Gardening Magazine

Gone Potty Over Herbs

By Gardenamateur

After my previous blog posting on the new 'Herbs & Spices' book by Don Burke, as well as my own potted herb garden, one of my regular and most thoughtful commenters, Shivangni Sharma, got in touch with me via email (as she usually does) to ask: "Why did you pot up the herbs? I keep lamenting that I don't have ground to plant them! Is it a blessing to be forced to grow in pots?"

It was perfect timing by Shivangni, as that topic was something I was thinking of discussing in my last posting, but as that post was becoming over-long (as usual) I decided to write something next time.

No, it's not a blessing to be forced to grow herbs in pots, Shivangni. The simple reason I have moved my herbs from being planted in the ground, to pots, is lack of space. My in-ground herb plants were so big and vigorous that they were taking up too much space. I wanted to grow more different plants, especially succulents – and Pammy wanted more flowers – and so with our little garden just 9 metres long and 7 metres wide, the beautiful, fragrant herbs were taking up just a bit too much space. Grown in pots, they still provide more than enough flavor in the kitchen, but they let me grow more succulents, and Pam can have more lavenders, tibouchinas, gardenias and other flowers.

The in-ground herbs are beautiful plants, and if I had a bigger garden that's where I'd always grow every one of them - in the ground. But before I say goodbye to my in-ground herbs for a while at least, just one last look back over the shoulder at them...

Gone potty over herbs

Here's a perfectly good reason to grow herbs in the ground.
This photo of my former sage plant (now in a pot) is still one
of my favourites. But herein lies the problem. This is enough
sage for a hundred cooks' needs. It's over one metre wide.

Gone potty over herbs

I went mad over curly parsley borders. I filled up the blank
space in the middle with lettuce, silver beet and marigolds,
but my real mission here was a curly parsley border.

Gone potty over herbs

The thyme became a marvelous monster.
Only the left third of this plant is growing
in soil; the right-side two-thirds of it is
loving the hot life on the pavers. It thinks
it's in the Mediterranean, with its roots in
a patch of dry, crumbly hillside and the
rest of the plant behaving like a sunbathing
tourist, stretching out and sunning itself
on the rocks. Happy days.

Gone potty over herbs

Summer's a lovely time for herbs here, such as this combo
of basil behind a curly parsley border, shallots to the left and
a wall of blue-flowering sage in the background.

So, Shivangni, I have made life a bit harder for myself by growing herbs in pots. They are a lot more work in pots, so much easier in the ground. But my garden is small and so the workload is only relatively greater. The space created by removing the sage and the thyme has made my new succulent garden possible, and Pam has more lavender and tibouchina to enjoy. And we still have enough herbs to cook with.

There's only a few tricks to growing herbs in pots. The main one is the same one for growing herbs in the ground. Constant trimming to keep them bushy is the main game. Don't think of yourself as your herbs' gardener. Think of yourself as their barber. Trim herbs whether you need them for cooking or not. All herbs benefit from regular trims.

The second trick is pot feet under pots. Good soil drainage is vital to keep most herbs happy (with the exception of that cunning swamp fox, mint).

I was almost going to write that the third trick is sunshine, but there's enough exceptions to repeal it as a rule. For example, mint likes semi shade, chervil is the same. While parsley loves sunshine it copes remarkably well with only partial sunshine, so too oregano, and tarragon is a bit of a wilter in the hot afternoon sunshine, so giving it some respite from the strongest Aussie sunbeams is a good thing for it. 

Most of the other popular herbs not only can be called sun-lovers, and if yours are not getting enough sunshine and they're not doing well in your garden, that's the problem!

Finally, if you missed my previous posting on my current gaggle of potted herbs, which prompted Shivangni's question, it's here. That posting was also a thinly disguised plug for this book, pictured below, which I helped to produce, and which is on sale now. It has so much info about herbs and spices, I'll understand if you'll never have to read my blog postings on herbs again! Actually, I won't understand! It's just the kind of nonsense that salespeople say that they don't really mean. But they say it anyway.

Gone potty over herbs

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