Thursday, March 22, 2012

Savory Surprises in the Winter Garden

When I think of the garden in winter, I think of dried seed pods and grasses, rose hips, and bare twigs. The thought of herbs rarely crosses my mind. Any green to be had in the winter garden is usually in the form of pine boughs.

After a season total of  more than nine feet of snow last year, this winter has been eerily mild.  Total snowfall barely topped a foot in aggregate and the temperatures were more like the kitchen refrigerator than a typical New England winter!

The garden under six inches of fluffy snow, March 4, 2012  
Except when they were covered with snow and I was too lazy to dig out my boots, I was able to pick fresh rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, and mint throughout much of the winter.

Even when they spent a few days under snow, they all rebounded quickly and I've made tabouleh all winter from the bounty. 

Flat Italian Parsley:  I covered it with an overturned bucket or  laundry basket when snow was expected.
On the deck, this shrub was the easiest to protect with a box or bucket when the weather was harsh.
The sage lasted through the New Year.  The thyme remained green all winter.
Spearmint grew with abandon all winter long.  The new growth is tender and flavorful.
Fresh oregano - a treat in pasta sauces, soups, and roasted meat.
With winter temperatures milder than normal and snowfall and ice storms infrequent, it was easy to protect tender herbs with an overturned laundry basket, box, or bucket.  I didn't expect the sage to last past the first hard frost and was pleasantly surprised to be able to pick it into the New Year. With fresh herbs a few steps from my kitchen door, fresh tabouleh salad was a treat all winter. Serve it with homemade pita chips or with hummus on English muffins.

Fresh Tabouleh Salad
1 cup (dry) whole grain light bulghur (approximately 2-1/2 to 3 cups prepared)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup flat Italian parsley, finely chopped  
1 large seedless cucumber, finely diced  
1 cup fresh mint, finely chopped 
1 bunch green onions, finely diced (1/2 to 1 cup)
½ bulb garlic, minced
½ sweet orange pepper, finely diced (add more if desired)
½ sweet yellow pepper, finely diced (add more if desired)
2-3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced  
½ cup finely chopped broccoli florets (use the florets only, no stems)
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
2 lemons, squeezed and zested
2 Tablespoons champagne vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil (add more as needed, depending on volume of bulghur)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Bring two cups of water to a boil and add bulghur and salt.  Simmer for 15 minutes and then turn off the heat and let the bulghur soak in the pan until soft.  Test the texture of the bulghur and add more water and reheat as necessary until the bulghur is fluffy, soft and only slightly toothsome. Set aside in a large bowl to cool.

Finely chop the vegetables and herbs and add to the prepared bulghur. Add lemon zest and juice, pepper, oil, and vinegar.  Toss with a large fork to mix.  Add additional mint, lemon, salt, and pepper to taste. 

Pita Chips

Pita pockets (large)
Olive oil
Oregano and Basil (dried)
Garlic Salt

Cut each pita pocket into 8 wedges and separate each wedge into two chips.
With a pastry brush, lightly brush the inside surface with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic salt, basil and oregano.  I either crush the basil and oregano with a mortar and pestle or grind it with an herb grinder to get a very powdery consistency.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 5-10 minutes (until the inside surfaces begin to turn golden brown).


  1. I didn't realize there were so many herbs that stayed evergreen during the winter.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Cher, ordinarily they don't this far north, but any perennial or tender perennial herb will continue to send out new growth as long as the winter is mild enough and they are protected from the harshest weather. Usually, once we have a deep freeze and the ground is covered with ice and snow for extended periods, the herbs die back and then the hardy perennials grow again in spring.

    I have never overwintered rosemary here until this year. With the last storm, it looked like it had finally given up, but I pruned it back and it is still green and starting to send new shoots. As for the parsley, that is the big surprise. Even when it had a brief covering of snow, it remained crisp, green and edible. I mentioned it to a friend of mine who told me that when the harshest weather hits, she covers hers with hay and then she goes out and lifts the hay to harvest fresh parsley all winter. Who knew! Don't know if this works for curly parsley but I grow flat Italian parsley as does she.

  3. Yummy. What a herby surprise...I brought herbs in this winter to use all year because I thought they would be buried under lots of have herbs to use all have you been??

  4. Hi, Donna! We have really taken to cooking with fresh herbs whenever possible.... the influence of the Food Network LOL. We have had such a busy winter. I've been helping out my husband in his office and as a result, I've so neglected the blog and all of our fellow bloggers! But we are slowly getting back with the program and while we are attending the Yankee District Rose Convention this weekend, I hope to catch up on some of the other blogs I've been missing (like yours!).

  5. Fresh herbs are amazing! I can use most of mine all winter with the exception of a few tender herbs. These recipes sound delicious. Will definitely try them. Hope you are enjoying your early spring!

    1. The nice thing about tabouleh is that you you can add any fresh vegetables and moist fresh herbs) that you have on hand. I have never seen a "traditional" recipe that calls for broccoli but it is a mainstay in mine! Thanks for dropping by.

  6. It seems like the whole of the northern hemisphere has had a mild Winter. April has just arrived and can you believe our first snow of the year is forecast to hit us today.

  7. And that kind of weather is what is making spring so frustrating here as well, Alistair. After a week of 80 degree temperatures, our saucer magnolia began to open buds a few weeks to early, and when a week of very cold nights and indeed, some snow showers returned, the blooms froze and most have turned an ugly brown.

    I;m still hoping for a few late blooming buds to open with some gorgeous saucer blossoms, but the tree would have been absolutely stunning this year, covered as it was with large, healthy buds.

    One of my least favorite chores each spring is cleaning up after this particular magnolia - the petals make such a mess when they fall, but I consider itwell worth the pleasure I get from seeing the tree in bloom.... not so this year!

    Thanks for dropping by!

  8. So nice to have your own herbs. Most of the time you can't get them in the shops. Sadly I lost my Sage and Rosemary this year but I will replace them.

    1. Our sage was a pleasant surprise. At one point in February I thought it had died down completely but by mid-March, it was a foot tall, green and vibrant again. The rosemary, on the other hand, lasted all winter and then about three weeks ago, it simply turned brown and died. It didn't freeze; I'm not sure what happened! I replanted and the new shrubs are thriving -- but I've never planted herbs this early in the season either!

  9. No snow in Florida, just sunshine and rain. We have several items popping up in the garden, now. Hopefully the snow you received will pack the soil with beneficial nutrients for an awesome gardening experience this year.

    1. It has been a dry spring so far, so we are carefully watching everything and watering as needed. One problem with no snow is no snow melt in spring and we are really feeling it this year.

  10. How terrific to pick herbs all winter long. I definitely need to plant more and try to overwinter them.

    1. Mario, I will try very hard to overwinter more herbs in the future, but this winter was unusually mild. I would like to get a small greenhouse for our deck, and overwinter some in pots. This would not have been possible last winter (9 feet of snow) without a greenhouse!

  11. I had to change my herb garden position this year as one of the citrus trees has now overshadowed them. Still, not much of a problem for a gardener - just an excuse to make it bigger and better.

    The snow photos look amazing.

    1. Stuart, we are experiencing the opposite problem in that all of our shade gardens are now in full sun. Between disease, winter damage, and Hurricane Irene, our neighbors took down five huge willows that shaded the entire north side of our property. We are moving two tulip trees to that side of the yard to help restore the shade, but it will be interesting to see what happens this summer to our shade plants.


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