I always keep an herb bed for culinary use just outside my kitchen door. Depending on the location, I usually have chives, rosemary, thyme of several types, mint, sage, basil (sometimes of several types), oregano, savory, tarragon, and flat leaf parsley. I try to grow cilantro, but have had no substantial success, even with the ‘slow bolt’ varieties.
Back at the start of the summer, for reasons known only to himself, the kindly old gentleman who takes care of our lawn and landscape (not my herb garden, mind you) decided to shear my large, healthy English thyme down to its woody nubs without notice. I went out to snip some for an herb marinade only to find nothing but a tangle of woody roots where the day before a lovely stand of thyme had flourished.
When he next returned, I asked him what had happened. He explained that it had become ‘woody’ and so he had pruned it back.
When will it return, I asked him? About 3 or 4 weeks, he assured me. That was back in June. It’s now almost November and not the teensiest twig of a green sprout of thyme has re-emerged.
He had severely pruned my mint a year or so ago (again without notice) but you can’t really kill mint, so it dutifully recovered from its scalping and marched right on in its quest to take over the herb bed…from a pot. It can be so aggressive that I’d never risk actually planting it in the open dirt.
The thyme wasn’t so hardy, apparently. So off I headed to the nursery to purchase a new thyme plant or two to replace the now-scalped, former mammoth plant. I ended up getting a nice little start of silver thyme and another English thyme and a 6-pack of wooly thyme that I determined I would start between the stepping stones near the herb garden.
While there, I decided to also pick up a little 6-pack of cilantro starts and another of flat leaf parsley, since both herbs had gone to seed in the last season. I took the seedlings home and lovingly put them into the herb bed a couple of weeks before we left for my European choral tour.
When we got home, the cilantro was looking a little pale and spindly, but the flat leaf parsley looked like it had been taking performance enhancing drugs. It was huge and green and robust. I had never seen such vigorous and sturdy parsley.
I snipped a few leaves and chopped them up to add to a pot of soup, but found their flavor disappointingly bland and not at all parsley like. I laid it off to their super size, assuming all the energy had gone into growth and leaving precious little to go into developing flavor. It was like most of the Luther Burbanked fruits and veggies in the store: big and beautiful and tasteless.
So there it was, this jolly green giant of a plant, when my sister came to visit recently. We were cooking up some omelets one morning and went outside to snip some chives for them and I made mention of my robust parsley plant. She (who is a Master Gardner) said she’d never seen one so huge and green.
I mentioned that though the leaves were huge, they were quite flavorless; didn’t taste a thing like parsley. And then commented that it had stems that were as big as a stalk of celery.
And that’s when it finally hit me. It wasn’t parsley at all, though it had been labeled as such by the nursery. It was celery. How could I not have noticed?
I reached down, snapped off a rib, and tasted it. Celery. No doubt about it. And damned tasty celery, too. Crunchy and so green. Not that pale washed out green, like what we usually get in the store, but dark, verdant green that you just knew had to have a lot more magnesium in it.
No wonder the leaves didn’t taste like parsley. What had been the ugly duckling of parsley grew up to be one beautiful stand of celery.
We were so delighted with our ‘discovery’ that we decided to celebrate with a round of Bloody Marys, complete with large, verdant, home-grown, celery stalks. And I do mean LARGE. Here’s the proof with my sister in the background.
It just goes to show how powerful preconceived notions can be. I bought it labeled parsley, planted it as parsley, and even when it grew up to neither look nor taste like parsley, my mind discounted what my eyes surely saw and it just became ‘odd parsley’. We can all chuckle at this tale of ugly parsley, but it should serve to remind us how easy it can be to be taken in by a label, a story, or a dogma that we simply accept at face value, no questions asked.We tend to see what we expect to see and as a wise man once said, we must constantly be on guard to insure that we don’t fool ourselves.