Oh, that mountain greenery: Spring perennials can brighten your yard and your plate

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters
RUTLAND BITES

A friend stopped by the other day while I was out mowing the lawn for the first time this year. She almost immediately commented on the greenness of our yard. Of course, I knew this. The lawnmower had already stalled out at least half a dozen times by then, thanks to patches of grass that somehow managed to grow a foot high. Wet grass clung to my shoes, legs and even my shirt. I saw nothing but green.

Though as I looked around our modest backyard anyway, I saw she was right. And it wasn’t just the grass. The chives had returned in full force behind the shed and beside the driveway, mint was flourishing in a shade of emerald. Although half of my garden beds remain empty for the moment, there are clear signs of life springing back into action elsewhere. Even the blueberries I planted along the road last summer, that I never expected to survive the winter, had returned to the land of the living. It also looks like I’ll have a successful garlic harvest come this summer.

Since mid-February, I’ve focused so much on starting seeds and caring for tiny seedlings inside the house that I forgot about all those perennials that seem to come back almost overnight without my attention. I don’t have many of these — in addition to chives and mint, there’s oregano, sage, two kinds of thyme, lemon balm and a few blueberry and raspberry plants. Not to mention some flowers, but don’t ask me what kind. I can tell you that I’m making a goal to add more perennials to my yard this year.

The easiest and cheapest way to obtain more perennial herbs and vegetables is to find someone who already has them. That mint I mentioned came from my girlfriend’s mother’s yard in Chittenden. I stuck it in a notoriously weedy spot along the driveway because I’d rather pick mint than weeds. It never looked great after planting last year, but the roots clearly established and so far, have beat the weeds. I know everyone always says to plant mint in a container, or in a container that you then plant in the ground. I’ve never had luck with that approach. I say just find a spot where you don’t care if it spreads.

Likely, you’ve got options for finding yourself some perennials. Those chives came from my parents’ house, which I had planted from a bunch I took from my grandparents’ garden a few years before that. And some of those flowers were ones I once grabbed from someone’s yard who no longer wanted them. Rhubarb and asparagus are two well-known and beloved culinary spring perennials I want to grow at some point as well. I’ve heard that ramps, or wild leeks, which are typically found in the wild, are also capable of being grown at home. I’ll have to find out more.

The great thing about perennial herbs and vegetables is that they’re some of the first picks from the garden. For the past two years, I’ve made a hoop house over one of our raised beds, and this helps overwinter some plants that might otherwise not withstand the conditions, such as the sage and thyme. I transfer them to better spots early in spring and they are ready just as early.

Smart gardeners can also overwinter unexpected items such as leeks and carrots, if well mulched for insulation. It’s not a guarantee, but if done right, you could be pulling them out of the ground right about now. I know it doesn’t help telling you this at this point, but maybe it’s something to keep in mind later this year.

With all the green we can find outside, why waste any time before bringing it inside to enjoy? Pasta is such a foolproof way to toss several of these foods together in a dish that reminds us why it’s worth the wait to get through such a long, grey winter.

The dish is incredibly versatile. Just about everything could be swapped out for something else, from the mint, to the leeks, to the kind of pasta. I only thought of it after, but this could be made even greener with the addition of some young spinach leaves when everything is tossed together at the end.

Spring green pasta
Serves 4-6

  • 2 large leeks, or a large bunch of spring leeks or ramps
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • kosher salt
  • 1 pound pasta
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves, packed, plus more for garnishing
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 small bunch of chives, chopped
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, optional

Cut the dark-green tops and stringy roots off your leeks and coarsely chop the whites. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat until melted and bubbling. Add the chopped leeks and cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes, or until very tender and lightly browned. Lower the heat if they brown too quickly.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and return to the pot.

Make the pesto by combining ½ cup of the walnuts with the garlic, mint, 1 cup of the peas, olive oil and lemon juice. Taste and adjust any of the ingredients, and salt, as needed.

When the leeks are ready, add them in to your pot of pasta along with the pesto, lemon zest, chopped chives and Parmesan. Stir well to combine. Serve topped with some more mint leaves and walnuts.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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