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! And if you leave a comment at the end of the post, you'll automatically be entered to win a copy of Chris McLaughlin's book! You can either post an herb question or tell us what your favorite herb is and how you like to use it, and we'll use a random number generator to pick the winner. Deadline is Sunday at midnight, central time zone. Anonymous posts are not eligible unless you include your name and email address. Be sure to check back here to see who wins!
excerpt from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Small-Space Gardening
by Chris McLaughlin
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:
• Dwarf basil
• Lemon thyme
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 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.
her on Twitter: @Suburban_Farmer. Chris' website: