oeuvre trays garnished with herbs and fruit. For gardeners or cooks who enjoy fresh herbs, this can make your centerpiece multipurpose. Now, the decoration becomes a condiment, as guests can take fresh sprigs of rosemary, chives or sage to add to their plate.
I love to have pots filled with fresh mint and lavender, and a basket filled with autumn leaves, mini pumpkins and assorted apples garnishing my dessert table. My cheesecakes are topped with mint leaves and berries to add a fresh twist. The fall basket not only provides a healthy dessert of fresh apples, but also complements my family’s Thanksgiving favorites: grandma’s apple pie and pumpkin pie.
These are not the only ways to add the garden into holiday festivities. Be creative and open to experimenting. With thousands of websites, Pinterest, and cooking and home decorating magazines, the ideas are endless. And, you can copy an idea or make it your own. What is important is that you know what is needed for cooking your meal, and that you use everything you purchase.
You can make herb bowls or centerpieces in many ways. Purchase live herb plants, and place them proportionately in a basket. Add a little florist moss, and in just minutes, you will have a professional-looking arrangement. Make sure if you do this with a basket that you line the inside of the basket with plastic. This is to provide a catch basin in case your herbs accidently overflow with water.
Going for a formal look? Try matching the color of your herb pots with the color of the sauces you are serving. For a clean elegant look, consider groups of three white square pots with corresponding sauces. Mason jars have many uses and can be tied with colored ribbon and filled with water. Alternate with fresh herbs and cut flowers to add pop.
For filling jars or pots with plants or cuttings, consider thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano or mint. These plants not only add color and flavor to the meal, but also texture to the table. Vary the heights, and alternate textures to add interest and depth.
When shopping for herbs, look for healthy, vibrant potted plants that are clearly marked as edible and that list the species. Buy what you need for decoration and for dinner additions. Don’t get carried away when it comes to planting. If you plant too many herbs in one container, the plants will not thrive, and can rapidly decline due to overcrowding.
Adding interest to your home and table with herbs, pumpkins, apples, branches and leaves will bring the garden in and wow your guests this holiday season.
When looking to add live greenery to the home, and have something fresh to garnish dishes and plates, look no further than herbs. While herbs do well outside, many will do well inside the home over the winter, and can be treated as year-round houseplants.
If you like cooking, many of these will be extremely useful; others may be kept simply for looks. Lemongrass is considered one of the simplest herbs to grow indoors, as it does not need soil and can grow easily in a vase or Mason jar of water. The base of the stalk is placed in a couple inches of water. With appropriate temperatures and light, they will produce roots.
Chives are another grasslike herb that are used commonly in cooking. They can also grow quite well in the home. While chives do need to be planted in soil, they are constantly rejuvenating and make wonderful additions to the kitchen window.
Basil is probably the most popular herb purchased in the grocery store. But, it is one of the most difficult to keep alive in a home environment. Basil needs to be kept moist and requires a lot of light. Growlights, good potting soil, and avoidance of drafts will keep your basil doing well throughout the winter.
While there are many more herbs available, choose plants that do well in the home and that meet your needs for cooking or decoration. When it comes to purchasing your new herbs, make sure they have not previously been growing outside, as you will likely bring insects into your home. If you plan on cooking with the herbs, make sure they are labeled for culinary use, not decorative landscaping. Choose healthy, vibrant plants and shelter them from the bitter cold as you transport them to your home. Then, place them in a well-lit area and enjoy.
Wendy Hanson Mazet is the Northern Area Master Gardener coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Garden questions? Ask a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit growyourownnevada.com.
As Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Wendy leads many volunteer horticulture programs including the Northern Nevada Master Gardener Program, Advanced Master Gardener Training Program, Advanced Master Gardener Greenhouse Program and Annual Master Gardener Plant Faire Extravaganza.
She also offers basic and advanced horticulture classes to arborists, green industry professionals and the general public. One of her most well-known programs is the Gardening in Nevada: Bartley Ranch Series, which offers free gardening classes at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in Reno every February and March.
Wendy’s Contact information:
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Northern Area/Washoe County Office
4955 Energy Way
Reno, Nevada 89502
Ph: (775) 336-0246, direct line
Ph: (775) 784-4848, main line
Fax: (775) 784-4881