Thursday, December 1, 2011


I have just been given a bag of freshly picked organic sweet basil. It smells like summer. The first basil culinary delight we indulged in was a Caprese salad. Tomatoes and basil, the perfect combination to grow together, and to eat together.

I do not have a herb garden at the moment, probably for the first time in years. We move so much, but my terra-cotta pots make the journey with us, and are normally planted out with lavender, rosemary. thyme, mint and basil (come summer).
Not so this time.
My pots stand empty and strung with cobwebs on the back stairs.

Still, I can take pleasure in others' gardens, and always have anyway.
I remember my Pakistani neighbours, in shalwar kameez beneath warm black winter coats, standing out at the beginning of a chilly English summer, tilling their small rectangular patch in front of their terraced house.  
Coriander seed, that's what they planted, just beneath the sand, waiting for just a little sun, to burst up and out in leafy, fragrant greenness. They picked the fresh leaves, and I would sample it later, in delicious platters of aromatic curry, generously brought to my door. The seeds they gathered, to be planted out the next year, and some they dried, to see them through the winter months.

Herbs have been important to me for as long as I can really remember. In the South Africa of my youth herbal knowledge, for the most part, extended to parsley in the kitchen, and lavender in the garden. My mother grew lavender, and I used it to make 'Lavender Water”, in my Grandmothers cast off  '4711' bottles, which I adored.  

There were always all the indigenous herbs though, their secret magic and mystery shared by less and less, and relegated, for the most part, to rows of Lennons Boereraad on the dingy shelves of a country store, serving only those who could afford no other medical attention.

All that is changing, more and more.
Here in Knysna, I take my various woes to a Herbal Practitioner, who, in high heeled wedges, and with a flick of sun bleached hair, mixes up my potions in the exclusive part of town. They all taste vile, as, to my mind, real medicine should.

My organic basil comes from the vegetable gardens with a view up at the Epilepsy Centre.
I recall, in its heady fragrance, my best and most extensive herb garden, grown, years ago, just outside PE at a similar centre.
I had sixty two herbs there, some small seedlings having been transported in back seed trays, on my lap, on a midnight flight from Cape Town to PE.
I was keen, and young. My enthusiasm drove my team of two large men, given to me by Ebba Booth, a somewhat awesome German lady, who ruled Lake Farm at that time, with a cigarette in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.
My two helpers were in my charge, and I worked them hard, myself armed only with the obligatory cigarettes and coffee. I overdid it on numerous occasions, and one of them would chase me menacingly with a raised spade or pitchfork, whilst the other huffed and grunted threateningly, to put me in my place.

I left Lake Farm just as the garden really bloomed, and it was a comfort, at the time, to know it continued growing without me. I don't think it remains today, there has been building, and no one ever loved it well, like I did.

Still, other herb gardens have been grown and left since then.
I've always known they have the capacity to heal and cure, and just never really took enough time to study them fully.

Now, with my present age upon me, I am looking to them and their secret ways again.

And those pots are calling me.