Fresh summer meals require fresh summer herbs, and if you’ve got a patch of sunshine, you can grow a pot of herbs. No need to own your own acreage—even apartment-dwellers can do this with a little bit of deck and a place to put a pot. I’ve been growing pots like these for years, and if you combine the herbs in an artful fashion, they can be decorative as well as utilitarian. The pot pictured here has (from left counter-clockwise) rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, purple basil, and chives, with sweet basil in the center. I also plant a pot with just spearmint. In the summer, we go through mint like Kleenex, as I’ve got a recipe for mint ice tea that is absolutely to die for—posting to come! (FYI—we don’t use those two items interchangeably…)
NOTE: If you are going to plant a pot of mint, make sure you grab spearmint instead of peppermint, unless you want your culinary efforts to have a Pepto Bismol after taste. (Been there, done that.) Mint is a perennial if planted in ground, but it tends to take over a garden. One trick for outsmarting the all-consuming plant is to plant it in the ground inside an old cracked plastic pot. It keeps it somewhat contained, and if the roots are protected underground through winter, it comes up year after year. (More info below on the table setting at right.)
Back to the mixed herb pots. I try to do a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, and a mix of bright greens, dark greens, and purples. Mixing heights adds interest to your containers too. Last year, I was super lazy and didn’t pull the dead herbs out of their pots in the fall, and surprise, surprise, the chives actually came in again! Who knew there was an upside to lazy?
Once your pots start growing like crazy, you can put together some sweet little centerpieces like these. The bright, clean labels on these 28-ounce Red Gold ® diced tomatoes really caught my eye. So after I used the tomatoes in a recipe, I rinsed and saved three cans for table decor. (Hey, reduce, reuse, recycle, right?) Then I cut squares of wet floral foam slightly larger than the cans, and soaked them in water about an hour. To do this at home, wedge the soaked floral foam into the cans (yes, you are putting a square peg in a round hole), then poke cuttings from your herb garden into the wet block. They will last a week or more, and make nice, low-profile centerpieces. No playing hide-and-seek with guests at the table around a gargantuan arrangement. An added bonus is that the fresh cut herbs smell awesome!
The super simple napkin rings (shown here and above on the table setting) are made from stringing wooden beads onto suede leather lacing, and then looping one end back through the first bead to secure. My daughter-in-law strung these one Thanksgiving (thanks, Jessica!), and they were great with our warm, neutral palette for fall. They also work with bright, summery colors like those pictured here. I’m a sucker for the affordable IKEA napkins, which are 50 for $1.99. The color choices are always fun, and keeping these napkins on hand helps to be ready for impromptu guests.