When it comes to choosing between containers of flowers or herbs on the back deck, good first choices might include a planter of lemon thyme; an old stockpot bursting with lavender; long, low containers of various mints; an old kettle brimming with parsley; and a barrel of chives, dill and lime basil.
Indoors, aloe vera plants make a great addition to garden windows. The best part is each plant can be used in a number of tasty, beneficial and/or healthful ways.
Lemon Thyme: Flavorful, fragrant, attractive and easy to grow, this plant looks as good as it smells. Crushing the leaves between your fingers releases a delicious lemon scent. When it flowers, a mist of frosty pinkish-lavender blossoms makes for a pretty sight. A tasty addition to fish and poultry, it adds zing to garlic bread and a delicate flavor to soups. Steep a few leaves with mint and lime basil for a relaxing, nutritious tea.
Lemon thyme should be grown in its own container. Line the bottom with gravel, fill with a good potting mix, and don’t let it get too wet or dry.
Lavender: English lavender is popular among both herb and landscape gardeners. A bush shrub that grows to 3 feet high, lavender’s silvery leaves are strongly perfumed, and the tiny flowers are beauty at its best. Use a large container and place in full sun.
Lavender can be used in cooking, but a favorite use is to harvest spikes of mature lavender after the flowers are opened, hang them to dry in a dark, well-ventilated area for two weeks, and then crush them onto squares of thin cotton. Gather the fabric edges and tie with string. Sachets freshen closets or chests, and repel moths. Tie under the bath faucet for a relaxing soak.
Mint: Mint is perfect for a steaming mug of tea. Mint is available in many varieties, and peppermint is often at the top for flavor and scent. Tasty as a tea, it also helps with colds, indigestion, nerves and more. Brew a cup and ease away the discomfort of a headache.
Like thyme, mint must be planted alone or it will choke out nearby plants.
Parsley: Curled parsley is good for culinary purposes, and it also is a vivid-green plant perfect for adding color to a deck or patio. It lends charm to containers since it tends to curl over the edges.
Rich in iron and vitamins A, B and C, parsley adds a fresh, crisp taste to egg dishes, soups and salads, or steam the herb with carrots for a palate-pleasing treat.
Chives, Dill and Lime Basil: Planted together in a large container, this trio of herbs offers a pleasing visual contrast.
Chives are clump-forming herbs, and if allowed to flower, the plant produces rose-purple cloverlike blossoms. Dried or snipped fresh, chives are great on potatoes, salads, or in Mexican dishes.
Dill offers a pleasant sight with its feathery leaves and clusters of small yellow flowers, while the seeds and leaves have a pungent fragrance and flavor. The herb is excellent in pickling, added to stews and gravies, or fresh in salads.
Lime Basil is exceptional for its looks and taste, and the herb is wonderful when added to Italian dishes, tomato-based foods and zucchini stir-fries.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis): Aloe vera belongs to the lily family yet strongly resembles a cactus and requires the same treatment – dry, sandy soil and full sun.
Known as the “Medicinal Plant,” aloe vera contains a thick, clear gel inside the thorn-edged leaves that has a healing effect on sunburns, rashes, blemishes, cuts and burns. If you get burned while cooking, snip off the end of an aloe vera spear, squeeze the gel onto the burn, and find instant relief.
Caring for a container herb garden is rewarding, fun, tasty, fragrant and pretty, and your deck or patio can be a beautiful sight with your own assortment. Now pull up a chair, take a deep breath of the fragrant air, and relax. Gardening doesn’t get any better than this.
Leigh Smith thrives on the challenge of gardening and living in the unpredictable climate of the Rocky Mountains.
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