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By Marianne Taylor

With more residents living in smaller dwellings and deceased backyards, many are forced to stretch out creativity and resort to a balcony or patio to create a green living space. Container gardening is the perfect antidote for creating gardens in small spaces, especially, a culinary herb garden connecting the garden to the resident and fresh herbs right at their fingertips.

The flavor of freshly picked home grown herbs in soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, pastas, salads and many other dishes cannot be matched. A culinary herb garden can not only be a functional garden, but a beautiful one as well. Some herbs, such as lemongrass, sage and thyme, have leaves with interesting textures, scents and shapes. Herbs also provide habitats for beneficial pollinators.

Whether it be buying or building a wooden raised bed, recycling a pallet, using pots or vertical wall hanging, anyone can be successful with gardening in small spaces with the right container for the right space by following these steps.

  • Location. Finding the right location is key. Herbs like it hot and need a sunny location. They will need at least six hours of sun a day. It’s best for an herb garden to be close to the kitchen and not out of sight and out of mind. An herb garden needs to be supervised or it will not succeed.
  • Containers. Herbs grow successfully in containers and can be designed to accommodate any setting. They can be arranged into attractive groupings and moved around on canisters as needed. Plant Depot of San Juan Capistrano has large selections and a variety of containers, from redwood wooden boxes to clay pots to corrugated metal, they have everything one will need to t small budgets and spaces.
  • Soil. According to Meerae Park, team member of Plant Depot, it’s all about good soil. He suggests Gary’s Top Pot soil for herb and vegetable gardens. Most herbs need a well- drained, fertile soil to grow their best. Herbs like an organic soil, so he suggests filling the container with Gary’s Top Pot six inches below the rim of the container and then adding an organic top layer for micro nutrients. Then, plant the herbs and finish with a finer wood mulch. The finer wood mulch decomposes easier and breaks down into more organic matter for the plants.
  • Water. Herb gardens don’t need as much water as a flower or vegetable garden. Be sure to water at least twice a week. However, setting watering reminders on calendars can be helpful so as not to stress out the plans and have them dry out completely.
  • Design and color. According to Wyatt Murphy, man- ager of Shore Gardens Nursery in San Clemente, it’s important to add flowering edibles to herb gardens too. Herbs not only provide flowers for the kitchen garden, but they aid bee habitat and pollinating insects in patio or balcony gardens.
    • Create a theme of color or scent using edible flowers, Murphy said. Pansies, violas, calendula, marigolds and geraniums are some of the edible flowers that can be grown to compliment the leaves and flowers of herbs.
    • Mix up the types of culinary herbs growing with an eye for design. Use a strawberry pot and layer the herbs, Murphy said. There are three types of culinary herbs: herbaceous, evergreen and annual. Herbaceous herbs—such as oregano, chives, tarragon and mint—die back to the ground each year but return in spring. Evergreen herbs, such as rosemary and sage, stay alive and green through winter where they are hard. Annuals—such as basil, cilantro and dill—die off in fall and will need to be replanted.
  • Theme gardens. Plan a culinary herb garden knowing the types of herbs that will be growing. Try creating a theme garden. Dana Point Nursery can get you started with ideas for a theme garden based on your dining preferences. If Italian food is a household cooking favorite, planting plenty of basil, oregano, parsley, thyme and rosemary is a must. If Asian foods hold favoritism instead, make room for Thai basil, lemongrass and hot peppers. If interested in cooking Mexican cuisine, cultivate cilantro, chili peppers and epazote.

With these simple steps, a small green living space can be transformed into a thriving culinary kitchen in no time with daily benefits, regardless of space or budget limitations.

Read more about design in this special section titled, “Inside/Outside” here:

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