Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Timely trims

I hate to start off a blog posting with a yucky image, so for starters I'll whisk us back to happier times.

This was when the tarragon was lush, the zinnias were singing and March was really the fourth month of summer and not the first of autumn. But that's not how things are with the tarragon now, in July, in midwinter.

... yuck factor 110%. But fear not, this is just the normal seasonal cycle with this tasty herb. Every year my pot of tarragon looks like it's dying off in midwinter, so it's time to get out the secateurs for a timely trim.

I cut very stem down to pot rim level with my trusty Felcos. If you look at the photo carefully you can see the next generation of tarragon babies already poking through.

Here they are. Late July is the time I always trim back the tarragon, as August is a time when things start to warm up just enough to get the willing growers growing. And tarragon is a willing grower. To give you some idea of what's likely to happen next, here are some pix of tarragon's rapid progress last year.

This is September tarragon, loving the sunshine.

October tarragon, in its beautiful, leafy adolescence.

"Pick me, pick me" says December tarragon, so leafy and lush that soon after I took this photo I trimmed it back all over and took the trimmings inside for cooking.

What does tarragon go best with? Well, it has a mildly aniseedy flavour that is heaven with chicken, and it's very lovely in egg dishes, too.

The main things to know about tarragon are these: there are three types – French, Mexican and Russian, and the French variety has the finest flavour. By comparison the Russian and Mexican types are bland. Also, the French type rarely sets seed and almost exclusively grows from runners. The other two types do set seed. Yet sometimes you might see a packet of French tarragon 'seed' but that's not likely to be right - it's most likely the seed of one of the other two types. So, it's best to buy French tarragon as a small plant, or to take some runners from a friend's plant and grow it on from there.

Like most herbs it likes sunshine and regular water, and a monthly liquid feed. I find that in a pot the runners grow so densely that soil drainage suffers after two years, so every two years I repot it into fresh mix, breaking up the dense clump of runners and replanting them. This operation usually results in lots of leftover runners, so I pot them up into other pots to give away. Tarragon is both a lovely herb and a nice gift.

While I'm rabbiting on about trimming herbs, two more to mention before I sign off. These are the chives I cut back to pot rim level – to stumps just 5mm high – about four weeks ago. Fortnightly liquid feeds and they're bouncing back nicely. I must have freshly snipped chives with our scrambled eggs on Sunday mornings, otherwise they just wouldn't taste right!

And the sage isn't ready to hack back yet. I'll wait until the very end of winter and the beginning of spring to do that job. In the meantime, the sage will just get crappier and crappier over the next four weeks. Then I'll cut the whole thing back by about half. It will look very ordinary indeed for a couple of weeks, and then it will bounce back beautifully for the rest of spring, summer and most of autumn, needing no feeding or extra watering from me. Sydney's abundant natural rainfall is more than enough for sage's needs.

Proof of the pudding is this lush beauty photographed in March this year. Sometimes I just want to put my head into that forest of fragrant leaves, they're so soft, inviting and furry, like a cuddly pet.

And so this old herb grower says keep your secateurs both sharp, clean and handy, and every year a bit of the old 'chop-chop' on your perennial herbs will provide rewards to those who are prepared to make some timely trims.


prue said...

Oh what a lovely looking sage plant, and I am guessing that is what they look like when you don't let the snails devour them whole! (Mine look like sticks thanks to Sid and his snail friends)

Melinda said...

Thanks Jamie for the sage advice! I wasn't sure if I should prune my very messy looking pot now or more towards Spring

Lanie said...

Thanks Jamie - I only planted tarragon in March, so was wondering about it's somewhat dodgy performance (I was blaming Dudley the dog). Hey - congratulations - you have over 100 followers - and you deserve it as your blog continues to be interesting, well written and have beautiful photos.

degarfs said...

Hi Jamie,
I am keen to plant tumeric and galangal. Do you know where I can buy the plants from in Sydney? Also, planting them on the ground in shady area, will that help with growth? Need your advise on herbs.

Jamie said...


Just plant a tuber of the shop-bought fresh galangal and turmeric from the greengrocer's. October is a good time to plant topical herbs like this; just plant them in well-dug over soil in a sunny spot, burying the whole tuber an inch or two deep. Keep well watered – and good luck!

degarfs said...

Thanks Jamie, I will try it. Thanks for the advice :) Love yr work