Last night we enjoyed dinner at The Black Skirt, a Sicilian/Calabrian Italian restaurant here in Toronto. Before the meal, we were served slices of Italian loaf, as is the custom in most Italian restaurants. But where most restaurants tend to provide a plate of good quality olive oil for dipping, The Black Skirt offered something a little unusual, an oily and aromatic, bruschetta-meets-pesto sauce called ammoghiu.
Spring is happening here in Toronto. Flowering bulbs and hardy perennials are popping up in my garden quickly now and the local corner shops have begun hauling out carts full of plants to tempt us. Right on schedule, emails about basil have come flooding in.
“Hi there, I bought a basil plant a few weeks ago. I swear I’ve been doing everything right but it’s going all brown. Is it dying?”
“I only water it when the soil is dry. What am I doing wrong?”
It’s not you, it’s the plant. No, really. Of all of the herbs I have ever grown — and I have grown a good many — basil is consistently the most finicky of the lot and the hardest to get going. Don’t get me wrong, a lush basil crop is easy enough to grow mid-season when it is sunny and warm and nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50°F (10°C). The plant is surprisingly amenable to life in pots and even though I have been experimenting with basil since the start of my gardening “career” and have grown as many as 22 varieties in one season, I am still amazed by the exceptional variety of forms, colours, and flavours available. This is a fantastic herb, and my second favourite food crop to grow besides tomatoes. Judging by the questions I receive about this plant, I think it’s one of your favourites, too.
The week I photographed this Herbaria was also the week that I started to seriously pick up the pace in shifting my houseplants indoors and I think it shows. The Japanese maple leaves have their autumn colour and this is the last sighting of outdoor basil until next June.
When I began this project, I set a parameter that allowed me to repeat a specific plant as long as a different stage in its development through the changing seasons was depicted. For example, I have included Columbine meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium) twice: early in the season when it was in bloom and in August once the seeds had matured.
As the weeks pass with this project I have found it harder and harder to recall which plants and parts I have already photographed. When I get a chance I will sit down and put together a master list, but until then I find that each week, before I begin to assemble a box, I need to go through all of the images I have taken so far and re familiarize myself with what has and hasn’t been covered.
This system worked until the week of October 5, when I discovered that I had accidentally repeated ‘Vanilla Ice’ Sunflower, a plant that first appeared on September 21. Oh well, mistakes happen. At least I presented it differently the second time around.
Again you are looking at last week’s photo, shot just before I took off for a road trip to teach a workshop at Margaret Roach’s garden in the Berkshires. The garden was fairly unruly and overgrown before I left, but nothing like it is right now. Total mayhem! I’m not exaggerating. Even the dog doesn’t know what to make of the obstacle course out back.