Sunday, January 13, 2008

Potted edible garden

The boys and I planted a potted herb garden on Friday morning. We planted thyme (my second favourite fresh herb), chives, basil (my first favourite fresh herb) and a strawberry plant in a large terracotta planter.

I'm a firm believer in growing edible gardens – even on a small scale. Living in a two-bedroom unit with a small courtyard is a huge change from our previous two-bedroom weatherboard with a large vegetable garden that we created from scratch over two years. But I think it is possible – in fact desirable – to plant herbs, strawberries and other edible plants in containers and pots in apartment balconies or unit and townhouse courtyards.

It is also a fun thing to do with kids!

Admittedly, it is a bit late in the season to plant many vegetables and edible plants – especially summer vegetables such as tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant. But as I've been a bit envious at others' ripening tomatoes and beans, I've attempted to channel envy into inspiration and planted herbs. They are pretty much good to plant at any time of the year (unless, perhaps, you're in Tasmania in the dead of winter).

I'm sharing what we did to inspire you to do the same (if you haven't already) and give you some ideas. I'm throwing in a few hints as well.

Most herbs are easy to plant and easy to look after, suit planters and pots, and taste delicious! They also make excellent companion plants for the rest of the garden. You can also conveniently water herbs in pots with kitchen water from washing vegetables. Avoid using washing-up water for potted plants, as the build up of soap, salt and fats is unhealthy for the plants.

For this planter, I mixed up potting mix with some great home-made compost. I wanted a lot of organic matter – not just for the nutrients, but also to help hold more moisture in the soil, as the porous terracotta pots tend to dry out quickly in the Australian summer. I recommend adding some worm castings or worm tea (if you have a worm farm), and organic fertilizer such as manure if you're planting fruiting plants. I used a large terracotta planter or tub, but you can use a plastic or clay tub or large pot, or other large plant containers. I've even seen old wheelbarrows used to grow flowers and herbs.

As you can see in the photographs, I also used a long window-box type container and some smaller terracotta pots
to plant the excess chives from the seedling punnet we'd bought. Window-boxes are also handy for a combo of herbs.

The ideal herbs for planters and pots are chives, thyme, and basil (though basil can get a bit leggy in pots if you're not careful), as I have used this time. So is
parsley (which is about to self-sow from last year's plants growing in a potted dwarf apple. These herbs can be planted in combination, but be sure you don't crowd them in the pot.

Rosemary and the various mints suit lager pots on their own. Sage could go either way. It can stay small
if you prune and use it regularly, but watch out if you put it in the ground - it can grow into a bush!

To date, I haven't had much luck with growing coriander in pots as it tends to bolt to seed quickly if it lacks water or the weather warms up – unless you're diligent at harvesting the leaves regularly and early.

Other edible plants you can grow in pots and planters are strawberries, lettuces, some Chinese greens such as pak choy and tat soi, rocket, blueberries, currants, and
It is probably too late to get any strawberries from this small plant so far into the season, but I wanted to include a strawberry in this mini edible garden because it is one of Jamie's (my second son) favourite fruits. If it survives the winter, it will hopefully provide some lovely red fruits next summer.

Not being keen on vegetables and herbs, my older son, Jacob, wanted to plant flowers, so we planted this marigold. Unfortunately, it's a hybrid and won't really work at deterring pests. Still, it looks pretty! You can mix in other flowering plants such as pansies
and primroses to brighten up your herb combo, though they're not too edible!

Happy mini gardening! I look forward to hearing about your potted edible gardens.

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At January 14, 2008 5:01 pm, Blogger theysaywordscanbleed said...

this is a pretty cool thing, i'm actually itching to have my own plotted edible plants and flowers

At January 14, 2008 9:00 pm, Anonymous David said...


Great use of the space!

Did you catch the recent ABC Bush Telegraph interview with a Melbourne herb/vegie specialist - it may have been a repeat but we heard it in the last week of 2007.

We have a similar set of herbs to you this year. But this years favourites are more tropical:

After five years our Native Lime is finally producing

A Lotus

At January 14, 2008 9:10 pm, Blogger Kirsty said...

What perfect timing your post is for me, Mark. One of my new year's resolutions has been to start a herb garden. I'm only starting off small because I want to encourage myself rather than get overwhelmed by failures. I've managed to get some rocket and basil seeds to sprout, and just when I thought they never would, the parsley shoots broke through the soil yesterday. I'm making my garden in a small patch of dirt beneath the outside stairs. Wish me luck!

Plus, I've finally done the animeme you tagged me for last October. Skip over the introductory rant, it's completely unrelated, but doing the animeme made me feel so much better about things. Cheers.

At January 15, 2008 4:36 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

David, the Native limes and the lotus look fabulous! I'm so envious. How do the limes taste? (the closest we've got to home-grown citrus to date is a kaffir lime bush - the leaves are yum!) I didn't catch that Bush Telegraph episode. Pity.

Kirsty, I'm glad to have provided inspiration. I look forward to reading about your gardening efforts - with photos - on your blog!

My next step is to work on window sill plants and hanging baskets!

At August 30, 2008 12:14 pm, Anonymous Erica said...

A great summary of info - thank you.

We are about to go out to the garden shop to get some edible plants for pots. I needed to have a bit of an idea what to but before we got there! I am sure my daughter will LOVE the idea of strawberries.

We have coriander going beautifully - but I reading your comments about it, some of it will be in a dinner pot tonight...

At September 08, 2008 11:33 am, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

I'm glad you found it useful, erica. I would love to hear how your potted garden worked out. Please do get back to me on that...

At January 17, 2011 2:12 pm, Blogger karina said...

Nice guide! thank you!/I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.
potted plants


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