Tastes change; in gardens, plants come and go. Herbs that were once popular fall out of vogue and then resurface. Here, we look to some (almost) forgotten favourites to enliven summer’s everyday meals.
Sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana)
Botanical nomenclature puts marjoram alongside oregano, but its common name points to a distinction. The scent and savour of oregano is pungent and hot, while marjoram is sweet-smelling with notes of pine. Rub it and sniff, and you’ll immediately know why the small, slightly perfumey leaves are sometimes an ingredient in herbal baths.
Marjoram is a low-growing (up to 30 centimetres), lax, sprawling tender perennial that is grown in Canada as an annual. One or two specimens may be enough, and starter plants save you fiddling with slow, dust-fine seeds. Sweet marjoram does not require rich soil, and it will thrive in any sunny, well-drained site. Native to North Africa and naturalized all around the Mediterranean (its Greek name translates as “joy of the mountains”), marjoram is at home even where the earth runs to sand and stones. Wait until all danger of frost has passed and the air is warm (above 5°C) before setting this tender herb in the garden for a summer’s stay. For kitchen use, pick its leaves any time.
In some homes, the vision of a winter windowsill green with herbs may not be realistic. But marjoram (along with rosemary) is one of the better herbs for wintering indoors. To that end, set a small plant in a wide container (a diameter of 20 to 30 centimetres is not too much) in spring. Sink the pot up to its rim in a sunny corner of the garden; about four months later, transfer the marjoram to a cool, bright window before fall frost withers the leaves. It’ll slow, but it’ll grow—a sweet reminder of summer.