Herbs for Small Spaces

We continue our series on gardening in small spaces. First gardening on decks and patios was discussed. Next we gave some tips about windowbox gardening and then we looked at how to use a terrarium.

For this issue, Jess of California Home and Garden in Miramar suggests that herbs are perfect for gardening in small spaces – they don’t grow too high for the wind to attack and are unperturbed by salty winds. They adapt to small spaces. Luckily, there’s a selection of versatile and foolproof Mediterranean herbs which will flourish in difficult circumstances.

A deceptively dainty looking groundcover plant, looks great spilling over the sides of pots. Culinary multi-purpose with a wide variety of looks and flavours available, including ‘lemon’, ‘chicken’ and ‘pizza’! Varieties will mix happily, but avoid the inedible woolly thyme.

An essential flavour for many a Mediterranean dish, with a similar but slightly taller growing habit to thyme. The ‘True Greek’ variety is sturdier than the common type, but more pungent and not as sweet.

A shrubby plant with peculiar leathery leaves, which sat ignored in my garden until I discovered how deliciously it worked in pumpkin dishes. You can choose from a red, green and variegated variety for equally tasty plants, but avoid the alluringly named ‘Pineapple sage’ for it is something else entirely!

Needs little introduction, with its distinctive waxy leaves and sprays of vibrant blue flowers. The variety ‘Chef’s Choice’ is lauded as being best for cooking, with a spicy flavour and high oil content. It also has a small, tidy growing habit so sits very prettily in containers. However, all rosemary is edible, and it would be a shame to overlook the trailing type which can cascade for over a metre – a real statement in a tall pot or pouring over the edge of a balcony.

General care
The biggest killer of these plants is sitting in soggy soil, so a fast-draining potting mix is an essential part of their care. I would recommend a specialised potting mix, such as Tui’s Herb Mix, or add one part coarse sand to four parts standard potting mix.

The potting mix will contain a little bit of fertiliser to kick things off, but every spring and following autumn I recommend sprinkling some slow-release fertiliser, such as Osmocote for Vegetable, Tomato, Herb & Garden Beds, on the surface of the mix at an approximate rate of 1 tablespoon per 15cm of pot. Your herbs won’t die without food, but you’ll notice their growth slows down.

Only water when the top inch of soil is dry, which may be about once a week in summer but don’t panic about going away, these are plants which are designed to survive the odd drought. If you do take a vacation, perhaps leave the plants in a spot where they could catch some rain. In winter you may find you never need to water at all, particularly with the driving rains we’re prone to. When you do water, be sure to give plants a thorough soak until water comes out the bottom of the pot.

Bear in mind when selecting pots that soil in porous containers, such as terracotta and wood, dries out more quickly than in glazed and plastic pots. Aside from that, simply buy whatever suits your space and style. I personally like pocketed herb pots (pictured) to maximise space.

And lastly, be sure to use them generously! All of these plants respond well to being regularly trimmed, and may grow woody and straggly if you don’t make a habit of cutting stems for your cooking. After all, isn’t that what they’re there for?

 Bay View newsletter 68, November 2016