Our monthly herb picks for this year will focus on a variety of familiar culinary herbs. Some, like parsley, are such old friends that we overlook a few of their culinary uses. Others, like rosemary, occur in numerous varieties, some better for the cooking pot than others.
Remember that October 1 is informally called “New Year’s Day for Herbs” — many, if not most, of the featured herbs this year will take kindly to a cool season transplanting. If you are interested in the herbs listed for July and August, putting off transplanting until October might be a good idea.
Dill and its hardy relative, fennel, are both well-adapted to the gardens of our region. Both have the characteristic umbrella-like flowers of their family. And both make a graceful addition to the springtime garden.
As cool-weather relatives, both will benefit from cool season planting and begin blooming in early-to mid-spring. Their ferny leaves are delightfully fragrant, and their graceful growth habit make them beautiful companions to the more highly structured plants in the garden, such as roses. Both foliage and blooms are lovely additions to flower arrangements.
The cultivation needs of these two relatives are virtually identical, with the exception of the bulb variety of fennel, which, like its cousin dill, is an annual.
However, dill and both the green and bronze varieties of fennel need a well-draining garden soil, adequate sun, water, and air circulation, and routine fertilizing with a slow-release organic fertilizer such as Arbor Gate Blend.
While fresh dill is noted for its use in pickling cucumbers, with its seeds a favorite seasoning for various breads, it is often difficult to coordinate available fresh dill with ripe cucumbers. To hold the dill until cucumbers are ready, simply cut pieces of dill several inches long and immerse them in white vinegar, using lidded jars and setting aside in a cool, dark place. Dill seeds can be used fresh or dried.
Fennel, with its memorable anise flavor, is a favorite for grilling fish (be sure to baste with butter!) and the memorable flavor of its seeds provide the inimitable taste of Italian sausage.