Plant with caution

I’m confessing to a gardening sin. I planted mint in my vegetable garden.

Not in the beds, mind you. I have raised beds, and I planted the mint in the pathways, thinking it would smell nice underfoot (it does) and that it would spread itself around as mint does but stay nicely where it was meant to outside of the beds. It doesn’t. Big surprise. It’s insinuated itself into every bed it’s near, sending runners under the board sides and into the soft rich soil where vegetables will struggle to compete with it.

So I have to rip it all out. (And the lemon balm, too, but let’s not mention that.)

I may replant some of it in an area next to my house that’s all weedy grass now – and I will likely be sorry – but most of it has to go, and since I hate wasting food, I’m trying to find ways to use it. We’ll have dried mint to brew tea for an army. I can only make so much tabbouli (and I don’t have a lot of parsley right now), and other recipes call for a few tablespoons of chopped mint at a time. So I’ve been looking for other ways to use it.

Via Montgomery Victory Gardens I got a recipe from CookEatShare for basil-mint pesto – it’s tasty, but it uses much more basil than mint. Then I found a mint pesto recipe in Mark Bittman’s great cookbook How to Cook Everything:

2 cups loosely packed mint leaves
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 canola or other neutral oil

Combine everything in a food processor or blender and let it do its thing. I found that this quantity of oil was way too much (same thing with the other recipe) and reduced it by about half, but try it and see what you think. Use quickly or freeze. I’ve used it on leftover potatoes and veggies, and it would be good on meat too, or on pasta.

By the way, this is how you should grow mint, the way we do it in the demo garden:

And still: watch it. There are some kinds of mint that are less vigorous than the usual peppermint – I have repeatedly killed chocolate mint, apple mint, orange mint, etc. – but you never know. Plant (everyone should have a mint plant), but plant with caution.

While I’m at it, let me warn you against another mistake I made: planting elderberries right outside the garden fence. They sucker like mad, and I am still rooting the suckers up a year and a half after cutting down the original plants and several yards away from where they grew.

Elderberries are lovely shrubs, and you can make jam from the berries (with some tedious labor) or wine from either flowers or berries, or just attract beneficial insects and distract the birds from your blackberries. But do yourself a favor and plant them where you can mow all the way around.

7 Comments on “Plant with caution

  1. I have mint all over my garden from a boo-boo at least a decade ago. But when I pull it up, roots and all, and stick it in a vase in the kitchen and it smells soooo good! I've made some really good mint marinades for lamb this spring, and can't get enough. Thanks for sharing the mint pesto recipe – I will give it a try.


  2. Been there, done that too, Erica. My experiment with spearmint ended up with it taking over a whole section of our garden. It took 5 years to get it under control. I kept a souvenir plug that still grows in a large plastic tub. I still cut lush stems in early summer, hang them in paper bags to dry, and enjoy fragrant tea on cold winter evenings.


  3. Glad to know others have done the same thing! It does smell wonderful, and I'll always need to have some around – just not all over the garden.


  4. I planted mint in the mixed flower/shrub bed beside the garage near the driveway. Its growth is pretty much controlled on 2 sides. I used to get so aggravated by its rampant growth in the other 2 directions. But I've learned. As it grows into the lawn, I mow it. Then when it gets out of control in the bed, I mow it! The mint is not phased by this abuse. It always comes back and I just mow it!


  5. There are lots of recipes for mint syrup on-line which you can then use to make mint juleps. Also mint jelly is another possible use of excess mint.


  6. Thanks, Herb – I will probably end up making mint jelly, and then I will have to drink mint juleps as a result!

    Ria, I've already started clearing out an area that's just useless grass, weeds, hydrangeas and privet, and can be mowed when the mint goes crazy. There's rampant growth of vinca there too, and they can fight it out.


  7. Has anyone else noticed that the variegated vinca is more invasive than the regular periwinkle?
    I once had a whole bed on the east side of the house taken over by variegated vinca starting from a single strand which came in with a transplanted ornamental grass. Or maybe it was just a great site for vinca.


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