"Basil to Thyme" excerpt


| August/September 2005


Book Excerpt:

Chapter 4

Container Gardening

Container gardening, is a phrase we have heard often. So what does this mean? Container gardening is for those who do not have enough yard space to create a garden and in this instance, for this cookbook, an herb garden. So if yard space is at a premium and you really want to have an herb garden, container gardening may be just what you need to consider.

Herbs certainly look handsome in containers, whether housed in pots of lively primary colors or for a more cottage-garden effect, housed in aged terra-cotta pots. Imagine a large terra-cotta pot filled with bright red and orange nasturtiums cascading down the side. Perhaps you could try your hand at sponging another terra-cotta pot a pretty soft blue, then fill it with a purple sage plant. This could really turn into an interesting project, choosing a variety of pastel colors to sponge on several different sizes of terracotta pots, then filling them with the herbs of your choice. Before you choose your herbs, gather the pots and coat both the inside and the outside with water-based, nontoxic-liquid waterproofing (which can be found at a wellstocked hardware store). Allow 24 hours for this to dry, then coat the interior of the pots with roofing compound or asphalt stopping two inches from the pot’s rim. (Again, go to the hardware or garden center to find this product.) It may seem like a lot of trouble, but if you will take the time to carry out this procedure, the pots will “do your herbs right” and last for a nice long time. Use acrylic paints when decorating the exteriors of the pots and allow your imagination to run wild. Group contrasting or complimentary pots, companioned with a variety of herbs and flowers to create colorful and artistic additions to your patio, porch, balcony or chosen outdoor area. Be as creative with your planting as you are with your cooking!

You will not need to limit yourself to terra-cotta pots to house your herbs. We always marvel at the variety of objects in which one can plant herbs. How about a pair of rain boots? Maybe an old roaster that is no longer fit for the kitchen. Anything you can plant in, and then pick up to move to another space or even indoors, allows you to be a container gardener. An advantage to container gardening is the portability of your plants, as you can change your arrangement with the ever-changing sun conditions of the season, or as the plants grow and change size. Gardening seems to be a “continual work in progress” and will need your tender attention throughout the season.

There are several important things to remember when you plant in containers. First, look for soil mixes that have been formulated specifically for containers. This is very important, as your typical garden soil tends to be a bad choice because it drains rather poorly when “trapped” in containers. Plus garden soil is all too often filled with weed seeds. So stick to packaged soil mixes that you can find at your local garden center.

Remember that you must have a drainage hole in the bottom of your container to prevent the plant from drowning. Since this is so necessary, at planting time, cover the hole with a piece of window screening or a small square of weed cloth before filling the container with soil. This serves to keep the dirt in, and the slugs and bugs out! Drainage is ever so important, because plant roots need to “breathe.” Remember this when using “found objects” and antique items as ulterior containers to traditional terra-cotta pots. These items might provide added interest to your groupings, but they need drainage holes to function well.

To avoid pale plants, fertilize frequently and evenly. We always feel that organic fertilizer yields the best results, so we recommend a biweekly dose of fish emulsion. Every six weeks or so, a dose of granulated fishmeal or a slow release fertilizer will bring added, pleasant results. Probably the most difficult aspect of container gardening is maintaining
correct moisture in the soil. Herbs such as basil and chervil are considered succulent herbs, yet will suffer if they do not receive enough moisture. However, sage and rosemary will suffer root rot if given too much water. Always feel the soil and if it is dry water it, if it is damp stay away from it. For the most part, any kind of container plant likes to be completely
dry before having another drink of water.





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