By Peyton Roberts
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a jungle out there. One of the first impressions that struck me about Guam is how absolutely lush it is here. With the help of empowering sunshine, reliable rainfall, and nourishing soil, it seems just about anything that puts down roots in the right place shoots toward the heavens. While some grumble that this means extra time mowing an overgrown lawn, it also means that Guam has the perfect combination of natural forces for starting a successful garden of your own.
If you’re new to the idea of home farming (like I was when I moved to Guam), a simple herb garden is a great way to get started. In terms of freshening up meals, there’s no bigger bang for your buck. A handful of herbs can transform a simple combination of a few ingredients into a memorable home-cooked meal. Eggs scrambled with tomatoes, garlic and sweet basil make for a protein-packed and savory breakfast. Sweet potatoes roasted with rosemary and Parmesan taste more like a dessert than a side dish. And salmon slathered with Dijon mustard and fresh dill leaves me little reason to want to go out to eat, especially considering one of the main ingredients of my meal won’t cost me a thing. It’s fresh as can be and right at my doorstep.
While herbs can certainly be grown from seeds, the absolute easiest way to get started is by replanting a clipping from a friend or by buying an inexpensive starter plant from nurseries and garden centers around the island. Home Depot frequently rotates the types of herbs they offer, so I always make a point to spin through the garden center and peek for newcomers. Starter plants are typically $2 to $6 depending on the herb. They come in small pots but need to be replanted into something bigger in order to flourish.
Much like in real estate, location is one of the most important aspects of ensuring herb garden success. As gardening amateurs, we lucked out by planting our herb garden an in-ground bed on the east side of our home. We didn’t know it at the time, but this positioning meant our herbs got direct sunlight in the morning but shade in the heat of the afternoon, a combination they really seem to love. The bed is under the overhang of our roof, so the garden gets rained into but not pummeled by downpours… plenty of water but not too much. We also set up an inexpensive automatic watering system with a soaker hose we bought at Home Depot. This ensures our herbs always have something to sip on, even during Guam’s less rainy season.
Fresh Factoid: Fresh-cut herbs such as basil, dill, and oregano create a sweet-smelling addition to your kitchen when arranged into a homemade bouquet.
If an in-ground bed isn’t an option for you, we have many friends on the island who have had great success growing herbs in pots. Growing one type of herb in a 12-inch or greater diameter pot gives you the option of moving plants around to receive more sunlight, less rain, or more shade as needed. Potted plants need a little more attention to ensure they are getting enough water, but it’s definitely worth the extra effort to have VIP access to these mealtime superstars.
As for our herb garden, we have had tremendous success growing dill, oregano, rosemary, all kinds of basil, lemongrass, parsley, mint, and kaffir lime. By success, I mean, we refer to our dill as the dill tree and to our herb garden as our herb jungle! In fact, we typically have to prune every other week to keep our herbs from spilling over the walkway and blocking our back door. It’s a nice problem to have, and often results in a delicious new supply of pesto.
There’s certainly nothing new or mysterious about the flavor combinations that herbs create. But there is something magical about their power as a flavor turning point. To get you started, here are a few of my favorites that incorporate other fresh ingredients available on island:
- Grilled ahi tuna marinated in chopped rosemary, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper
- Crisp salad of local tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, basil, mozzarella, olive oil, salt and pepper
- Lemongrass and kaffir lime steeped into a coconut-based Thai curry with eggplant and long beans
Peyton Roberts is a military spouse who moved to Guam from the States in July 2010. She started her blog, Peyt’s Island, as a way to keep friends and family informed about what island life is like. Over time, that space transformed into a forum for writing about her experiences discovering Guam’s beauty, and more recently its flavors. Peyton loves all Guam adventures, whether land or sea, and has a passion for sharing ideas about incorporating local produce into regular family cooking. At the Fresh Factor, Peyton shares recipes, interviews, and information about all things fresh on Guam.