Love the idea of having an herb garden but don’t know where to begin? Whether you have the space for an expansive outdoor layout or a simple mason jar on the kitchen sink, here are a few ideas to inspire herbal delight both indoors and out.
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A couple of pots on a sunny windowsill is a great place to get your herb-gardening feet wet. A south-facing window is best. East- and west-facing will work, as well – just watch that afternoon sunlight from the East. It can scorch leaves and rapidly dry out soil in small pots.
If all you have is a north-facing windowsill, don’t despair! It will cost you a bit more, but it’s not impossible. Full- spectrum grow lights come in a variety of sizes (and prices, naturally), and are great for standing in as sunshine for your small indoor herbs.
To save your sanity, there are a number of all-inclusive starter kits available for first-time “herbsters,” like this popular organic, non-GMO kit that comes with a variety of five herbs to get you initiated!
You can be creative with your windowsill garden containers. I’ve seen mason jars, coffee cans, and even metal gutters pressed into service! As long as there is proper drainage (in the case of glass jars, put down a 1″ layer of gravel) to keep roots out of the collecting water and rotting.
Use the appropriate sterile and free-draining potting soil for your little seedlings, and ensure proper drainage by selecting a container with a hole at the bottom. Place a plant saucer underneath to prevent water from damaging the surface the plants are sitting on.
Applying an organic liquid fertilizer when you water periodically will help your plants keep pushing out those scent-sational leaves. Regular trimming will also help stimulate growth, and appetites 🙂
Composting is a great way to feed your herbs naturally, and compost tea makes a wonderful fertilizer! If you are new to composting, be sure to read this post: Love Your Soil; The Composting Way Of Life
Define Your Goals
Once you’ve had some success with your windowsill plants, you might want to venture further out into the great unknown. So, now it’s time to assess what you want to do with the space you have.
A Patio Garden
If the most space you can manage to dedicate to a garden of herbs is a patio or balcony, that’s plenty of room to provide yourself with fresh herbal treats.
Dedicate a table top to a collection of pots of varying heights, each one filled with a favorite herb. Using containers of the same material, such as galvanized metal, or a defined color palette will bring a feeling of cohesiveness to the arrangement.
Tips For Designing A Container Garden
Or you can fill one larger pot with an assortment of herbs. When creating a container garden such as this, I like to use plants that have contrasting growth habits with this formula: thrillers, fillers, and spillers.
- Thrillers are tall, spear- or grass-like plants that stand up proudly. In the herb world, those would be something like chives, or lemongrass.
- Fillers are medium height and would have a rounder leaf. Sage or basil are perfect examples.
If possible, find a plant that also contrasts in color or texture, as well. For instance, the fuzzy silver of sage would show well against the smooth darker green of lemongrass.
- Spillers are plants that … well … spill. Prostrate rosemary with its needle-like leaves or the tiny-leaved marjoram would work well draping over the edge of the container.
Wanting to spread out a bit more? Larger containers can be distributed on the patio floor and planted with crops of mint, garlic, and other edibles like lettuces (best kept in the shade), and tomatoes.
**A plus: pots are portable and can be brought inside during the cold-weather months if necessary.
Digging In To A Larger Plot
If you have room to spread out, your options are many.
You could dedicate an 8′-10′ square space to a row garden and include a variety of vegetables in the mix.
You could go all fancy with an English potager. They always remind me of embroidery in the ground! (Check out the resources section below for ideas!)
Or, like the mountainous photo a couple of images above, you could establish a meadow of row upon row of a single beautiful crop like lavender!
My Favorite Way To Grow Edibles Outdoors
My preference for an edible garden is raised beds. They can still look fancy, but the cost and maintenance are not!
The beauty of raised beds is there is no need for heavy digging to prepare the soil. You mix it up once or pour it out of a bag into the bed and then top it up with compost as needed after harvesting.
Weeds are more easily prevented and dispensed of in a raised bed garden and, depending on how tall you build the beds, stooping to care for them is limited or eliminated.
Here’s How …
When planning a raised bed garden, clear the area of pre-existing plant material, then rake the ground level and smooth. Put down a layer of landscape cloth to help prevent weeds, making sure to overlap the edges by about 6″.
Your planting beds can be set directly on top of the landscape cloth. These are simply frames created with any material you like and/or have on hand. They can easily be constructed with brick, stone, cinder blocks, railroad ties, or large, thick branches.
In my opinion, the easiest planting bed frames are made of wood boards.
I recommend using cedar boards for your beds because of their durability, but any wood that has not been chemically treated will do. They should be at least 6″ wide. I like building frames from 12″x 2″ boards and stacking them so they are 24″-36″ tall.
By securing a “floor” to the bottom of the uppermost frame, you only need a depth of 12″ of free-draining quality potting soil. Reinforce it with support boards inside the lower frames or fill them with gravel or topsoil. This takes stooping completely out of the picture. Yay!
If building projects are not your jam, other large containers will easily fit the bill. How about a horse trough? Or better yet, an old vintage bathtub? The more creative, the better!
** A word to the wise: no matter how large a growing space you have, always keep mint in a container. It is a thug, and will take over your beds or rows in no time!
Nobody but nobody likes a bully!
Hand watering the beds is no chore at all, but installing a drip system will make it fool- (and vacation-) proof.
Give yourself pathways between the beds of a minimum of 3′, wide enough to push a wheel barrel through. Top the landscape cloth covering the paths with a mulch of your choice. Redwood or cedar smells wonderful. Be prepared to replenish as it breaks down.
Cocoa hulls are even more fragrant (Gardening in chocolate! How bad can it be?) but you will need to keep pets from eating it as it is toxic for them.
My favorite mulch material for pathways is gravel with pavers set in to make it less painful for bare feet.
(California girl, or could you tell?)
See The Light
When deciding where to locate your herb garden, you will want to keep its aspect to the sun in mind. Most herbs require 6-8 hours of full sun. Mint (that bully!), parsley, chives, and chervil can tolerate a bit less light and are great for indoor gardens.
You will also want to locate it in a sheltered area so heavy winds don’t torment your precious plants. Access to water is of primary concern, as well.
Often by siting your edible herbaceous garden close to your kitchen, you will meet most of those requirements! And, stationed here you will see it daily and notice the need to address problems as they arise, you will be reminded to water and care for it, and you will make use of the delicious bounty when it’s right outside your door!
Seed(ling)s Of Change
While annual herbs are fairly easy to start from seed, some take an awfully long time to germinate, particularly perennials. I encourage novices to start their gardens with seedlings from a reputable nursery. They will have greater visual impact right after planting and be usable for your savory dishes and cocktails much quicker.
If you can’t plant your seedlings right away, put them in a shaded area and give them a good drink when you get them home. Monitor them and keep them moist until they can be planted out.
The best time to plant and harvest is first thing in the morning while temperatures are cool and the ground a bit moist. The oils in the herbs are most available at that time and tend to dissipate later in the day along with the heat.
Snip It … A Lot
You can begin harvesting your crop when you see six sets of leaves on the plant. When harvesting herbs, whether potted or planted in beds, limit the haircut to no more than 1/3 of the plant. Removing more will make it difficult for the plant to bounce back.
Harvest your plant until it begins to flower or bolt for the best fragrance and flavor. The goal of an annual plant is to fulfill its cycle of life by flowering and setting seed. When you trim it early and often, it frustrates the plant and causes it to produce more leaves, which is where the delectable herbal magic happens 🙂
Tips For Maintenance
In her book, Vegetables Love Flowers, Companion Planting For Beauty and Bounty, Lisa Mason Ziegler describes her happy astonishment when she discovered the presence of pesticide-free flowers attracted beneficial insects to her vegetable patch, as well:
… What rose above any gardening troubles along the way was that my garden filled up with pollinators and nature’s pest controls – especially welcome at a time when the number of beneficial insects in most gardens, especially bees, has been diminished by pesticide exposure and loss of habitat. Gardening became easier and my harvests more abundant.”Lisa Mason Ziegler
Flowers are a beautiful and, as you can see, very practical addition to your herb garden.
Other plants that will encourage beneficials to your herb garden are actually herbs themselves, including dill, fennel, and spearmint.
Snails and slugs happen. Rimming your containers and raised beds with copper tape will help keep them away from your yummy herbs and flowers.
Inspiration For The Chef
A chef of a local dinner house told us once that, if you don’t grow anything else, grow thyme. It can completely transform the flavor of anything you serve from a grill.
What are your favorite foods to serve? You can theme your herb garden around those recipes!
Are you in love with Italian bruschetta? Grow tomatoes, along with basil, garlic, and oregano!
Salsa aficionado? Pair tomatoes with peppers, onions and cilantro!
If you enjoy herbal teas, you can plant a beautiful garden around that and sip your own lovely brews!
What about a cocktail garden? You could include dwarf citrus trees, celery or rosemary to stir your bloody marys with, and basil and mint for garnishes!
I hope you’ve found a starting point to begin your herb farming adventures! These plants are so easy to grow when given the right conditions. They are also so easy to love for their beauty, scent, and flavor.
Treat yourself to a garden like this, and watch your quality of life grow along with your luscious and beautiful plants!
PS: Resources for the cooking and growing enthusiast!