Kellie Phelan’s herb bouquets are Instagram gold. The simple bundle of rosemary, thyme, oregano and chervil are tied in twine and set on top of a cloth napkin. The addition of a carefully placed viola flower gives it the final “wow” touch.
“My dinner party guests are always impressed,” Phelan laughed.
Phelan’s bouquets are truly DIY. She grows the herbs, flowers and a huge variety of other vegetables at her Seattle home. Some grow in containers throughout the house, others reside in raised beds in her back yard.
Phelan, 35, became hooked on gardening after moving to Seattle from New England eight years ago.
“There’s something special about tending to plants that are producing food,” Phelan said. “I think it comes naturally; it’s my moving meditation.”
Phelan’s love for gardening eventually morphed into a career. She is now co-owner of Seattle Farm School, an organization that offers urban homesteading skills classes. One class, the Happy Hour Garden, teaches herb-growing basics that can be used to make delicious cocktails (Phelan shared one recipe, below) and always sells out quickly.
The Farm School is tracking right along with the trend of millennials becoming more interested in indoor gardening. The explosion of Instagram “plant porn” and houseplant culture could transition easily into herbs and edible indoor plants. Growing food, however, can be more intimidating than nurturing a simple houseplant. Where do you begin?
Herbs are a great place to start, Phelan said. All you need is a windowsill that provides light during the day, a bag of soil and some containers.
“I literally use plastic Thai takeout containers, or hunt for free containers on my local buy-nothing Facebook group,” she said.
The total cost per plant can run $5 to $8, which is a huge savings over time when you consider how pricey herbs can be at the store.
Phelan suggested starting with just three herbs and seeing how it goes.
“Think about what you like to eat and what herbs you like,” she said. “You shouldn’t grow something you don’t really want to eat.”
Here are the three herbs Phelan suggests trying first:
What to buy: Phelan recommended buying this herb as a “start” (as a small plant that has already started growing). The “Arp” variety tends to stay small and manageable.
Care: Water, sunlight and regular pruning once the plant is established. But “you don’t ever want to prune more than one-third of the plant,” Phelan said.
Good with: Grilled potatoes, meat, ground up with other herbs as a rub, plus it makes a beautiful addition to any herb bouquet.
What to buy: You’ll succeed planting thyme as seeds or buying “starts,” Phelan said.
Care: These perennial plants are pretty easy to care for—just make sure the soil completely dries out between waterings (clay pots are great for this).
Good with: You can go beyond the standard seasoning use and experiment with drying thyme leaves and using them in essential oils or scented sachets. They are also great in cocktail recipes (see below).
What to buy: Chervil is a type of Parsley, though it’s a little more delicate and has a unique faint licorice taste. Phelan said these are easy plants to start from seed.
Care: Chervil likes cooler weather and requires regular pruning to prevent bolting (when an herb flowers and goes to seed).
Good with: In addition to traditional uses in food, Chervil boasts medicinal properties, including lowering blood pressure and aiding digestion. It can even be used as a cure for hiccups when mixed with vinegar.
Phelan’s Happy Hour Garden class is super popular because it offers what people want right now: Growing and tending to something that will nourish you, meeting like-minded gardeners and sampling fresh cocktails.
“It’s all about connection,” she said with a big smile.
The following recipe also makes a delicious mocktail—just replace the vodka with soda water.
Lemon Thyme Cocktail
In a shaker filled with ice add:
Shake vigorously and pour into two chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a sprig of thyme.
To make thyme simple syrup:
In a small saucepan combine:
Heat until sugar is dissolved. Let cool, strain and store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to three weeks.
Stacey Jenkins is an Emmy-award winning producer and writer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media. Stacey’s been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 and had stories showcased nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour’s Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes writing and producing for corporate clients, non profit organizations, and numerous digital content platforms. Stacey lives in Seattle and loves hiking, gardening, and capturing the beauty of the NW through the lens of her camera. You see her video portfolio of work at https://vimeo.com/staceyj