Garden Spaces: Plant Mint In Your Balcony Garden

Create a useful, beautiful terrace garden with 10 types of mint.


| August/September 2010



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Click on the IMAGE GALLERY for the planting key.

Illustration by Gayle Ford

• Design Plans: Grow These Mints In Your Balcony Garden 

One good herb leads to another. Many herb gardeners are plant collectors, and it’s hard to imagine any group of herbs that lends itself better to this collective spirit than the mints. The range of familiar fragrances from unexpected sources is eye-popping and smile-inducing. Chocolate! Lemon! Pineapple! More!

Perfect for Containers

The Mentha genus is especially good for collecting in containers on a balcony or porch, even for those with acres of gardens, because many if not most varieties in the mint family are too aggressive in the ground, even invasive, sending out runners in all directions. And it makes sense to keep them close by in pots because the mints are so handy in the kitchen and easy to use for instant garnishes and to add a zing of flavor to fruit salads and other everyday food.

And fortunately for us herb collectors, there are lots of mints to choose from—25 species in the Mentha genus, as well as hybrids and varieties aplenty. You might start off with basics, including a useful spearmint such as ‘Kentucky Colonel’ for mojitos, juleps and minted peas; a peppermint or two for stomach-soothing teas; and those fruity mints with the astonishing scents. There are many beyond the 10 discussed here, including lime mint, ginger mint and banana mint. Before you know it, you’ll be looking for the more difficult-to-find species and the newest cultivars.

Growing Mints

You can always recognize a member of the mint family, Labiatae (which includes many other common classic culinary herbs such as basil, sage and oregano) from its square stems. Most mints thrive in light shade in cool, moist conditions with good drainage. They are very easy to grow, even in less-than-ideal conditions, and most are hardy perennials. Growing them in pots that are conveniently close by lets the gardener assert more control, and the constant harvesting keeps them shapely and growing.

Cutting them back regularly also has the advantage of preventing or delaying flowering; they are grown for their leaves, which are generally more fragrant before flowering. When they flower and set seeds, they might not produce plants with the same intense flavor you get from the originals, and some mints set sterile seed that won’t germinate. For that reason, the mints are best started vegetatively—from cuttings, division or transplants—rather than from seed.





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