For anyone who does not have a permanent backyard, it can be difficult to find ways to garden without the luxury of large amounts of land. However, there are a surprising number of herbs that can be grown successfully in small containers on balconies or in windowsills, a practice called container gardening.
In addition to the convenience of having your plants just a few feet away from you, with no trip to the grocery store necessary, growing herbs from seeds or even young seedlings is much less expensive than buying full-grown herbs or spices at the grocery store.
Herbs are probably the best starting ground for container gardening newbies, as they are easy to grow, don’t take up much space, and can be used in the kitchen in just a few weeks.
Good beginning herbs are thyme, basil, oregano, dill, lemon balm, and mint. These plants are both versatile and easy to grow, and it’s hard to imagine a dish you could make that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of at least one of these seasonings.
Thyme can withstand a little neglect as well as poorer soil than most herbs can survive in, and it thrives in direct sunlight. You will probably need to buy it as a seedling from a nursery, as it can be tricky to grow from a seed. Thyme is a popular ingredient in many meat, poultry, soup, and vegetable dishes.
Basil is a hardy herb present in almost any Italian dish. “Sweet Basil” is the most popular variety, and the most useful type to purchase. Unlike thyme, basil is easily and cheaply grown from seeds. Basil likes strong sun, but the soil should be kept moist. The more you harvest basil, the bushier and fuller it will grow back, so no need to worry about running out of it.
Oregano is another herb well-adapted to many environments, though it needs well-drained soil to grow well. It is known as the “pizza herb” because of the Italian dish in which it is such a prominent feature, but you may also recognize it in Mexican and Spanish meals. It is best grown from a nursery cutting. Oregano can survive the winter if you bring it inside and place it near a well-lit window.
Dill is another sun-loving herb, and grows best if planted in the early spring. You can easily grow it from seeds, and dill will usually reseed itself, so your first dill seed purchase will hopefully also be your last. It can grow several feet high, so make sure that, once fully grown, your dill won’t block the sunlight from your other herbs. Dill is a common flavoring in potato and fish dishes.
Lemon Balm is a, not surprisingly, lemon-flavored herb used in flavoring teas, salads, and sauces. It can grow in most climates, and will usually survive the winter, especially if you mulch it in the fall. It tends to be invasive, so container gardening is ideal to control its growth. You can grow lemon balm fairly easily from seeds. Keep the soil moist but well drained, and harvest and prune it often for best results.
Mint is available in hundreds of varieties, but the same general concepts apply to all of these: containers for mints, like lemon balm, are ideal for control the herb’s weed-like tendencies. It grows best in fertile soil and partial sunlight, and sprouts easily from seeds. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. During the winter it can usually survive indoors by a window.
For more information on how to get started growing herbs, we’ve found the advice at Herb Gardening invaluable.