National Gardening Week 2017 is focussed on helping new gardeners on getting going with growing.
This year is the sixth annual event of its kind in the United Kingdom. Launched by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) National Gardening Week is a celebration of gardening.
Shared by gardeners, new gardeners, would-be-gardeners, gardener’s families – indeed, thousands of people nationwide.
Gardens open to the public, charities, garden centres, plant nurseries, heritage organisations and gardening groups get involved.
Getting Going with Growing – Getting Started
So what plants – edible and ornamental might inspire you to get growing? I often find that edible plants that are also attractive are a popular first choice with new gardeners. Rightly so! A visual pleasure and a culinary delight has to be a winner for adults and children.
At RHS Hyde Hall in Essex, they’re giving away free seeds of the record breaking pumpkin. Grown in the garden last year, it weighed 95 stone! So it became the UK’s heaviest outdoor-grown pumpkin. Seeds are also available for Thompson and Morgan, called Matts Monster after the RHS gardener Matthew Oliver.
Not a plant to grow on a small city balcony, perhaps…
But you could grow some herbs in containers on a balcony. In fact, putting together a container full of herbs would be an easy start to getting going with growing whatever the size or current state of your garden. Culinary herbs – ones that you use in cooking and salads – have a practical use, and those are the ones I’ll suggest.
Let’s look at some ideas to get you started. Firstly, we’ll look at the plants, then at what else you’ll need.
Getting Going with Growing – Sun Loving Herbs
For a sunny balcony, try the smaller Mediterranean herbs: Thyme, Marjoram and Basil, for example.
Thymus vulgaris or common Thyme has the best flavour. This is the one to choose if you mainly want to grow the herb to use in cooking.
If you love the aromatic foliage and would like a more decorative plant, try Thymus vulgaris ‘silver posie’. This has green and silver-white variegated foliage and pale pink flowers that are attractive to bees. A cultivar of the culinary thyme its leaves still offer a good flavour in casseroles.
Also known as Oregano. Wherein lies a whole blog on the differences and similarities!
Basically, what is commonly called Marjoram, or Sweet Marjoram is likely to be Origanum majorana. The herb called Oregano is likely to be Origanum vulgare. And then we have Pot Marjoram, Origanum onites.
If you only have room for one plant, go for Sweet Marjoram as this is best for cooking with.
Whilst our other two sun loving herbs for a balcony are perennials, Basil is an annual herb. Generally speaking, that is.
Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is the most commonly found variety, very popular in Italian cooking.
You could also grow a purple leaved Basil to add a splash of colour to your container. These varieties often have a spicier flavour than Sweet Basil.
Getting Going with Growing – Shade Tolerant Herbs
We’re still with compact herbs here. So many of the culinary herbs we use are Mediterranean origin and love the sun that the equally useful shade tolerant herbs tend to get forgotten.
Although grown as an annual herb, Parsley is a bi-ennial herb. There are two most recognisable types of Parsley, Curly-leaf Parsley, Petrosilum crispum and French, or Flat-leaved Parsley, Petrosilum neapolitanum. From this latter’s name, you’ll rightly guess it also known as Italian Parsley.
Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, are a perennial herb and a member of the onion family. the leaves are the part of the plant used in cooking. Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, are also known as Chinese chives.
If I had room for just one type of chive and no space to grow garlic, I would pack in as much of this little plant as I could.
As we’re keeping to small herbs, mint, Mentha species would be my third choice for a useful culinary shade loving herb. Unless you have lots of space, mint is best grown in a container as, in the right conditions, its roots will spread right through your vegetable plot.
Spearmint, Mentha spicata and Peppermint, Mentha x piperita, are the two more usual varieties. But why not try a more unusual variety that will add flavour to your summer drinks? Ginger mint, Mentha x gracilis variegata, has cream speckled foliage and a ginger flavour. For more Mint plants to wet your appetite, have a look at our visit to a National Mint Collection.
Getting Going with Growing – What Sort of Container and Soil will You Need?
Whilst the other herbs I’ve suggested will grow in a shallower trough, if you choose parsley, you will need a long tom style of pot. This is where the depth or height of the pot is longer in relation to its diameter. Parsley develops a deep tap root and needs this extra soil depth if you’re going to get a good harvest from it.
You may need to add further holes to the container if plastic or resin. If clay, then add broken pots to ensure the drainage holes don’t get clogged up with soil. Where weight is an issue, you can use polystyrene for this purpose. Which can be are-use of the trays that bedding plants come in!
If you have the room, I would suggest keeping the mint in a pot to itself. It will of course grow happily with other herbs, but I was trying to keep this an easy to look after scenario. The mint roots will need trimming back if they’re not to take over the other herbs.
You could of course treat all the above mentioned herbs as short lasting rather than a longer term mini herb garden, in which case, the depth of soil and so on is less important.
However, the soil, or growing media, in your container is critical. I’m presuming that you’ll be buying in not mixing your own. Choose a peat free compost specifically for containers as this should have a slow release fertiliser included. Which will minimise your work load by giving your newly planted herbs food for about six weeks. The sun loving herbs will appreciate a free-draining soil. Many container composts have perlite (or a similar material) added to them. This will both help with drainage and retain water.
Getting Going with Growing – Choosing the Plants
Yes, you are allowed to go out, this very weekend, and buy the plants. It is not essential that you raise them from seed!
Where space and time are at a premium, buying herbs in small pots is an excellent alternative to growing them yourself from seed. The 9cm pots are a good size to purchase. The plants in these should have established a strong root system, able to cope with being transplanted into a larger pot without too much stress. They should also be sufficiently mature to be outside and not cosseted in a greenhouse for a couple of weeks.
Plug plants will need cosseting and then hardening off. Larger herbs in larger pots may look tempting – fast food plants. However, unless you have a lot of space for containers these herbs may outgrow their pots too quickly and require more attention from you to stay healthy.
Check out How Not to Buy Garden Plants for more tips.
Getting Going with Growing – Ornamental Edible Gardens and More
Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to get started with a nice simple project that’s easy to start and easy to keep going with. If you would like to encourage bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to your small herb garden, you’ll find that they will appear – as if by magic. Whether your balcony herb garden is six floors up in an apartment building or outside a sunny back door in suburbia.
For more gardening ideas, with herbs, with fruit and vegetables, with flowering shrubs and borders filled with scent and colour year-round, do have a look through the rest of the website. I’ve given you some blog links below, then there’s the portfolio where you can see some of the garden designs and planting designs we’ve created over the years.
And if you’d like some help, look at our Gardening Lessons service. This is a bespoke service where your garden becomes your classroom. And if you ask to be added to our monthly eNewsletter, there’s a special offer for a half-day gardening lesson, if booked before 22nd April 2017.
Whatever you do, I hope you have garden to enjoy!