Are you looking for a simple way to add fragrance to your garden or balcony? Herbs are a great way to add scents with the side benefit of being useful for cooking. So how can you incorporate herbs into your garden or balcony to provide some “scentsational” interest?
There are many types of herbs. Some of the most popular ones are:
lavender, lemon balm, lovage
Where to grow
Herbs are very versatile and almost will grow anywhere. However in order for you to enjoy the fragrance fully, you will want to pick the location carefully.
Most herbs are perennials and will survive winter if provided with some protection. The few that are annuals (marked above with a *) need to be sown every year.
Within each type of herb there are many different varieties. Often you will pick a variety for its culinary qualities, especially when it comes to basil, oregano, thyme, etc. However how an herb tastes is usually linked to how it smells. Often something tastes good simply because it smells good.
‘Dwarf Munstead’ is the most fragrant lavender. French lavender tends to be more popular though as the flowers are more beautiful to look at.
For basil you have many varieties! I would recommend seeding a blend as then you get a taste of different basils. It also provides a great colour explosion in your salad if you use both green and red or purple varieties.
There are some “designer” herbs as well which is not a surprise in the gardening world. You can get chocolate, apple, pineapple, lavender, lemon, orange, and even banana mint. Some may not taste that strongly of their namesake but sometimes subtle tastes and fragrances are all you need.
Containers are the most versatile. If all you have is a balcony or small patio in the city, you can have a pot or two of herbs, even if it is just on a sunny windowsill. And if you move, you can take them with you.
But even in a large garden, planting herbs in containers has many benefits.
You can move your herb containers if you need to in order to change up your design. Or in the case of less cold hardy herbs, you can move the container to a more sheltered location such as a greenhouse, covered deck or even indoors during the colder days of the year.
Containers also allow you to water and fertilize your herbs according to their needs. Some herbs require more water and some very little.
I recommend putting containers as close as possible to your kitchen, so you can step out and pick a handful of herbs to add to your meals — beats having to dress up to go out into the garden.
If you cook a lot outdoors on a barbecue, have herbs close by. Nothing beats clipping off a long rosemary sprig to use as a basting brush. How handy is that?
And since we are interested in the fragrance from the herbs, have them situated close to seating areas. Lavender especially will create a sense of calm and relaxation if located near where you like to sit and enjoy a lazy summer afternoon.
Finally some herbs can be quite invasive such as mint. Plant it in the ground and you will find it spreads uncontrollably. Instead if you plant it in a container, you will be able to control it better.
If you already have raised beds for vegetables or flowers, adding herbs is a great idea.
Most herbs are very good at attracting beneficial insects and most help deter pests because of the scent they give off.
And some herbs help to improve the flavour of vegetables planted next to them. A great example is planting basil next to tomatoes. Plus you can pick the basil and add it to your homemade tomato sauce!
Herb plants can also be used as a creative border around these beds, rather than using a standard border bush such as boxwood. This may help to keep mammals away such as rabbits or deer that don’t like the smell.
Another way to benefit from the fragrance of the herbs is to plant them where you will brush against them while gardening or walking by. I have a lavender plant growing on top of a low wall next to my driveway that I brush against once in a while when someone has parked the car too close to the wall!
Think vertical. If you have a small space, you need to use all possible space including hanging baskets from overhead structures such as pergolas, arbours or roof eaves.
Hanging baskets are great, especially for herbs that have a more creeping habit.
The baskets have all the benefits mentioned above in the Containers section. It is great to have a basket close to a seating area where you can enjoy the scent of the herbs from where you are seated.
Just make sure you hang them from proper hardware screwed into a sturdy support.
Some herbs are very resilient to walking on. Creeping thyme especially lends itself well to use as a groundcover. I have a row of thyme along my raspberry bed, so I get a waft of thyme fragrance as I step on it to reach the berries.
Other herbs you can use as groundcover to walk on include chamomile and oregano. For non-walkable groundcover any of the low-growing herbs will work.
Avoid using mint as a groundcover unless you don’t mind it spreading and taking over the whole area. It is a very aggressive herb and needs to be contained as mentioned above.
Most herbs grow well from seed, especially the annual herbs. You can of course also buy seedlings and for some herbs such as rosemary or lavender, this is usually the best way. Alternatively you can also take cuttings and try and root them.
As with any seeding, make sure to use a proper seeding mix and keep the seeds moist. Once they sprout, ensure they get enough light so they don’t get leggy.
And once they are a few inches high, feed them sparingly with a diluted seaweed or fish fertilizer.
You can also save the seeds from your herbs if you let them flower. Just be careful to harvest the seeds in time before they naturally drop off. I made a mistake one year with fennel and now have fennel plants sprouting everywhere!
Herbs generally do not need much water as most are originating from Mediterranean climates. The exception to this is mint, as mint loves water.
If your herbs are in pots or containers, they will require regular watering as soil in containers dries very quickly in hot weather. In order to make watering easier and effortless, consider setting up drip irrigation for all of your pots.
Alternatively mass all your containers together so you can give them a quick water with a hose or watering can. It gets quite tiring having to visit multiple containers spread out throughout your garden unless you do it as you harvest or do other maintenance work.
When you water with a watering can, add some diluted fish or seaweed fertilizer to keep the herbs fed. You may think the smell takes away from the herb’s natural fragrance but usually the smell from the fertilizer dissipates quickly and the herb’s scent takes over again.
Harvesting’s main goal is to use the herbs in cooking, teas and medicinally. However it also serves to prune the plants to keep them in check, stop them from flowering and to produce more bushy plants.
Harvest in the morning if you can, after the dew has dried but before the main heat of the day. At this time the herbs generally are at their best, with the strongest fragrance and taste.
Lavender is great once dried to put in sachets in your closets or clothes drawers or in the bath. I have a small container of it on my desk in my office and will rub some between my hands for an instant calming waft of fragrance when I’m getting stressed from my work.
I hope that has inspired you to grow some herbs if you have never grown them before or grow more herbs if you have only grown a few in past years. Enjoy the fragrance they bring to your garden or balcony.
Photos by Marc ThomaAll MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.