Herbs are a versatile plant. You use them in tea, use them medicinally, plant them in beds and containers to provide season long color and cook with them. Herbs are hot. According to the National Gardening survey money spent on herb gardening has doubled in the past 5 years. It's not surprising considering the interest in eating fresh healthy foods and trying exotic cuisine. Today we're visiting the Jekyll Island Club in Jekyll Island Georgia and we'll talk with their experts about growing herbs in beds and containers and we'll even try some recipes featuring herbs harvested from their garden.
Jekyll Island is a special place. One thing that makes it unique is the fact that 65% of the island will never be developed. That creates huge amounts of natural space for people to explore and creates vast areas for wildlife to flourish. So deer, raccoon, birds and water-life and many others are abundant. Jekyll Island is one of 13 barrier islands on the coast of Georgia. Those islands are separated by a vast salt marsh which also boasts interesting and unusual wildlife. The jewel of Jekyll Island is the Jekyll Island Club and Kevin McLean is the resident horticulturist.
We visit with Kevin at the Courtyard at Crane Cottage. This building was built in 1917 but today is an outdoor dining area. The area has a formal look with the plantings along the edges and the fountain in the middle. Kevin tells us about his design philosophy for the area. When you look at the courtyard it is a perfect square, everything mirrors each other. There are 4 areas, all planted the same. For example, Violas are planted on every side. Everything planted in this area is an edible plant with the exception of the Confederate Jasmine, otherwise the violas, roses, rose hips, and all the herbs are edible.
This garden has just been planted and herbs have been used for the chefs to use in the kitchen. Kevin has planted Greek Oregano, Upright Rosemary, Sage as well as Pineapple Sage, Parsley and Swiss Chard. These plants tend to get quite large if unattended. However, the chefs will be using these herbs, constantly clipping them back so Kevin isn't worried about them overgrowing their boundaries. That is a good tip for our viewers-when growing herbs and you are going to be using them regularly plant them closer together because they are never going to fill out, the Rosemary and other herbs won't get huge because you'll be constantly clipping it.
Kevin, in another location, has herbs growing in hanging baskets. In this container he has mixed in flowers with the herbs. This is a 24 inch hanging wire basket with a moss liner. This moss lining has Sphagnum Moss glued to a padding which makes placing it in the basket easy. This liner with padding can be purchased at garden centers, it holds the soil in place but allows water to seep easily through. If you wanted something, not for herbs, that holds water better simply place a piece of plastic against the liner, cut holes or slits into the plastic and that will hold moisture. But with herbs you want it to drain because you want herbs to dry out between waterings. Kevin shows us how he plants this herb/flower container. First fill it about 3/4 full with a good garden soil mix, one that drains well. Herbs like full sun. Remember herbs come from the Mediterranean area so they like bright light and well drained soil. They don't need really fertile soil, just enough soil to grow and produce lots of leaves since normally you will be using the leaves, although there are some herbs where we use the flowers or the seeds. Once the soil is in place start placing the plants. Kevin wants instant gratification thus puts in a lot of plants. He folds over the moss liner a little, it gives a nice finished look. When you do this the Sphagnum Moss is pointing out. He first places the Marguerite Daisy because it is the tallest plant. If the plant is root bound, break up the roots. They use their hands and jam the plants into the soil, placing the plants right next to each other, they're actually touching, root ball to root ball. He next adds Basil. It is tall and leggy, probably has been in the nursery container for a while. If too tall or an errant shoot, pinch a little off, use it right away in the kitchen, this will quickly bush out the plant. Next they stick in some Petunias, adding color which works well with the yellow of the Daisies. Yellow and purple is always a good color combination. Kevin is starting from the center working out towards the edge, the tall plants are in the center going towards the edge where the low creeping plants will be. This tallest to lowest look is pleasing and will look even better as the basket fills out. Some think an even number of plants is important, Kevin doesn't think that is important in a container this full. He then adds Calibrachoa. It has a brilliant pink flower. He then fills in around the edge, filling all the holes. Charlie adds a Portulaca, Purslane. It is a trailing plant. The plants in this container will cascade down the sides in no time. Kevin finds some more holes and starts placing the herbs, he adds more Basil, some Thyme and Oregano. This is a huge container, it will require full sun and lots of water. Let the container dry out between waterings. Kevin uses an organic fertilizer with herbs, never uses chemicals because he never knows when somebody will come by and take a pinch and eat it. As well, the chefs will be using the herbs daily which will keep the container thinned out and the plants will continue to grow. Some plants might become leggy but you won't see them because other plants will cover them up. The chefs will be taking clippings all summer long but otherwise Kevin will let it go. Water it every three or four days depending on watering needs, let the water drain through, that is all you should have to do. This is a big, heavy basket be sure to make sure it is properly secured, that it has a sturdy chain and hooks and place it where, if it were to fall, it wouldn't hurt anyone or anything. Creating a container with this much color and so many herbs is magnificent.
Abraham, this week, decorates a container. He takes a plain pot purchased at a grocery store and gives it some color that will go with the decor. He gives it an aged look. He first primes the plastic with an oil based primer so that it adheres to the plastic. He then adds a spray paint specifically for plastic. He uses a light minty green. Next he ages it with a chocolate glaze. Finally he applies an antique rub. It is a work of art, it now can be placed on a patio, a deck anywhere you want a special plant that you want closer to you.
Jekyll Island Club is spotless. They use a blower vac that actually sucks up Magnolia leaves, chops them up into fine pieces so they can then be placed on a compost pile. This way they break down much faster and it is all done very quickly.
Kevin also has some beds where he is using herbs and annual flowers. These herbs are used for color. He has some Perennial herbs such as Society Garlic and they are placed amongst the Annuals. This bed is beautiful, near the putting green. In this bed he has Snapdragons, Cosmos and behind them he has Russian Sage. As Summer comes on, some of the Annuals will come out and be replaced with Pineapple Sage. It is a great plant, has a red flower and a great scent. It attracts butterflies and Hummingbirds and is beautiful throughout the Summer.
Thank you Kevin for showing us herbs in a formal garden, in a hanging basket and in beautiful beds. We appreciate the herb lesson.
To get the most flavor from your herbs you must harvest them at the right time. When harvesting flowers like Chamomile you harvest just as the bud starts to open. When harvesting for seeds like Coriander and Dill you do it when the seeds turn brown, when harvesting for leaves like with Basil you actually want to cut the stem back to some of the little side branches, cut up to 75% of the plant, this way it will start bushing out and you will get more leaves. If harvesting a Perennial herb like Rosemary cut it way back and let the stems dry. That way you can have herbs all winter long. Collect them, wrap them with a rubber band, hang them in a warm, airy place where they will dry naturally. In no time they'll be crisp, then place them in the freezer, in a colored glass jar and they will store all winter long and you can enjoy that flavor of Summer.
We have learned about growing herbs in a variety of locations, we are now going to do some cooking with them. Chef Rob Satorio from, the Jekyll Island Club has some simple yet elegant dishes that utilize herbs that grow in the garden. Chef Rob says he likes herbs because they compliment everything. Today we'll make a chicken dish and a lamb dish but you can use herbs with pork, beef, veal, anything you want. Chef Rob will be using common herbs, things like Basil, Parsley, fresh Oregano. Sage is normally used in meatier or pork dishes. First we prepare Chicken Saltimbocca. Take a fresh chicken breast, pound it out and butterfly it, then season it. He first adds salt and pepper, then adds Prosciutto ham which is sliced paper thin, then he adds several pieces of smoked Gouda Cheese. The smoky cheese adds a deeper flavor which adds a nice touch with the Sage. He next adds a few leaves of fresh Sage, it is a great herb, really pungent. The flavor also goes well with the Proschiutto. He folds it over, it could be rolled over, it all works the same. Then season the top of the chicken with salt. He cooks it in a pan on a burner in extra virgin olive oil. Let it sear on one side, let it get a nice color, then flip it over. That will trap in the juices keeping the flavor of the herb, the Prosciutto and the cheese together. Then put it in the oven for 12-15 minutes. For a topping Rob has made a sauce made of shallots and chopped them up very small, added white wine vinegar and some cider vinegar. He added about a quarter cup of vinegar a quarter cup of wine added Roma tomatoes and then lets it cook down. The Roma tomatoes are good because they are a meaty paste tomato and they do have a lot of moisture and a lot of flavor. Charlie notices that so far Rob hasn't used many fresh herbs. Rob says there is a good reason. Fresh herbs should be put in last. Dried herbs, which can be purchased in any store, need to have the flavor cooked out. Whereas fresh herbs if cooked too long will loose their flavor, so it is almost the last ingredient you want to put in a sauce. Basil can be put in at the beginning but you won't taste the Basil at the end. The chicken comes out of the oven, he puts it back on the burner to keep it warm, takes the fresh herbs that he chopped-Basil, Oregano, Parsley and throws them in the sauce, again, at the end. With fresh herbs you will just need a pinch, a little goes a long way. He stirs the sauce, spoons it on the chicken, it adds color. That is another reason to wait until the end to add fresh herbs, if you put them in earlier they turn an olive drab color. They're not as attractive. Chef Rob cuts the chicken on a bias, so the insides can be seen. He then sprinkles some more fresh herbs on top and the meal is delicious.
Chef Rob next makes a rack of lamb. Rob has removed all the fat and the silver skin. He next takes the thickest Rosemary and stabbed and skewered it into the lamb. It will infuse some of the Rosemary flavor into the lamb. It will be removed at the end. Rob adds a little salt and pepper then in a very hot pan adds the lamb. He wants to sear the lamb with the top side down first because when presenting the lamb the top will be the side you see and you want the best color on that side. Rob sears it for a couple of minutes on each side to seal in all the juices. After it has been seared and it has a beautiful color, he flips it. He will top the lamb with a pesto sauce. He makes the sauce the day before so all the flavors come together and infuse each other. The oils will tend to separate to the top. Keep it at room temperature. Add this to the lamb and put it in the oven and cook it for about 8-10 minutes. The pesto after cooking browns, the garlic gets a roasted garlic flavor and the cheese in the pesto melts. Rob removes the Rosemary, carves it and puts it on a plate. When on the plate Rob adds some balsamic vinegar dressing with an artistic flair. He also adds a little of the remaining pesto sauce and drizzles it around the plate. It makes a beautiful dish and it tastes even better than it looks.
Thanks Chef Rob for the cooking demonstration. We now have a greater appreciation for herbs and the impact they can have on food, particularly in the hands of an expert. The chicken and lamb were delicious.
Jekyll Island Club
Recipie: Chicken Saltimbocca
Recipie: Rack of Lamb
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