If you love to cook, chances are you like fresh herbs. Whether you like to line them up in pots on the kitchen windowsill or hang them up in pockets on the wall, fresh herbs can look amazing. Here is a bunch of inspiring ideas for potting up your favourites and some maintenance tips to keep them providing.
It may seem obvious, but you should choose to grow the herbs you like to eat. Horticulturist and author of The Thrifty Gardener, Millie Ross, grows them all.
“With me, just about every herbaceous flavour has its moment in my sun,” she says. “I’m a seasonal kid. In late winter and spring, I am enamored by the bite of fresh coriander and subtle scent of dill. Both are delicious with my chooks’ eggs and a bit of chilli, and are best sown directly from seed as the weather cools off in autumn.”
As any avid gardener will tell you, plants don’t really like being indoors, so potted plants, including herbs, must be rotated outside to get a dose of sun and fresh air.
Only a few plants tolerate being indoors for weeks, or months, but not for much longer. “You can grow some of the leafy greens, such as mint, coriander and basil, for a short time in a bright spot indoors but most often the pests will find them,” says Ross.
Low light conditions cause plants to produce elongated, sappy growth, which is a magnet to sucking insects like aphids. “Torture a few pots and enjoy them while you can, but for a real home harvest, head for the sun.”
To ensure your plants get the best chance at survival, lining them up on a sunny windowsill is ideal, but if the ledge is too narrow, place plants in an antique trug or even a workman’s wooden tool box with handle for easy movement. This simple solution is not just practical but the green foliage against the weathered wood looks amazing – especially if you have a collection of boxes in various sizes.
Another way to get herbs mobile is to put pots in beautiful Art Deco, mid-century or Victorian drinks’ trolleys. These make attractive mobile herb gardens that could be wheeled in and out of the kitchen.
Ross suggests her own neat idea: “Last summer I lined an old cane basket with plastic, filled it with a good quality potting mix then planted sage, thyme, parsley and oregano in it and took it camping so I would have fresh flavours in campfire cooking.”
Nifty and thrifty ideas
Some of the most stylish ideas to display pots of herbs at home are also the most economical. Ross, who is also a researcher on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia, has been thinking up thrifty decorative garden ideas for years. She suggests using your prettiest chipped china cups and bowls for herb pots. “In the kitchen, use whatever you have on hand. Old tin cans, broken crockery, glassware, saucepans or plastic containers can all be converted into planters with a few holes for drainage and some good potting mix.”
“I have common Vietnamese and peppermint growing in bright yellow plastic buckets that I collected from the local Indian sweet store. I’ve hung them along the fence near the kitchen door. When one pot gets picked clean, it is cut back and fed while another is brought forward to continue the supply.”
If you lack the ingenuity to grow potted herbs on a paling fence in found vessels, there are several large furniture and homewares retailers that offer wall panels that brace or hold pots in place when fixed to a wall or fence. Then there’s the soft approach: Big W’s Patio by Jamie Durie range includes a blanket of pockets that can be filled with plants and then simply hung up.
There are more complicated irrigated options, too. Last month, for the Sydney Design festival, the café in the Powerhouse Museum was filled with an installation of commercial green walls, many filled with a bounty of herbs and vegies ready for picking and eating.
You can use an old pallet for the same purpose. “These can easily be converted into simple vertical gardens,” says Ross, “as can aluminium guttering and planters. Just be sure to fill with a good quality mix, as they will dry out quickly, and water and feed regularly. Many of the Mediterranean herbs like thyme, oregano and prostrate rosemary are well suited to growing on walls.”
Pick and eat
To look after your herbs, all you need do is eat them. “Most herbs will respond to picking by putting on extra growth, but harvest with care,” advises Ross. “Snip leaves and stems back to healthy buds to encourage more growth.”
“I divide my potted mints, for example, a couple of times through the growing season as they are a spreading plant, and produce best on the run,” says Ross. “When the plant starts to look tired, slip it out of the pot and chop it into three pieces. Plant one piece into the centre of the pot in rejuvenated mix, and give the other two away. Within weeks, you will be picking full, fresh leaves.”