I never promised you an herb garden

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Lots of things come in indoor/outdoor varieties. Furniture, activities, cats. Herbs, though, don’t seem to.

Sad-sack sage

Sad-sack sage

When we decommissioned our garden back in October, we had the bright idea to put some of the herbs in pots and bring them inside. Parsley all winter!

The parsley had other ideas. It immediately started to yellow. The chives started to wilt. The sage started to brown. I thought they were all having separation anxiety from the outdoors, and they’d recover as soon as they got over the shock to their system. But now, three months later, they’re still struggling.

The parsley, particularly, has begun to act strangely. It is sprouting new growth, but the new leaves are different from the old leaves. Instead of being parsley-shaped, they’re longer and pointier, and they don’t taste nearly as good.

All you gardeners out there, can you help me figure out why my herb garden is such a bust? Is there anything I can do to resuscitate it?

What's wrong with this parsley?  Old leaf on the left, new leaf on the right.

What's wrong with this parsley? Old leaf on the left, new leaf on the right.

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Comments

  1. Parsley is a biannual plant – grows in the first year with all the lovely foliage that we like to eat, and makes flowers and seeds in the second. When you brought it into the relative warm, it thought its second summer had arrived and started to make flowers. That is the foliage that goes with the growing of flower stalks. You need to keep it cooler to stop it thinking summer is here.

  2. Yep. It will go to seed this year. That is really good, though. Continue to let it grow. The seeds will get ready and you will be able to harvest seeds to plant. Don’t uproot that plant now! (And probably don’t eat the leaves, either.)

    On our website, we have a full training (9 lessons with 3-5 videos each) which are taught by a gardener who grows for restaurants. This class covers saving seeds.

    http://www.pazumpa.com/index.php/garden/saving-seed

    Aaron

  3. Madcat and Aaron — Seems I’m the only bonehead around who doesn’t understand parsley. If I put it out on the porch in the cold, will it go back to the edible stage? I’d rather have the herb than the seeds.

  4. You could also start some new parsley plants from seed…just soak them overnight, plant 2 or 3 in a containter..whatever pleases you, cover and keep in a warm dark place for a couple of weeks and voila..new little parsely plants on your windwsill. Be patient, parsley does take a while to germinate.

    Yoy also might have dried some or frozen some leaves for winter use.Not as “fresh’ as fresh but useful.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m in with ronnie p. Biennial is a killer!

  6. A note on the sage – I’ve been digging through the snow to pick mine and it is just as robust under there as it is in the summer. We seem to be able to keep sage plants in the ground for a few years, winters and all. I’m happy the snow has melted so it’s easier to find!

  7. Putting it on the porch might slow things down but, sorry, but no. Now it has gone this far it is going to go through with it. You need to start some more off, ready to get out as soon as the ground is warm enough. Then when you bring it up next year, leave it on the porch where it is properly cold but accessible. Mine is a squishy mess under the snow, so I’m no better off!

    Sage is perennial, so it will keep going. Eventually it gets woody and splits, but I have a rather sad looking bush at the moment that must be 10 years old.

  8. Ronnie and Anon — I guess that’s my only alternative, at this point. I suspect I’ll wait til spring, though.

    Beth — I had no idea sage would make it through the winter. The rosemary never does, so I figured sage was a no-go. But I’ll try it next season.

    Madcat — Too late, eh? Sigh.

  9. Madcat’s said it all. Spot on.

    One of my head gardener duties was keeping certain herbs growing year round for the house chefs. We had a large greenhouse which helped but successional sowing (starting a new crop every 2 weeks) was the only way to keep herbaceous herbs. Grow them and crop them quick, and move on to the next row. Same goes for basil.

  10. Sage here reappears for me every spring, despite -35+ (C) winter cold. I did bring in a pot of herbs that a friend gave me in the fall. Her house is all shade inside, no windows to the south. The pot has oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary.

    The sage is doing the best, by far. According to folklore as the sage prospers so does the household! I did trim it ruthlessly when I got it, as the stalks were very big and woody. Now it’s threatening to take over the whole pot.

    The oregano is also good, and the rosemary. The thyme came back from my pruning but it is very fine. Usuable, but there isn’t a lot of it and it looks feeble. A pretty light green, but feeble.

    I have enjoyed having such fresh flavours to lighten up the dark days of winter.

  11. Jen — That’s probably also the secret to cilantro, which I’ve never grwon successfully.

    KB — You give me hope! My sage also has some woody stems, and I’m going to cut them off in the hopes that the new growth (there is some, by god!) will take over.
    Our rosemary is also doing well, but it grows so slowly that I’m reluctant to take any of it to cook with. Come spring, I’ll be planting sage all over in the hopes that I’ll have a permanent installment.

  12. I have a garden plot nearby for veggies, all the herbs I grow out front where I suppose regular people have flower gardens. There is a small mound that we called Mint Mountain in honour of the several different types of mint that I planted. And given that there is only so much mint jelly and even mint tea I can use I ended up making Creme de Menthe in September, which was ready in time for Christmas.

    Very nice and minty but unfortunately, having added food colouring whilst not wearing glasses I used my daughter’s NEON green instead of just plain green. Makes for a very odd looking Grasshopper! On a similar note…not that you’ll ever be able to grow vanilla or distill rum… but I had such fun making the creme de menthe that I made Vanilla Cordial at the same time. Tried some at New Years and it turned out to be fantastic, completely worth the cost of the vanilla beans! I’m very fond of vanilla as an actual flavour. Actual as opposed to things that are labelled “vanilla” that in reality should be labelled “unflavoured white”.

  13. I’ve a rosemary that’s stuck with me indoors and out for several years. It’s prodigious, but small leafed. (Watch out for powdery mildew.) Kept a clump of garlic chives that love the winter home. As for my thyme, it, too, is leggy and “feeble”. It’s simply bolted from the indoor conditions. The plus side is that I don’t have to stem the leaves; just chop the lot and toss it in. The tufts still in the garden under a milk jug are looking just as lovely as ever! The indoor parsley took steroids and got huge! But, like elephant garlic, it hasn’t as much flavour. And the basil is hanging in there nicely.

    The summer’s golden beet crop was terribly dissapointing. At harvest, I pulled up a bunch of struggling, tiny shoots that never made much of themselves. In a pot on my sill, now, they give me fresh beet greens and look much happier than they did all summer! Maybe I’ll replant them in the spring.

    Don’t give up. Experiment to see what loves your house. Be careful about putting things on the porch, though. My porch is enclosed but unheated. Lost all the arugula that way.

    Really enjoy your blog! I grew up in an old (Holland Land Company! My Dziadzie kept a cow!) suburb with a huge garden, then moved to Manhattan and tried to grow things in coffee cans on my windowsill. Now in a semi-rural area, I have less yard than you, but share your enthusiasm for being my own grocer! And you’re right – Chef John is evil. Never EVER try his no-knead ciabatta! EVER! (Dare ya!)

  14. KB — Funny you should mention booze. I actually looked in to distilling, but found out that stills — even those for personal use, on your own property — are still illegal in this country. But creme de menthe seems a fine use for excess mint.

    Basia — Sounds like your path was similar to mine. Suburb to city to sticks. And a similar beet crop, too! Now why did you have to tell me about the ciabatta? Why?