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MINT CHIC – NZ gardener’s guides to 2009

It’s the silly season, so David Geary reviews two NZ gardener magazines – Homegrown 3 harvest your own fresh herbs (special collector’s edition), and garden diary vege growing guide + recipes

I finally understand magazines. They’re what you read when you can’t really read anything. Like when you’re being constantly interrupted. Like if you join the 2-Under-2 club just before Xmas, so are joyful to have your very own nativity scene, but fearful that there maybe no chance to read a novel until 2020.

But to tell you the truth, I wasn’t that keen to review these two mags until I got their blurb and read about 5 fast uses for rosemary:

1. use the stalks as kebab sticks
2. rosemary and apple jelly condiment for lamb chops
3. steep sprigs to treat dandruff and add shine to your hair
4. make rosemary essential oil into a furniture polish
5. add chopped rosemary to focaccia or scones

Which piqued my interest, and taste buds, and scalp-flake and coiffure-lustre issues. I have always wanted to do more than add limp parsley to an omelette. However, before I dip into a quick flip through these mags I have to declare a conflict of interest. I was surprised to find one quotes my Mum on also using rosemary as a herb of remembrance. I got the dirt from her, and she says that the New Zealand gardener get growing weekly free e-newsletter is very good. They say it’s had 13000 sign-ups since it was launched in Jan 08, just go to getgrowing@nzgardener.co.nz.

Okay, that’s the mother endorsement and shameless plug out of the way, what’s up with herbs? They’re cheap, they’re easy, and are quite often pretty and smell nice. They’re also arty and crafty if you want to get into topiary and such. My fave example being thyme as a fragrant stepping stone in a path. You’ll find here all the good guff on herb growing, harvesting, decorating, preserving, bottling, etc. And recipes – watermelon salad, anyone? (I’ve found watermelon can also do more than give you sticky ears eating it, it’s also fab in curry.)

Finding it hard to settle, petal? Then there’s also herbal remedies. Camomile is known for its girls-gone-mild properties, but can also be made into a tonic to sooth cats. And did you know dock leaves can remove splinters?… I know, it’s getting a bit witchy, but why not avoid those expensive vet and doctor bills and try these remedies at home. Who knows, you may find the apothecary within.

Lavender smellies? Yes, they’re here, but with some interesting variations. And something for the lush, too. I believe I may have already invented Pear Thyme Fizz, in one of those early hours-what’s in the cupboard-crazy cocktail moments (pear vodka, vodka, thyme, lemon, sugar syrup and a splash of sparkling wine), but they can take the credit. There’s also choice herbal tips for the BBQ, meat, salsa, sauces and baking. But the one I’ll be trying first is after dinner mints – with real mint leaves coated in chocolate.

Still looking for a New Year’s Resolution? Then the other mag, the garden diary, has a good one – weigh your produce every week… and not yourself, I might add. Hopefully, you’ll be eating so many fresh veges that will take care of itself.

Again, this mag packs a lot in. Every week there’s reminders on what you should be doing through the year – planting, pruning, composting, weed & pest control (birth control for codling moths!), etc; and some inspiration – Sept 8 plant your gooseberry bush… hmmm, why not?. If the numbers can be believed, then a lot more people are growing from seed. So this also makes a good guide for what to sow, when, and how to look after them.

Both mags have first class layout, design and photography. They look delicious. The diary in particular has some nice humour. Beware the Grapes of sloth, and snip off leaves around grapes so they get lots of sun to aid ripening. While at the start of Feb, look to your Rough riders like thyme – treat it mean to keep it keen.

There’s also a lot to admire in the intriguing recipes sprinkled amongst the gardening advice in a section called – from Plot to Pot. Here’s a taster: Thelma Oldham’s cape gooseberry jam, Julie Jackson’s feijoa loaf, and Lauraine Jacob’s walnut-encrusted fish (sounds like ‘con-fusion’ cooking to me, but I’ll try anything once). My fave, though, is Savoury swede crumble. I’ve always found the humble swede an under-rated vege. As a country kid I loved chopping them up in the paddock with a tomahawk and eating them raw. My guess is that because they’re fed to stock we look down on them… and the name. I prefer the North American – rutabaga, sounds like a relative of a winnebago, far more exotic.

Anyway, I admit I was a reluctant starter but have now bloomed in to wanting to make savoury swede crumble, pear thyme fizz and chocolate mint leaves. So I can say these mags have been most successful in inspiring the sleep-deprived, attention deficit, wannabe gardener and herbalist. For the wide awake it could do wonders. And if the recession is to lead to a grow-your-own revolution, then these two mags maybe just the pamphlets you need. So get yourself a New Zealand gardener garden diary and give it some herbs!

…and a Happy New Year… Jan 1: Resolve to weigh produce – Jan 2: Sow salad greens – Jan 3: Pay your neighbours kid to water your garden while you’re away – Jan 4: Pick beans, peas, cherry toms and courgettes daily to keep them cropping – Jan 5: Harvest glove artichokes – Jan 6: Climbing bean care – Jan 7: Cook Patrice Guzzetta’s Cajun gumbo with okra…

PS: The Editor –Lynda Hallinan – does a fine job throughout. I like her effusive editorials that incorporate quotes from all and sundry. But urging us to be as observant and thoughtful in our garden dairy as Anne Frank was in hers seems a tad out of place. One piece of advice I’d weed out.