According to gardening lore, farmers once went stark naked to plant their crops. To show the gods how poor they were says one explanation, but a much more sensible one allows as how, if the farmer could stand the cold, so could the seeds.
Well, they could have been planting naked in Chevy Chase for many a week now and there is no longer any excuse for the unplanted plot. There is, however, an excuse for planting one: a planter's party. You lure a few friends over for a Saturday afternoon to start up your garden. It's a party for procrastinators.
Since planting a garden is hard work under a hot sun, keep the food and drinks light. Chilled herb teas, beer or a light white wine served with a make-your-own sandwich board. Apples, slices of green pepper, endive, lots of different cheeses and cuts of meat, pumpernickel and rye bread, pickles, mustard, olives drained of their brine and rolled around in a bowl with a little olive oil, cloves of mashed garlic and some coarse salt.
What you should have your friends plant-after you've plotted in the obvious-is herbs. If you do that, this party will give birth to many others: a pesta party, a barbecue, even Thanksgiving dinner.
Following are a few herbs you might put in and what to do with them:
Mint-A perennial, it creeps about until you discover your lawn is covered with it, a delight for people who find grass boring and like a sweet scent underfoot. Chop it up with peeled, grated cucumber, add to yogurt, grind on fresh pepper and serve as a sauce for curries or cold meats.
Put new potatoes in a baking dish with dots of butter, chopped mint, coarse salt and pepper and roast until tender, giving them an occasional shake to spread the seasoned butter around.
Tarragon - Mash a handful of leaves, a chopped shallot and a stick of butter together and smear over the inside of a roasting chicken. After you're eaten the chicken, use the carcass to make a flavored broth, the base for an exceptional vichyssoise. Tarragon is necessary for bearnaise sauce.
Basil-Pesta, of which some people dream all year and for which you'll find many recipes. Chop the leaves and sprinkle them on sliced tomatoes or on a salad. Or mix them with crushed pine nuts, mashed garlic, bread crumbs and a little olive oil, stuff into tomato halves and grill until brown on a rack about six inches below the broiler.
Chives-Use for salads, omelettes, green mayonaaise, herb butters.
Dill-The feathery leaves make ordinary tomato soup extraordinary. The seeds are delicious in cole slaw.
Parsley-Chop it up and add to most anything or chew the sprigs. Try a salad of equal parts sliced mushrooms, scallion greens and chopped parsley in an oil and vinegar dressing.
Rosemary-It loves lamb.
Sage - Makes store-bought pork sausage taste homemade. Crush the leaves with coarse salt, olive oil and garlic to taste and use as a marinade on pork loin. Sage leaves oblige by drying on the plant, so come Thanksgiving morning, you can run out to your garden and crumble a handful to stuff the turkey. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption