September 3, 2013

By Theresa M. Forte

September is a time for celebrations. The kids are back in school and the sky seems to be the colour of a Mediterranean sea. Harvest festivals and country fairs are popular outings as we enjoy the final days of summer and welcome the arrival of the fall colours.

What better way to celebrate the harvest season than with a basket filled with seasonal treats? The following 'Bruschetta-in-a-Basket' planter has proven to be very popular at this time of the year. This 'theme' planter was born several years ago when I was asked for a unique, garden related donation for a charity raffle. This garden-in-a-basket was auctioned off, netting just under $200 for the charity. Not the most expensive prize, but it definitely attracted attention. The soothing fragrance of the herbs was enough to entice non-gardeners to take a second look. This basket also makes a welcome housewarming or hostess gift.

One of my clients operates a popular B&B in Niagara-on-the Lake. Their autumn guests come to tour the local wineries. A basket reflecting the fall harvest makes a charming addition (and conversation piece) for the patio or veranda. It can be brought indoors to decorate the buffet for a special meal.

Start with a sturdy willow basket, at least 24-inches (60 cm) across and 12-inches (30 cm) deep. Line the basket with a piece of landscape fabric to prevent the soil from washing out. Half fill with a lightweight potting soil.

Bruschetta basket components please the eye and palate. The fragrances of basil, oregano and hot peppers add to the tomatoes.

To give the basket an authentic 'garden' look, fashion a simple structure out of four 24-inch (60 cm) lengths of natural bamboo, tied with twine at the top to resemble a tee pee that would support beans in the vegetable patch. Use lengths of florists wire to secure the bamboo canes to the basket's sides.

At the base of each bamboo pole, plant one tomato with fruit (either Italian plum style or cluster cherry), and three pepper plants, also with fruit (Shepherd, Yellow Hungarian, Pimento, Chile or Banana are good choices). Choose whatever looks fresh and has some fruit for colour. Tie these plants upright along the bamboo supports.

Next, fill the basket with a selection of fragrant herbs (about 15 pots). Select larger plants, ideally with flower spikes. Suitable candidates include members of the basil family (see sidebar at left) such as African Blue, Cinnamon, Genovese, Globe and Purple Ruffles; Rosemary; Oregano; Golden Sage and Lemon Scented Thyme (let the Thyme cascade over the edge of the basket.) Finish the planting by filling all the nooks and crannies with potting soil and water thoroughly. Colourful plaid dinner napkins (echoing the shades of red and yellow in the basket) can be folded and tied around the outside of the basket like a sash and secured with a bundle of fresh garlic (used as a bow). A pizza cutter, or other suitable kitchen gadget attached to a bamboo stake, makes an interesting pick. Add a pretty label to designate the theme of the basket. Place the finished planter on a counter (near the cash) so your clients can experience the fragrance and personality of this 'Bruschetta' planter first hand. Let them stroke the leaves to release their soothing bouquet -- they will be charmed.

Bruschetta (Serves 6)
Bruschetta is an Italian, grilled garlic bread. Traditionally, it is grilled over a charcoal fire, and served (with wine) as an appetizer. For best flavour, use the freshest ingredients. I usually pick the tomatoes and basil just before grilling the bread.

  1. Wash the tomatoes and peppers, cut in half lengthwise and remove as many of the seeds as possible. Dice.
  2. Rinse the basil under running water, shake thoroughly to dry and chop (not too fine).
  3. Cut the loaf of bread in half and grill on both sides until golden.
  4. Brush the top surface with olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic. Top with the prepared tomatoes, peppers and basil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Grate Parmesan cheese over the top.
  5. Grill once again to melt the cheese.
  6. Cut into small pieces and serve immediately.

Theresa M. Forte is a garden writer and photographer based in Niagara Falls, ON. She can be reached at