Container gardening

With residential areas expanding and more people setting up home in cities, living spaces appear to be gelling smaller. Bui no malter where vou live, vim can always plant a selection of herbs, whether it's on a balcony, deck or veranda, or in a courtyard — any small garden space where they can thrive in hanging baskets, pots and other containers.

\ potted herb garden

Heros love growing in pots, and some herbs, such as mint and parsley, spread easily and will take over garden beds, so even if you have a huge garden, it's best to contain them. If you put containers in the right sunlit position, use good-quality potting mix and give your herbs the care they need, they will flourish.

The best position

Many herbs, such as marjoram, fennel and thyme, prefer to grow in full sun, while others, such as catmint, chamomile and coriander, are happiest in partial shade.

A wide selection of herbs, including sage, chives and apple mint, highlights their different shapes, textures and colors.

On the other hand, a few herbs, such as watercress and angelica, actually need the shade. So, determine how much sun your balcony, courtyard or window box will receive throughout the year, and choose your plants accordingly. Alternatively, choose the plants you want to grow and then find the most suitable spot in which to grow them.

In hot climates, it's best to give plants some shade protection, as the heat can be too intense, even if they enjoy full sun in cooler locations. Another important factor is good air circulation; humid conditions can create fungal problems. Also avoid positions open to strong winds; a barrier such as lattice, can diffuse the breeze.

The right pot for the job

Before you buy pots or containers, think about their different shapes, sizes and materials, as these will play an important part in the success of your herbs and the design of your display.

Don't use lots of little pots, particularly in different styles and colors, as these tend to make small spaces look cluttered. You can still grow a variety, but keep it simple; for example, select a single color to pull one area together.

Herbs such as parsley, peppermint and thyme enjoy being contained, and look attractive spilling exuberantly over pot rims, so consider the shape and form of what you're growing and select containers that suit their 'personality;

Choose containers that complement the location and its surroundings, pick textures and colors to match the area's paintwork, paving or surface, and go for the biggest container that's practical.

Checklist (or UccceAb m To reduce moisture loss, apply .1 seal to porous pots. Or buy glazed ceramic pots, which are not as porous as untreated concrete, terracotta or limestone.

■ If moving pots is a problem, buy fiberglass or polyethylene ones. They're lightweight and come in many different shapes, sizes and colors.

■ Sil your [Kits on saucers lo hold any excess water and lo stop tile or surface staining. However, make sure you give the roots a chance lo dry.

■ To raise pots, and make moving or sweeping easier, use static or movable stands on casters. Make sure pots are secure and won't move around on windy days.

■ Heavy or large containers are the best choice in areas regularly exposed lo strong winds, such as rooftop gardens and balconies.

■ Consider the scale: a very large pot will look totally out of place squeezed onto a liny balcony.

Stagger the heights of complementary pots or containers and underplant tall herbs with trailing plants that will spill over the edge of the pot

Shapes and sizes

Round, square or rectangular, squat or tall, with straight or tapered sides: any of these container types is perfect for growing herbs, as they all allow for good root growth and the display of foliage and flowers. Varying sizes of the same design will give an area a uniform look.

Although they look attractive, urns and 'oil jars' have narrow necks, making it extremely hard to remove plants without damaging them. You could also find yourself with many plant roots and very little foliage. If you favour bell-shaped pots, a cylindrical shape is best because ones that taper in sharply may not provide enough room for roots to space themselves out.

Troughs are generally long and narrow, like window boxes, and are perfect for formal or narrow areas. Team them with a square pot of similar material to create a right angle, then add a round pot to create a point of difference.


The type of pot material will also affect both the look and the portability of your herb garden. Terracotta pots are popular with gardeners because they're practical, affordable and look attractive in most situations. Limestone and concrete pots, with their lovely pale colorings, are also popular, while alternative materials, such as plastics, are worth exploring.

In fact, the new generation of plastic materials offers a range of good-looking, practical choices. Polyethylene and fiberglass (including marine grade) are most commonly used, as they're long-lasting, lightweight, waterproof and available in a wide range of colors. They can also be frost-, UV- and scratch-resistant. And, because these materials are not porous, they'll hold moisture longer than concrete or terracotta.

Experiment with unusual containers, such as old colanders and wicker baskets.

If your chosen pot has no drainage holes (many pots are designed for indoor use and don't have them), just drill a few of them into the base.

Potting mix

One of the most important elements in growing herbs successfully is the right soil or planting mix. Potting mix is better than garden soil, as it's specially designed for container conditions and will provide just the right balance between holding water and providing good drainage. At your local nursery, you'll find various organic mixes that are tailored for different situations, such as hanging baskets.

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■ Decide what you want to use your herbs for — for example, picking— and plant accordingly.

■ Choose a theme when growing culinary herbs. Select hot and spicy herbs such as chillies and coriander for Mexican or Asian dishes; and dill, lemon balm, horseradish and oregano for fish dishes.

■ Plant contrasting colors in the same pot. Try "Ruffles." the dark purple-leafed basil, on one side and fine-siemmed chives with mauve flowers on the other.

■ Try bay trees to create a focal point against a wall or Hanking a doorway. They have a lollipop shape that makes them perfect pot specimens.

■ I sc wine barrels for an earthy look. For a classical one. use decorated terracotta.

■ Pot up culinary herbs, such as chives, rocket, parsley or basil, in a spot near the barbecue, and let your guests snip off their ow n herbs.

The best products have a 'standards' mark to indicate the potting mix contains extra ingredients, such as a wetting agent to stop it drying out too fast, vermiculite to keep the mix lightweight, and a slow-release fertilizer that gradually feeds the roots. The old adage 'you get what you pay for' is true here: it is worth investing in a good quality mix as, over time, you'll have healthier, happier plants.

Feeding tips

There are many fertilizers on the market. A good all-rounder that will suit most herbs is a "balanced" or "all-purpose" one: it will contain all the necessary nutrients to promote strong, healthy roots, flowers and leaves as well as help herbs grow into vigorous, sturdy plants. A soluble fertilizer is ideal for container-grown herbs and also for seedlings, which need to be fertilized regularly so that they will flourish. Always follow the directions on the packet.

If you notice that white 'salt' deposits (fertilizer residues) are appearing on the outside of terracotta pots, you can easily wash them off.

Add a liquid seaweed product to your watering regimen, as this is an excellent tonic. Apply it when you are first planting up pots and containers to help minimise transplant shock (see page 162).


While most herbs like to be kept moist, they also need to be allowed to dry out in between waterings so they're not left standing with constantly damp roots.

A good potting mix provides good drainage, while holes in the base of the pots allow the excess moisture to escape. Buy a colorful watering can that's easy to find, fill and carry. Keep it out of direct sun so that it lasts longer.

Hanging gardens

You can also grow herbs in hanging baskets (see Hanging herb ball, page 306). Those that have a trailing habit, such as heartsease, thyme, mint and

Vibrant petunias add a splash of color to thyme, lovage, chamomile and erigeron.

pelargonium, are ideal for hanging at eye level where you can easily see your plants maturing and enjoy their fragrance. If you hang baskets higher than eye level, you'll tend to forget about them.

Baskets are commonly made of plastic or wire. Line wire baskets with sphagnum moss, a spongy fibrous material that will hold the potting mix and retain moisture, or use a ready-made basket liner made from coconut fiber. Hanging baskets are prone to drying out in winds, so keep an eye on their moisture levels - another reason to hang them at the right height.


About every 12 months or so, give your potted herb garden a boost by re-potting or replenishing it

Discard annual herbs and start again. Remove perennial herbs carefully, compost the old potting mix. and re-fill the base of the pot with fresh mix. Then trim the roots of the plants if they look congested, and cut off any old stems to give the plant a tidier shape and to promote new growth. Replant them in the container and backfill with fresh mix, gently firming it as you go. Finally, water the herbs thoroughly.

Planting a strawberry pot

It's fun to plant up a strawberry pot with your favorite herbs and flowers.

Buy a few more herbs than you will actually need. Experiment with placement and combinations of herbs to get a look you like. Then get planting.

Always open bags of potting mix in a well-ventilated area. Avoid breathing in the dusty particles, and consider wearing a protective face mask.

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□ large terracotta strawberry pot

□ selection of trailing herbs (we used variegated and common oregano, thyme and strawberry) and an upright plant (we used fan flower).

□ bag of quality potting mix

□ potting scoop or trowel

□ small bag of coconut fiber (optional)

1 Fill the pot with polling mix until il comes lo just beneath ihe level of the first hole.

2 Carefully remove ihe first herb from its container; lease the roots oui so that the surrounding potting mix is loosened. Genllv ease the roots into the lowest hole in Ihe pot. Fill pol with more potting mix. gently firming the inside with your hand to ensure thai ihe roois are covered. Add mix until

you reach the level of ihe next hole. Plant until all holes are filled. To stop polting mix falling out Ihe sides of the pol. tuck a small amounl of coconut fiber around the edges of each hole.

3 Finish by creating an attractive centerpiece, tucking potiing mix around its roots. This final plant doesn't have to be an herb. For a dash of color, you could use a flowering annual or perennial. We selected fan flower (Scaevota aemula). but any plant with an upright habit will help lo balance the composition of the pot. Place your strawberry pot in a sunny spot. Ihen water well.

Continue reading here: Companion planting

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