Creating a small collection of herbs for your patio or porch is a bit like creating a stamp collection. I was always fascinated with stamp collecting when I was younger; now I collect herbs and vegetables.
It is not necessary to have a large yard when you can simply arrange attractive pots, galvanized tins, window boxes or woven baskets into an arrangement that will enliven your porch or patio and provide culinary delights to add to all your dishes.
When planning any new garden, large or small, it is important to find the right location. If you will be harvesting herbs mostly for culinary use, choose an area close to the kitchen with full or partial sun. In either case, most herbs prefer at least six hours of direct sun, but there are a few exceptions.
If your yard or patio is in a very hot summer location, it would be best to place the pot collection in morning sun, so the afternoon heat will not overwhelm your herb collection. Plant the shade-loving herbs in an area that does not receive full sun, or under an overhanging balcony or eave.
Remember that Mediterranean-style herbs (rosemary, tarragon, sage, oregano, thyme and lavender) are happy in hot, dry conditions, so group them together in large pots or window boxes. Plant the shade-loving herbs such as parsley, coriander, sorrel and chives in an area that does not receive full sun.
Most newbie gardeners can be overwhelmed by the huge selection of herbs on the market, so I advise starting with a few containers with four or five of my favorites including a Mediterranean medley of basil (all kinds!), parsley, cilantro and rosemary. However, the possibilities are endless, so if you prefer an Asian style of cooking, go for Thai basil, lemongrass and hot peppers. If you like Mexican cooking, look for coriander, chili peppers and eposote.
All herbs grow best in good quality potting soil purchased from a nursery or garden center. Do not try to save money by digging up soil from your yard! Ask lots of questions of the nurserymen regarding potting soil because there will be far too many varieties from which to choose.
The ideal soil will provide the right balance between holding water and providing good drainage. Purchase an extra bag of vermiculite, which can add needed aeration to the mix when filling the pot.
HOW TO PLANT
To begin your pot collection, choose containers of varying heights. Start off with three ceramic vessels — tall, medium and short — with the colors you use in your yard décor. Be certain that they all have holes in the bottom for drainage. If not, you will need to drill some. Add a few pieces of broken pottery to the bottom, so that the soil will not leak out.
Then add potting soil about one-third full, and pour in a few cups of vermiculite and mix together. Alternate potting soil and vermiculite until pot is two-thirds full. Then, with herbs still in original plastic pots, place them on top of the soil.
Place the tallest herb in the center, and trailing herbs (such as oregano or thyme) on the edges. When the container looks full, take the herbs out of their original plastic pots. Dig a hole big enough for the herb and press into the soil. Top off with more soil if needed. Water thoroughly until water comes out of the bottom of container. Add small pebbles or shells to complete the design.
Raise the container off the ground to ensure good drainage, using bricks or ceramic pot feet.
WATER AND FERTILIZER
Once established, check pots on a daily basis for watering needs. Leafy green herbs such as parsley and basil may need water each day, whereas drought-tolerant aromatics such as rosemary, thyme and sage may need water only every few days.
Use a liquid fertilizer every few weeks once the containers are established.
PICK AND ENJOY!
Remember to pick your herbs on a weekly basis and check your favorite cookbooks for ideas. “The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs” (Reader’s Digest, 2009) has lots of great herbal recipes.
Future articles in Jano’s Garden will include contain more herbal culinary and medicinal ideas.
Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and horticulturist and works on community gardens in North County. Email her at: email@example.com.