The herb family comprises hundred of species and learning which ones are the best for your own garden may take a few seasons. Herb cultivars fall into two categories: annual and perennials. Annual herb plants live in a single season, with a focused goal to set seed.
Perennials go dormant when the temperatures drop, and generate new foliage during the growing season. Ideally your herb garden will contain a mixture of both.
Start small, with key culinary herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, chives and tarragon all perennials and sweet basil, which is an annual. As you expand your herb garden design, consider pineapple sage, lemon basil or chocolate mint. Love the smell of lemon thyme?
Check out the dozens of varieties, from low creeping thyme to variegated thyme, both idea for forming garden edges or enhancing paths. The most successful herb gardens may appear carefree, yet they require the most planning in order to get the design right from the start. Buy plants whenever possible, since herb seed takes a long time to germinate, and placing plants in the garden before planting helps to visualize the overall design.
Tarragon chicken salad with mixed greens
Makes 4 servings
A main-dish salad layered with flavors, this delivers the best of the herb garden along with the wonderfully warm, creamy flavors of blue cheese, honey, and tarragon.
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup whole-milk Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
1 head soft butterhead lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 head radicchio, thinly sliced or cut into chiffonade
1 cup arugula or mixed greens, washed and chilled
Honey blue cheese dressing (recipe below)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In a glass bowl, toss together the garlic, olive oil, yogurt, and tarragon. Season the chicken breast lightly with salt and pepper, place in the bowl with the yogurt mixture, and toss to coat. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in an open baking dish; spoon the yogurt mixture over the chicken, covering every surface. Bake for 35 minutes, basting midway to keep the chicken moist.
4. In a large salad bowl, toss the lettuce, radicchio, and arugula or mixed greens with several tablespoons of blue cheese dressing, to taste. Neatly arrange on four separate salad plates, topping evenly with thinly sliced baked chicken. Finely chop the walnuts, dividing between each salad and serve.
Honey blue cheese dressing: Makes 1/2 cup
2 ounces blue cheese
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon honey
4-6 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons kefir yogurt drink (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
With a fork, mash together the blue cheese, vinegar, tarragon, and honey. Drizzle in the olive oil until a smooth paste is formed. For a creamier dressing, add kefir, to taste. Season with salt and pepper.
Ellen Ecker Ogden is the author of The Complete Kitchen Garden, and garden design consultant. www.ellenogden.com.