Herbs are a wonderful addition to any garden, adding both colour and flavour to your food. At Jekka’s we strongly advocate growing herbs regardless of the space you have available. We have written a number of blogs on growing herbs in containers or pots as well as growing herbs indoors. This blog follows on from Jekka’s blog on Small Culinary Herb Garden Designs.
We have focused this blog on the balcony herb garden, as an increasing number of people are living in flats and their only outside space is a balcony. Your balcony is therefore a vital little oasis in a built up environment.
As we have mentioned before, growing herbs not only tastes good but also is wonderful for your health and well-being, whether it is caring for something else or having a space in which to relax. Furthermore, especially true in towns and cities, a balcony garden is a wonderful haven for the urban pollinator. If this is something you are keen on, please read Jekka's Guide to Pollinating herbs and Jean Vernon’s guide to planting herbs for bees & pollinators.
Balcony gardens are primarily pot gardens but larger terraces can also support raised beds. The herbs and care discussed below is applicable to both.
Designing your balcony herb garden
Even in a small space, the same garden design principals that Jekka addresses for a larger culinary herb garden are still relevant. These include:
- Have a variety of heights and foliage types to generate interest.
- Grow herbs that you will use in the kitchen, there is no point in successfully growing herbs with tastes that you do not like.
- Group similar herbs together, which means do not plant herbs in the same pot if they require different conditions. As a simple rule of thumb, plant herbs from the same plant family together. In particular, we like the Lamiaceae family which includes Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano.
- Be aware if your plant is invasive which could either mean it takes over the whole bed or, if in a pot, will need to be potted up or divided annually. This is particularly true for Mint.
Growing herbs on a balcony
When growing herbs in containers, Jekka’s five top tips are:
- Use a gritty, well-drained substrate in which to grow herbs (Read Jekka's Guide to Soil). Jekka advises using a peat-free and loam-based compost. You can add crocks (broken pieces of pot) to your containers to aid drainage.
- Water regularly to ensure the plants do not dry out and Feed on Fridays during the growing season. Herbs in pots are not able to get food from anywhere else, so it is essential that you give them more than water and love. We recommend using Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed.
- Choose the right containers or pots for your herbs. Herbs like Coriander and Parsley have long tap roots and therefore, prefer a deeper pot. Also, do not over pot your herbs as moving from a small to a much larger pot may over stress your herbs and could kill them.
- The best pots are terracotta as they both breath and do not over heat in the sun.
- Protect your herbs in winter by either bringing them inside, putting them against a wall or wrapping them in horticultural fleece. Equally, protect them in summer as, if they are in direct sun-light, you might need to make some artificial shade so they do not get scorched. You can use larger pots to provide shade to smaller pots.
Jekka’s favourite balcony herbs
Jekka’s top 10 perennial herbs for a balcony herb garden are:
- Lemon Thyme (for example, Thymus 'Culinary Lemon', Thymus pulegioides 'Kurt’ or Thymus 'Golden Lemon')
- Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
- Oregano Hot & Spicy (Origanum 'Hot and Spicy’)
- Parsley (French or Curly) (Petroselinum)
- Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
- Mint (Mentha)
- French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus 'French')
- Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
- Winter Savory (Satureja montana)
- Chives (Allium)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Jekka’s recommendation for salad and annual herbs that you can easily grow in a small space:
- Jekka’s Salad mixes, which includes Jekka’s Eastern Salad Herb Mix, Jekka’s Mustard Salad Herb Mix and Jekka’s Spicy Salad Herb Mix.
Basils (Ocimum) are a must have in the garden and grow wonderfully in a pot. We grow a variety of Basils such as Ocimum basilicum purpurascens with its dark purple leaves and pink flowers to Ocimum africanum (syn. Ocimum x citriodorum) with bright yellow leaves and a distinct lemon scent.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) leaves and ripe seeds have two distinct flavours; the seeds are warmly aromatic and the leaves have an earthy pungency. Coridander grows best sown directly into a deep pot making it ideal for balconies.
Mustards such as Golden (Brassica juncea 'Golden Streaks’) and Red Frills (Brassica juncea 'Red Frills') add both crunch and flavour to salads and sandwiches are easy to grow in a pot for a cut and come again crop.
Want to get growing? Check out Jekka’s Grow At Home Salad Herb Kit.
Jekka’s top 5 suggestions for feature herbs, to add some height, are:
Bay (Laurus nobilis) - Bay is a very important culinary herb that is a must-have in cooking. A principal ingredient in bouquet garni and used frequently with milk dishes, stews and soups. Want to know more? Read Jekka’s blog all about Bay.
- Myrtle (Myrtus) is known as the herb of love and is the symbol of constancy. As a culinary herb, the leaves can be used instead of Bay for roast vegetables and to flavour soups.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum), which may flower in this country depending on the temperature but has green, glossy, narrow oblong leaves that start off a bronze coloured.
Lavender (Lavandula) grows wonderfully in a pot and will provide flowers that are a feast for your pollinators. Jekka recommends the group Lavandula angustifolia that are tough, hardy and very popular. They have a compact habit, narrow grey, green aromatic leaves, and short compact flower spikes making them ideal for pots. Want to know more? Read Jekka’s guide to Lavender.
- South African Wild Rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) for the larger balcony or roof terrace would make a wonderful statement with its grey, aromatic, soft, hairy, thin leaves and white daisy-like flowers with deep maroon centres that turn into something resembling cotton.
However, note that these are large plants and therefore, will eventually need a large pot to live in.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum) Flowers
Jekka’s balcony herb garden planting plan
As with Jekka’s small herb gardens, Jekka will always start by trying to understand for what you wish to use your herbs and encourages you to only grow those that you will use in your kitchen. This is even more the case on a balcony where space is limited.
Jekka’s planting plan for her own balcony herb garden would have those that she would use and also some of her favourites, which includes some of the herbs mentioned above:
- Bay (Laurus nobilis)
- Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
- Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
- Vietnamese Coriander (Persicaria odorata)
- Spearmint (for example, Tashkent Mint, Mentha spicata 'Tashkent')
- Parsley (French or Curly) (Petroselinum)
- Greek Basil (Ocimum minimum 'Greek')
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)
- Lavender Christina (Lavandula x christiana)
- Cretan Oregano (Origanum dictamnus)
- Prostrate Rosemary (for example, Rosemary Whitewater Silver, Salvia rosmarinus (Prostratus Group) 'Whitewater Silver')
Jekka's Balcony Herb Garden (120cm x 275 cm)
Want to know more?
You can find more about herbs in Jekka’s blog and videos as well as Jekka's book 'A Pocketful of Herbs' or Jekka's Complete Herb Book, browsing Jekkapedia and exploring our herb based recipes.
Alternatively, come and visit the herb farm in South Gloucestershire at one of our Open Days, Master Classes or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar).
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Please also see Jekka's herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October), Thyme (November) and Curry Tree (December)
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days. Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer an occasional limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.