Container Gardening with Herbs and Edible Flowers
It looks like spring has sprung at last – the signs are popping up everywhere. Farmer’s markets and garden centers are bursting with herbs and flowers, veggie seedlings and hanging baskets. The growing season has arrived in many parts of the country, and even in the colder regions, pansies are showing up in window boxes and front stoops everywhere. Now is the time to think about decorating your entryway, back porch, patio or balcony with living things. Adding a little color and flavor to your world with homegrown herbs and flowers can bring so much pleasure to your daily routine, and even the smallest urban window box can help support important pollinators – including our good friend the honeybee.
One simple and rewarding way to garden – even if you lack a backyard or rooftop – is by placing a few herbs and flowers in hanging baskets, pots or creatively recycled containers beside your doorway in a box outside your window. Easy to grow herbs such as chives, thyme, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, lavender and basil all provide flowers that are especially helpful to honeybees – to say nothing of what they can do for your home cooking! Sure, if you are new to gardening, there’s plenty to learn – but this age-old hobby needn’t be complex or expensive. Of course you can go all out and buy yourself pretty terra-cotta pots or pricey glazed containers, but you can be frugal and creative by rustling up old wicker baskets, tin cans, plastic tubs, discarded buckets and pails. Look around the neighborhood on trash day – you might just find some unexpected gems begging to be plucked out of the refuse heap. I’ve seen discarded items of all sorts repurposed as beautiful garden containers.
Ensuring good drainage
Once you have collected your new garden or recycled containers, remember to poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of solid containers, and/or line wire or wicker baskets with a semi-permeable membrane and/or sphagnum moss. It’s important for pots to both hold moisture in the soil and to allow for free drainage of water. If you will be setting your containers on a wooden surface, such as a deck or porch, be sure to place a water-catching saucer beneath the plant to prevent stains and rot. Next fill your pots with moisture retentive, organic potting soil. A good quality planting mix for containers usually includes perlite and peat for water retention, and natural compost. Scoop up a handful of the dirt and roll it between your fingers. Potting soil should be moist, light and airy. It should smell fresh and be wonderful to handle.
Choosing plants for bees
Now it’s time to choose your plants – with bees in mind of course. Farmers markets and vegetable stands are great places to find tiny, potted herbs and flowering plants. In addition to the herbs mentioned above, you can also try growing some edible flowers. When growing herbs and flowers together in the same container, it’s important to make sure that all of your plants are safe for consumption, especially if small children will have access to your pots. Some pretty, edible flower choices for window boxes and patio pots include trailing nasturtiums, (the flowers make a nice, spicy addition to salads), French marigold, (Calendula), pansies,(Viola wittrockiana), bachelor buttons, (Centaurea cyanaus), johnny jump-ups, (Viola tricolor), violets, (Viola species), impatiens, (Impatiens wallerana), scented geraniums, (Pelargonium species), mums,(Chrysanthemum coronarium), and open-flowered, minature carnations,(Dianthus). All of these tasty flowers are quite popular with honeybees and other pollinators, such as butterflies and hummingbirds as well. Ask your local grower to point out other blooming edibles.
Looking for more help with container gardening in small spaces? Need tips on growing your plants organically? If so, I highly recommend Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening and McGee & Stuckey’s Bountiful Container. These fantastic books are written specifically to help gardeners grow with success – even in the tiniest of urban spaces. Experiment and have fun – soon your little pots will be buzzing with activity.
Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © 2010, All Rights Reserved : Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.