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Gardening self-care: Executive Chef Andy Harmer on herbs you can plant right now

It may seem like the world is upside down right now but if there’s one thing that the team at QT Melbourne always find as a peaceful refuge, it’s nature. As you practice social distancing, why not use this time to introduce two new friends into your life: a shovel and a pair of gloves.

“Growing up in the English countryside, my passion for food commenced from a young age,” says Executive Chef of QT Melbourne Andy Harmer. “I would watch my parents with fascination as they attended to their kitchen garden and created family meals using only the freshest seasonal, local produce with minimal intervention.”

A passion project of Andy’s over the past year has been redesigning and cultivating the rooftop garden at QT Melbourne into an intimate, green space. The garden is perched above the city hustle and nestled behind the crowd-favourite, The Rooftop at QT, now known as the Secret Garden. Not only is the garden a self-sufficient produce source, but also can be transformed into a hidden gem for those looking to host a unique event.

“Every day, the team and I pick a selection of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit from the garden, using freshly picked produce in dishes on the Pascale Bar and Grill menu, as garnishes in an assortment of handcrafted cocktails on The Rooftop, and woven into our dessert selection.”

Adding pops of flavour to your food is all about using fresh herbs according to Andy. And there’s no better way to add fresh flavour to dishes than with your own herb and vegetable garden.

And even if you don’t have green space at your disposal, you can still take part in some planting projects.”It’s not as hard, or as time consuming, as it sounds. All you need is a plan,” notes Andy.

Here’s a guide on how to garden now, indoors and out, from Andy.

Planning Is Key

Whether you have bags of space to grow a garden or just some pots on the balcony, planning is key to cultivating plants for use in cooking, or to enjoy their fragrance or blooms.Start by drawing out your options and working with the space you have.

Think about positioning; plant near your entertaining and outdoor areas where their aromas and colours can be enjoyed, and you can be inspired.

Assess Your Space

If you don’t have the space, lots of herbs and vegetables grow well in containers. Single use poly-boxes are a great cost-effective DIY option, lined with a bin-bag and some small drainage holes.

If space is sparse, growing herbs vertically in wall containers and planters is also a good option. Another upside of growing herbs in pots is that you can move them to suit the season, and bring them indoors during winter.

Start Simple

If this is the first time you’ve tried growing, start simple. Perennial herbs like thyme, oregano and rosemary are good herbs to start with. You need to be smart about what you grow, and pick things that will grow back efficiently. Herbs have also found their way into the cocktail scene, and open a door to a huge number of flavour aroma possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

To up your ‘gartending‘ game, consider adding Lemon Verbena (great for a Southside) or adding to your mint collection with chocolate mint, river mint and apple mint. Honey-suckle is also a good one, as it’s very aromatic – you can also work it into desserts, or serve with fish.

Enjoy The Fruits Of Your Labour

Last, but not least, don’t forget to eat what you grow. It’s easy to get obsessed with watching your plants grow bigger and better, so don’t forget the reason you’re actually growing them in the first place, to eat them!

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