Container herb gardens really are the business. Wherever you live in the world you can take account of your climate and your cooking needs, and get together suitable edible plants in one place, ideally within easy reach of your kitchen. A container herb garden is quite simply a collection of herbs in one container, or a selection of herbs in various containers, all placed together.
Perhaps you can grow your own herbs ranged along an indoor window sill whilst they are small enough and particularly in cold weather, or group them together on a patio or paved area of the garden near the kitchen door. When growing herbs in pots, consider that many herbs are easy to establish from seed, though herb plants are simple to source from garden centres and nurseries, which could save you some time.
Container Growing is Very Convenient
Herbs benefit from being pinched back, cropped and harvested – basically the more you use them, the bushier and healthier they get, so the closer they are to the seat of the culinary action, the easier for you. Picking out the tips of actively growing plants makes them grow outwards.
Herbs growing conventionally in the garden may be hard to locate in the dark, it may be raining, you may need to navigate through slugs and snails to locate the particular herb necessary for your baked lamb (rosemary?) or tomato and basil salad (no prizes for guessing which one this is!).
The convenience of container growing is ideal for a herb garden, as it is created using a mixture of relatively small plants, all with different properties, that grouped together present all the taste requirements and aesthetic qualities you could possibly want. Sourcing sun or shade is also simple to achieve when you can just move pots and containers around your garden, or move them from outside to inside
Not Only for the Kitchen
Growing herbs is not just a convenient way to source tasty recipe additions. Many herbs are ornamental, many are sweet smelling and many have very pretty flowers. Some herbs are particularly suited to container growth – mint is notorious for taking over the garden, for example. You can plant mint in your garden by placing it in a container with the bottom removed to contain its growth (though this does not always work), but it is probably simpler to just keep it in a pot on its own, where it can flourish to its heart’s content, or place it together with other members of the mint family.
If you want to create a large, self-contained herb garden in one pot, then choose herbs that will live well together – ie that require the same growing conditions of soil, of watering, of sun and of shade. Often this can be achieved by choosing herbs native to similar areas of the world, like Mediterranean herbs. Always place trailing plants around the edges of your container, and plants that grow upwards like basil or rosemary, should be arranged in the middle.
Herbs can be grown together with other plants – parsley grows well with tomato plants for example, as it can help to shade the tender tomatoes in hot weather. As I mentioned in my article Growing Tomatoes in Pots, basil, spearmint and oregano can mask the scent of tomato plants making it harder for pests like whitefly to locate them, and may even confuse them into landing on the wrong plant. So planting herbs in containers can help you take advantage of companion planting.
How to Grow Your Own Herbs
All herbs need good drainage and up to six hours sun per day, though some herbs are ideally suited to more Spartan conditions – thyme and marjoram, for example, thrive in hot dry conditions, and require less watering and less feeding than other herbs. Other herbs need more careful cultivation. Always make sure you place herbs with similar needs together.
Roughly speaking, a 12 inch (30 cm) pot will house up to six plants. Choose some that will live well together. Shards of broken pot should cover the drainage holes, then place a layer of compost above these. Place lower growing and trailing plants around the edge of the pot, and upright herbs in the centre, then fill in the gaps with more compost. Leave about an inch (2.5 cms) from the top of the soil to the rim of the container, then water well and place in a sunny area.
Most herbs need lots of watering in sunny weather. Basil needs a lot of water, as does coriander. They are annual plants so can be thrown away (or composted) at the end of the season. Perennial herbs like thyme, oregano and mint will die off and regrow in the spring. When they are still dormant in the early spring, you can divide perennial plants into sections for replanting. They will need a lot of watering until they become established again. When herbs are actively growing, feed them weekly with a liquid fertilizer.
A container herb garden is a great way to use your creative skills and to source fabulous flavours for your kitchen. A garden can be planted in any container that has good drainage, an old wheelbarrow, an old metal bath, large terracotta pots – all can be used to create a lovely herb garden. You can even ‘theme’ your herb gardens – herbs suitable for use on pizzas can all be grown together, for example. A container garden can be as big as your imagination as well as the space available, and preferably placed near your kitchen door!
Eileen O’Sullivan is an English freelance writer, who once lived in beautiful Sydney (sigh!), where her first son was born. She passionately enjoys contributing to global health – and grow-your-own is a perfect start to sustainable living!