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An herb basket's place is on the table.

An herb basket's place is on the table

Curly-headed parsley, grassy chives, lily-pad-leafed nasturtium: these and other edible plants offer as much textural interest as fragrance and flavor. Grown in a big basket, they make a handsome portable herb garden you can bring to the table to clip as you eat.

The examples here were put together for us by Rosebrock's Vegetable Garden Center in Malibu, California. Owner Bob Rosebrock specializes in edibles in containers, creating bouquet-like arrangements of herbs and greens in baskets. For this effect, plants must grow close together in cramped quarters; their health depends on steady watering and feeding.

This month, you'll find a wide variety of young herbs sold in sixpacks and 2- and 4-inch pots. Besides a sturdy basket to hold them, you'll need a rich, fast-draining soil mix (about 80 percent sawdust and ground bark to 20 percent perlite and sand) and 3-mil plastic (sold by the roll, or cut from a heavy-duty trash bag).

Two ways to plant

Mixed basket. The big basket pictured at left and on the cover contains a mixture of plants; additional possibilities include basil, chervil, cilantro (coriander), and sweet marjoram. Sage is short-lived in moist soil--attractive for only a few weeks.

Put low-growing herbs and ones that drape--such as trailing rosemary, chives, and nasturtium--close to basket sides. Build height in the center with tall, upward growers such as Italian parsley and sweet basil. Chives, nasturtium, and rosemary can contribute flower color--pink, orange, yellow, and blue. For foliage color, add variegated thyme or pineapple, purple, or golden sage.

One-herb collection. Some herbs come in so many colors and shapes that they're interesting to collect as a group. You could plant many kinds of basil in one basket, as at left, or play off the varied flavors and colors of different species of thyme--caraway-scented, common, lemon, mother-of-thyme, and silver kinds.

Caring for plants

For best results, put the basket outdoors where it gets at least 4 hours of sun every day. Water daily and let the basket drain freely. Use a rainhead nozzle on the hose or watering can so you shower plant foliage as well. Wash off foliage before you bring the basket to the table; protect the tabletop with plastic.

To counteract the leaching effect of frequent watering, Rosebrock feeds plants two or three times a week, using 1 tablespoon each of 12-15-15 plant food and liquid seaweed in a gallon of water.

To keep plants in top form, harvest liberally and trim off yellowed or dead leaves. Prune leaves that block sun to lower-growing herbs. Whenever wide-spreading nasturtium, chives, or parsley gets too big, cut it back and let it fill out again.

In mild-winter regions, you can keep the herb basket full all year by replacing summer herbs with ones that grow well in cooler weather. In the fall, dig out annuals such as basil and replant with chervil, cilantro, dill, or Italian parsley. Or plant colorful leaf lettuce or radicchio seedlings among the perennial herbs--chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and, in mildest areas, nasturtium and marjoram.

Photo: Cool-season changes

Photo: Help yourself to fresh herbs. Basket above, offered with lox-and-bagel brunch, holds nasturtium, parsley (two kinds), chives, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. His armful includes seven kinds of basil: "Piccolo Verde Fino', "Dark Opal', cinnamon, lemon, licorice, bush, sweet

Photo: 1. Line basket with plastic, draping surplus over sides. Fill basket with soil mix

Photo: 2. Trim plastic to just below basket rim. With scissors, poke drainage holes through bottom

Photo: 3. Arrange herbs 3 to 4 inches apart on top of soil. Gently loosen rootballs, then plant

Photo: 4. Water plants with a diluted liquid fertilizer. Drench soil, letting water drain freely from basket bottom
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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