Mirepoix Garden planted for singular mix of herbs and vegetables
One of the best things about gardening is recognizing how many things in our lives are the result of immigrants – immigrant plants as well as people. Some everyday words are named after people or places. For example, our word “algebra” comes from the Arabic word al-jabr, and “algorithm” is in fact named after Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, whose last name was horribly translated into Greek and mispronounced. In 1501, Aldus Manutius, a printer, developed a type style that was thin and slanted. Since he was Italian, that style is today called italic.
Which brings us to a garden specifically planted for a single combination of herbs and vegetables, the Mirepoix Garden. We can thank the Duke of Mirepoix for giving us his name for that sautéed mixture of diced carrots, celery, onions, and savory herbs, often with bacon or ham. This is the go-to mixture added into so many soups, stews, casseroles and sauces. Carrots and onions are easy to grow from sets, but celery is a tough plant to grow for many beginners. Since what we really want for the mirepoix is the flavor of celery, not necessarily the crunch, because it will be sauteed, you can instead grow cutting celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum). These plants grow more like tall parsley, with lots of leaves and relatively thin 18-inch stalks. This is a classic cut-and-come-again vegetable that will keep growing after it is cut, so you will have an endless supply right up until frost.
Seed is available from companies such as Johnny's Seeds (johnnyseeds.com). Sow the seed directly in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Because the seeds need light to germinate, plant them very shallowly.
Cutting celery is quite drought tolerant once it is established. The deep-green plants even stand up to cool fall temperatures. The plants have been known to winter over when covered with a deep mulch. Cutting celery repels cabbage white butterflies, so it is a good companion for broccoli, cabbage and kale.
To save your own seeds, you will have to let the plants bloom and go to seed. The plants are covered with hundreds of tiny flowers. These blooms attract beneficial pollinators such as honey bees to the garden for several weeks. Gather the seed after it has dried thoroughly on the stalk. You may even find volunteer seedlings of cutting celery next spring.
Whether you stick to just onions, cutting celery and carrots, or expand to include other herbs, your mirepoix garden will do you well when on a chilly night, you simmer the vegetables for a hearty stew to enjoy with a glass of port. And you can curl up in a button-front sweater named for the British military hero who led the charge of the Light Brigade, made immortal thanks to a poem by Alfred Tennyson. Not just a hero, but a fashion-conscious hero, this earl paid to outfit his soldiers with a knitted, woolen waistcoat with an open front to keep them warm during the Russian winter. The cardigan jacket and later the sweaters were a fashion hit, and for that we can thank the 7th Earl of Cardigan.