Notes from a Flower Farm: Decorating With Herbs
How to make arrangements using herbs and spring flowers that are perfect for the Passover or Easter table.
Or, if you want to mix in some fragrant sprigs of herbs with late winter or early spring bulbs, we also have a slide show about how to create centerpieces with herbs and blossoms.
But first, let’s take a quick look at growing the herbs that are the essential to these arrangements. At Marigold and Mint, I grow my herbs in raised beds, protecting the perennial herbs with a layer of straw through the winter. Right about now I start to uncover them—the chives and sorrel poking up through the straw tells me that it is time.
Perennial herbs take a long time to get to a meaningful size if you start them from seed, so I recommend buying healthy starts at your local nursery. You can do the same with your annual herbs, although I also seed them in trays in the hoophouse and then plant them out in the raised beds after the average last frost (around April 15th here in the Pacific Northwest). They can alternately be direct sown in the beds; it just means the herbs won’t get the head start that the hoophouse provides. (Or you can try seed sowing in the snow.)
Finally there are the tender perennials, such as rose-scented geraniums, that I overwinter on my windowsill at home. I also take cuttings from my existing scented geraniums to start new plants. (The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs, edited by Katherine Schlosser, and The Encyclopedia of Herbs, by Arthur Tucker and Thomas Debaggio are a huge help if you want to grow herbs.)
Using cream colored vases and cups from local artist Kata Golda, I filled each one with just a single herb or flower. Here, I left the greens on the fritillaria and the lily-of-the-valley, feeling that with the greenery they are somehow more suggestive of the field than without it. The ‘Geranium’ daffodils just scream EGGS with their yolk-colored centers surrounded by a soft cream, perfect for Passover and Easter.
While these arrangements are simple, what’s important is to get the height right. People are often reluctant to really chop down the stems of flowers, but what you want is a balanced proportion of cup to flower or herb. These sweet and astringent arrangements are happy grouped together on a front hall table or laid out in a straight line down the middle of a holiday table.
For a larger centerpiece I decided to use a vintage Jello mold that I picked up last year at an antique market in Petaluma, California. It reminds me of my great aunt Jessie, who always made a molded gelatin dessert layered with pineapple and pears for our family Easter gathering. When I showed my friend Sara the mold she suggested that making two panna cotta gelatin desserts with the mold and setting one on each side of the arrangement would be perfect for the Easter table. I agree.
What’s fun about this arrangement is that you could stop at any step and it looks great. First, I added the hellebores, which should have its stems seared in hot water for five minutes right after cutting; otherwise they are likely to flop. Then, I added scented geranium and parsley, letting them rise above the hellebores.
Daffodils came in next: ‘Pueblo,’ followed by ‘Bridal Crown,’ and finally the egg-y ‘Geranium.’
For a finishing touch, I added tiny dancing lily-of-the-valley and fritillaria. It’s hard to make arrangements that capture the muckiness and bitterness of the farm in spring. Maybe these few arrangements are still show the sweet side of spring, yet I hope that they have not just a touch of sugar and spice, but also of slugs and snails. After all, that is what the farm is made of.