Herbs in Small Gardens

Thinking about gardening already? Can’t wait to get outside and dig in the dirt as soon as the mud or snow clears? Well, today’s guest blogger has some ideas for your garden, as well as containers, so you can get started right away! 

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excerpt from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Small-Space Gardening
by Chris McLaughlin

 The Complete Idiot's Guide to Small-Space Gardening book cover

To be honest with you, I haven’t found an herb yet that I haven’t been able to grow both in containers and spaces with very little square footage. They’re easygoing food plants and some of the most fragrant. To be certain that the fragrance is released, I purposefully plant them in areas near walkways and along bed edges so that people accidentally step on them. If your garden visitors don’t seem to get any underfoot, just run your hand along them as you pass by.

Even if you have an herb garden elsewhere in your yard, it pays to have some of them potted up near the kitchen door so that you can easily step out and harvest fresh leaves for culinary dishes.

Herbs are pretty flexible when it comes to the sun. The majority of them, including rosemary, sage, and basil, thrive in full sun, but I’ve found that they tolerate light shade without a problem. This makes it a little easier to save some of the brightest areas of the yard for fruiting vegetables that truly need to soak up the sunshine.

Most herbs are just a natural fit for small gardens. Most of them don’t grow overly large and, if they threaten to, a snip here and a harvest there easily keeps them in check. Herbs don’t mind sharing space with ornamentals in flower beds and make great bedfellows with vegetables. They can be squeezed into some of the most unlikely places, such as the holes in the cinderblocks of a raised bed.

The majority of kitchen herbs also take very well to containers, which is pretty convenient considering that one of the best places to have an herb garden is as close to the kitchen door as possible. This usually means on a porch, deck, or patio, which means pots or other containers. They have no problem growing in hanging baskets, tubs, and Woolly Pockets; if you’re game, they’re game.

Some of the easiest herbs to grow together in a large container are the following:

• Parsley
• Dwarf basil
• Lemon thyme
• Chives
• Oregano
• Savory
• Sage

Rosemary is a must-have, but it’s a shrubby perennial plant that likes its space. My solution is to simply give the rosemary its own container. And the easiest way to get your herb garden up and growing is to purchase little starts from your local nursery. A quick word about mints: Mints can be incredibly invasive and are capable of taking over a garden in just a season or two. It’s best to take a
defensive approach from the get-go and grow them in containers exclusively.

If you’re gardening on a balcony, try planting a short-but-wide container with a bouquet of varieties. You’ll have a good selection of herbs while using less space. If you have only enough room to devote a very small space for a kitchen garden, plant those herbs that you use the most, such as parsley, chives, basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary.

As if herbs’ usefulness in the kitchen wasn’t enough, another good reason to grow them is that they’re some of the most laid-back characters you can grow. They have some basic needs, but they aren’t picky, and most of them are very forgiving. As far as stylistic use in the yard or garden, herbs are as well suited to a formal layout as they are a casual one.

The old-fashioned knot gardens that consist of herbs clipped into formal, geometrical shapes and intertwined hedges may not be realistic in a small-space garden, but they could certainly be placed into geometrical sections and clipped accordingly to give the same impression. Or you could go with a more relaxed version that still offers some light structure, such as an herb wheel.

Chris McLaughlin

Chris is a master gardener, freelance garden writer, and author that’s been gardening for over 30 years.  She’s currently banging away at her fifth book, Vertical Veggies (Alpha, January 2013). Chris balances family, writing, gardening, animals, 4H, and sewing projects from their hobby farm in Northern California.
Follow her on Twitter: @Suburban_Farmer. Chris’ website: www.asuburbanfarmer.com

35 thoughts on “Herbs in Small Gardens”

  1. There are not too many herbs I have not grown — chives are used the most! I enjoy learning new aspects, and did enjoy this article! Thank-you for the post — good luck with the new book! 🙂

  2. I have a very small gardening area at my home and I am trying to mix my herbs and veggies with other perenials. I was a pureist and wanted each in its own space, but as I've gotten older I realize they all get along if I would let them. My favorite herb is thyme. Love it growing and for cooking .

  3. I'm sloooooowly but surely expanding my herb gardening… LOVE having fresh herbs to use, but not always good at the whole growing part. 🙂

  4. I really love fresh Basil! As we are building our new home, I daydream about our gardens and cannot wait to grow some herbs! Our home has a ton of windows on the south side, so I hope to do some indoor containers through the winter, too.

  5. I'd love to win this book on behalf of a friend who has a very small yard and has been slowly learning what she can do with it. I think this would help a lot!

  6. We mix our herbs with our vegetables by companion planting. Unfortunately, our dill decided it wanted to have companions all over our yard instead of just with our cucumbers. The lesson to be learned is that it makes way too many seeds. Our favorite herb this year was chocolate mint.

  7. I have rosemary and culinary lavender planted in a couple flower beds, and some parsley in the garden (for the second time; my young son hoed up my first big beautiful clump). Would love to know how to grow others!

  8. I have never grown anything before, but this year I am going to start. I live in a condo, but have a large patio which i am going to turn into a garden using containers. This book sounds like it would be just the ticket for me!!!!

  9. I grow herbs that I use in my cooking in a container on my deck. It's right outside my kitchen so it's easy to snip and use. But I grow other herbs mixed in with my perennial borders and in raised beds out in the veggie garden. My favorite herb is rosemary.

  10. I don't know much about using herbs in cooking or anything, but I tried my hand at companion planting them in a small box garden last summer.
    Since I am clueless about that, too, I had mixed success.

    But if it helps the plants, I'd do it again. 🙂

  11. I love herbs! I've just started growing some the last few years, and as you say, I've discovered they are some of the easier plants to grow, and they're SO useful. This last year, I was surprised by an impulsive purchase of pineapple sage that I popped into my herb bed. I didn't realize it would grow so enormous and have huge beautiful flowers in the Fall. It was gorgeous!

    And I'm trying to leave my name and email address for you, but there's no option to submit my email address privately. How do I do that?

  12. My herb garden has been doing quite well this winter. Unfortunately my row cover blew off one of the below freezing, windy night and the only thing remaining is my rosemary. I would love to be do a better job in a small space. Whoever wins will be a very happy person.

  13. If you don't have an ID to comment, you can just put your name at the end of the post. If I don't have an email address for the winner, I'll just post the name, and you can email me with mailing info. I just can't have "anonymous" as the winner though because anyone could claim to be that person.

  14. I don't know that I have a favorite herb yet, but I want to learn about small space gardening!

    Thanks for offering this giveaway.

    Jean – MN

  15. I don't know much about growing herbs. I grew some last year, but didn't do much with them. Would love to learn more about how to cook with them, store them, grow them etc. Thanks for offering this giveaway!!

  16. This sounds like a fabulous book. I'm really keen to learn about herbs and edible flowers and other things that can complement my cheese making passion. Sure would love this book. Thanks for profiling it.
    Heather S

  17. Would so love to win this book…I grew up with a garden but my husband isn't so inclined. It's too hard to arrange a large garden alone, so small space gardening is perfect for me! My grandson loves to plant and to watch things grow…I believe it will help to create a lifelong gardener! It will be a start to our self-sustainability (along with our chickens and soon-to-own goats)

  18. We live in a townhome with a teeny yard and deck, but it has been my dream to try to grow something in the full sun in either of those places. Fingers crossed.

  19. I'm a salsa junkie, so one of my favorite herbs is cilantro. I am also partial to rosemary. I love to slip a cutting between the skin and breat meat of a chicken before roasing. I live in the city, so winning this book would be right up my alley!

  20. I have a vegetable garden and keep herbs in large containers on my patio. There is nothing like stepping out the back door and snipping fresh Rosemary and Thyme to season a lambchop with!

    I think my favorite 'new' herb that I tried last year was Lemon Thyme. I can't believe how "lemony" it smells and tastes. Like a lemon drop!

    Come on random number picker…pick ME!!!


  21. You are soooo right about the mint. I have to keep mine firmly in hand in a large container by itself, otherwise I think it would take over the yard. Right now my two favorite herbs are basil and mint (love mint tea with a passion). I would very much like to win the book. Thanks for the chance.

  22. Mint, thyme, rosemary, and basil are my favorite herbs, but I'm having a really hard time getting them to grow in my south-facing window. Maybe this book will be just what I need to get them going!

  23. I've just gotten my order of herb seeds – looking forward to starting them! It's my first real adventure in gardening since I had my own little plot in my mom's vegetable garden when I was 5, so we'll see how it goes – I'm sure this book would help me out!

  24. Jean in MN is the winner! Random.org picked #19, and she left the 19th comment. Jean, drop me a note using the comment form on here, and give me the name and address where you want the book sent! Congratulations!


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