Bouquets of herbal textures and tantalizing scents make themselves at home in any kitchen. Spicy aromas of thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano perfume the air, while their subtle flavors please the palate. You can grow herbs strictly for culinary use or turn them into a lush visual feast to re-create the spirit of the garden indoors. Small pots suffice, but a bountiful herb basket yields larger rewards and a more frequent handful of your favorite spices when you want to perk up a salad or sauce.
Nearly any kind of basket is suitable for an indoor herb garden. A natural fibrous material, such as wicker, combines perfectly in a casual and earthy way, yet is versatile enough for any décor. Metal and wire baskets offer unique shapes, are longer lasting and can be planted with only a moss liner.
The tiered basket that holds this garden is large enough to warrant its own private window and counter space in a large and airy kitchen. The basket not only holds the herbs up to eye level, but it also allows them to drape gracefully over the rims. When a branch of rosemary grows too long, toss it on the grill for a flavor enhancer or crush the leaves for a marinade. Pick off sprigs of thyme and oregano for the pot on the stove or as a garnish for the table. As you assemble your garden, pay some attention to color and texture; variegated and crinkly foliage add visual pizzazz, as well as flavor.
Choose a basket to suit your decorating style and the number of herbs in your garden. It should be large enough to allow 3/4 to 1 inch between rootballs and 1 inch underneath after the plants are set in place.
You will need:
- Vigorously growing herbs in 2- to 4-inch pots
- Sphagnum moss or moss substitute
- Bucket or bowl
- Spray bottle of water
- Heavy plastic basket, about 4 inches deep
- Peat-based potting mix, moistened
- Small trowel
- Slow-release fertilizer
- At least 1 hour before you plant, water herbs in their pots and soak the moss in a bucket or bowl of water. Let herbs and moss drain thoroughly.
- Ease the plastic liner into the basket so it fits snugly inside and overlaps the edges. Wait to trim it until you finish planting.
- Pour in enough potting mix so herbs in the center are slightly elevated above those toward the edge. Artfully arrange the tallest plants either in the center or at one side. Set shrubby plants in the middle and those that cascade along the outside.
- Loosen the roots of each plant as you position it in the basket. Use scissors to cut through severely bound roots.
- Fill spaces between rootballs with potting mix, firming it slightly with your fingers against plant roots as you work. Mist generously to settle the soil; add additional mix, as needed. The finished soil level should be 1/2 to 1 inch below the basket rim.
- Mist foliage and exposed liner to rinse off soil spills. Trim away excess liner, leaving about 1/2 inch to extend above the soil.
- Separate clumps of moistened moss and arrange lightly over the surface, placing strands under herb branchlets and over liner edges. Allow herbs to rest out of direct sun for a day or two.
Rosemary McCreary is the author of several gardening books and teaches gardening workshops in northern California. Excerpted with permission from Tabletop Gardens (Storey, 2002).