A green space for urban gardeners

My friend was in the South of France, and all I got was this bloomin’ photograph

Well, actually, I got several photos of happy herbs with a view of the Mediterranean.

Well, actually, I got several photos of happy herbs with a view of the Mediterranean.

My friend Maureen called me last week from an aerie in the South of France, describing how much I’d appreciate the fact that a balcony, adorned with herbs, wrapped around the length of the place — which, by-the-way, looked out on the Mediterranean. And, of course, the weather was lovely. The photos she took bear witness to these facts.

So here I sit, staring out on a Chicago morning and longing for the Cote D’Azur… And the day when the herbs on my balcony will rival the ones sunning themselves within the friendly confines of this post. Usually, I wait and sow my herb seeds directly into their pots outside when the weather is right. But, a week or so ago I planted a few of them inside using peat pellets and the mini-greenhouse system — just to get a jump on things.

A picture-perfect stuccoed wall at the flat in Villefranche sur Mer.

A picturesque stucco wall flanks the wrap- around balcony at the Villefranche sur Mer flat.

Marjoram, thyme, oregano, sage and spearmint got the advance treatment, while I’ll probably toss my basil seeds directly into their clay pots this week and perch them on a windowsill to sprout. I have three varieties: sweet basil, Genovese basil and lime basil (a first for me). As for my dill, cilantro, parsley and chives, they’ll be sown outside later this month.

If you don’t want to be bothered with starting your herbs from seed, just pick up your favorites in plantlet form from the local nursery, or even the grocery store. And trolling farmers markets can also lead to some great finds: A couple years back I discovered a chocolate mint and a cinnamon mint at the Chicago Farmers Market in Daley Plaza. And from the anemic look of my spearmint seedlings so far, I may need to head there when it opens on May 14 in search of the mojito must have.

Remember, herbs are a little thing that can make a big flavor difference when preparing your favorite recipes, and they really trumpet the arrival of summer. And, just maybe, they’ll put you in a Villefranche sur Mer penthouse state of mind.

[I’d love to know what dishes you prepare using fresh herbs, so please leave a comment sharing your culinary secrets at the end of this post. And, if you’d like to hear more about Maureen’s trip, visit her blog: Urban Travel Girl. She promises to post as soon as she’s over her jet lag.]


  Flora wrote @

Wow – i’d love to be able to grow so many herbs in my pots, but it’s not quite warm enough here in Edinburgh. Today it managed only 10oC, what’s the temperature like in Chicago? How warm does it need to get before you consider it safe to plant your basil outside? Oh, (sorry for all the questions), but I have to know – does chocolate mint REALLY taste like minty chocolate?!! :o)

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

The rule I generally follow is “not before Mother’s Day.” This Sunday is supposed to be mid-50s to low-60s (F), so I think I’ll wait another week or so before setting my basil pot outside. Once I do it usually shoots up pretty quickly. I have all-day sun and a great southern exposure on my balcony. My herbs last into the fall and then I harvest heaps of basil and make pesto to gift my friends. The chocolate mint does have a slight hint of chocolate taste. I like to use it as a garnish and muddled in cocktails with a chocolate base. It also can be used for tea. B-t-w, I’ve visited Scotland (Edinburgh) in August and was wowed by its beauty. I hope to travel there again.

  islandgardener wrote @

One of my summer favorites is to roast corn on the cob, cut it off, melt butter, add the corn and saute briefly, and add in some fresh lemon thyme leaves — must be lemon thyme! Also, basil (any kind you like will suffice) used in a Caprese salad with your choice of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

Island gardener,
I’m right there with you on the Caprese salad. It’s one of the reasons I grow so many heirloom cherry tomatoes. The lemon thyme for corn is a fantastic use! I didn’t plant lemon thyme seeds, just regular, but you’ve convinced me to go out and buy a plantlet so I can try your recipe. Thanks for the tip.

  fluffywelshsheep wrote @

don’t do anything to fancy , just add a couple of leaves of basil to tomato soup.

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

I love tomato-basil soup, too, and it’s one soup that’s really easy to make from scratch but great with grilled cheese sandwiches. Do you make yours creamy?

  fluffywelshsheep wrote @

Am afraid it’s normally out of a packet or a tin for tomato soup but i do make veg soup from scratch when the vibes take me lol

I like it to be mashed up as i run it in the liquidiser a couple of times.


  Stephanie wrote @

I must admit that I do not use herbs a lot. But I use coriander leaves or even onion stems to garnish steam or stir-fry fish. Btw, recently I get to know that we can plant Basil here. It a bit hard but it is possible. Have a wonderful day!

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

Why is basil difficult there? I would think you would have a neverending supply because of the warm weather… Do give basil a try, I think you’ll like it. I use coriander leaves (cilantro), too, I make a couple different salsas with it — tomato and mango. What fish do you use it with? I’ll give that a shot, too. Actually, a mango salsa over top the fish would probably be great.

  Lynne wrote @

LOVE the title of this post!!! Great fun to see what they’re doing in potted gardens in the south of France!

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