Growing herbs on a sunny deck or patio is a fun and easy way to introduce fresh flavour to your cooking. Plus, many herbs have attractive flowers and aromatic foliage, adding ornamental beauty and fragrance to your outdoor spaces. Herbs can be grown individually in small pots, but grouping them together in a larger container or windowbox will reduce the amount of watering and care your herb garden will require.
Place your edible planter close to the house, so that you don’t have far to run when you remember that you need a handful of basil for that gourmet pasta that you’re in the middle of creating! Here are a few of my must-have picks for a potted herb garden.
Fresh basil is truly the fragrance of summer. We grow more than 50 basil plants each year to supply us with enough leaves for a non-stop harvest from late spring to early autumn and extra to freeze as pesto for winter pastas. Although the incredibly aromatic and flavourful leaves of ‘Genovese’ is the basil of choice for pesto lovers, there are many other types of basil to grow in a potted herb garden. ‘Spicy Globe’ is one of my favourites with its tiny leaves and rounded, compact shape. Lemon basil has fragrant lemon-scented leaves that add depth to chicken and fish dishes. Thai basil has an appealing clove-mint-basil flavour that is essential in stir-fries and curries.
Parsley is no mere garnish! In our gardens and containers, it takes center stage, offering pretty, often curled foliage and adds a bright flavour to soups, salads, pastas, stews, broths and pestos. In a small to medium-sized pot, curly parsley is your best bet. If you have ample growing space, try planting some Italian parsley, whose larger size can overshadow small containers. It does like moisture, so be sure to keep an eye on the soil, watering when dry. We love to toss handfuls of torn parsley in a big bowl of grated carrots, drizzling with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, a small spoonful of sugar and a dash of salt and pepper. The perfect summer salad!
A heat-loving, tender plant, rosemary is an indispensable choice for a potted herb garden. Come autumn, the plants are brought indoors to sit on our winter windowsill, within easy reach of a busy cook. Yet, in summer, the plants should be situated close to outdoor seating areas so that the spiky leaves can be crushed to release the incredible pine-like fragrance. Inhale deeply! Plus, the chopped leaves add fresh flavour to roasted potatoes, barbecued meat (chicken, pork and lamb), loaves of foccacia and much more.
A classic ingredient in marinades, stuffing, soups and potato dishes, thyme is also a tough plant that is extremely easy to grow and has a low-growing, spreading form with tiny leaves. We grow it year round in our cold frames, but it also thrives in pots, and the dainty-looking sprigs will happily cascade down over the edge of a container. For a twist on common thyme, try growing lemon thyme which will add a hint of citrus to all your dishes
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show which airs every Sunday 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.