Gardening Tips: Small Space Herb Gardening Ideas

If your yard, balcony, or deck receives a few hours of sunlight, you can still grow abundant versions of your favorite useful plants—and have the time and energy to enjoy them.

| April/May 2001

Illustrations by Susan Strawn Bailey  

Construct a three-level-planter 

Now that I’ve bought my first house, I’m thrilled about planting the herb garden of my dreams in its spacious, sunny backyard. At the same time, all that space has made me appreciate the good old low-maintenance days of my previous 4- by 6-foot balcony container garden. I always had plenty of herbs, but I also had time to enjoy using them in the kitchen because I wasn’t constantly mowing, pruning, weeding, edging, and raking as I do now.

Be careful what you wish for, the old saying goes. At least one lesson from my smaller garden remains with me: Make use of the space that you have, and be mindful of the time you have available for tending a garden. Below are some of the strategies I’ve used for sneaking herbs into my life and my schedule.

Using space that’s already dug

If space is not available for a bed of herbs that’s separate from other garden spaces—or you just don’t want to take the time to break new soil—consider incorporating herbs into existing plantings that receive full sun and have fertile, well-drained soil. Yarrow, wormwood, and bee balm fit well in a bed of ornamentals while sage, thyme, and rosemary are attractive as front-of-border plants in foundation plantings. Dill and fennel add an interesting feathery texture to flowering herbaceous perennials.

A low hedge of purple basil along my neighbor’s front sidewalk defines her walkway and provides an abundance of basil for cooking and flower arrangements. If you use basil or other culinary herbs as a hedge, pinch out the branch tips frequently to keep the plants bushy and tidy in appearance. Other good low-growing herbs for hedges are germander, lavender, and santolina; for larger hedges, try shrub roses or bayberry.

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