Herbs in a container gardern

A Container Garden Match

Herbs are a natural match with container gardens. If you are like me and constrained by the size of your urban landscape or perhaps even by an apartment with restricted outdoor areas, container gardening with herbs may be your best bet for bringing soil and plants into your life.

Small Space? No Problem

If you are like me and constrained by the size of your urban landscape or perhaps even by an apartment with restricted outdoor areas, container gardening with herbs may be your best bet for bringing soil and plants into your life.

Many herbs do well in partial or even full shade.  Herbs are ideal for small area gardens, patios, or even balconies.  Before we look at a few herbs that you might want to consider, there are some things you need to know.

Getting Started with Herbs

The first is containers.  Almost anything can be used as a container garden.  Don’t let yourself get constricted with your concept of what a growing container should be.  If you can get some holes in the bottom for drainage, it won’t fall apart with the moisture, and it will hold enough soil to sustain your plants, then whatever it is that you are considering is a potential container garden.  Pinterest is loaded with creative and novel ideas.

Second, you need to consider sunlight.  Plants usually fall into three categories.  These categories are, those that need full sun, those that can survive partial shade, and those that can endure full shade.  Understanding these terms is critical in making plant selections for your potential container garden site.

Light and Herbs

Full Sun

This is pretty simple.  Full sun means that the sun shines on this spot for a minimum of 6 hours per day, without any interference.  No shadows, no dappled sunlight from trees, no reflected light.  Direct, unimpeded access to the sun.

Partial shade.

This site would receive between 2 and 4 hours of direct sunlight a day — other plants, buildings, or trees shade the balance of the time.

Full Shade

Think about under a huge tree, in the corner of the yard with a building on one side and a fence on the other.  That corner, under the tree that never gets any direct sunlight.  That is full shade.

Pick your Potting Media

The third and final consideration is your planting media.  You should choose a high-quality organic container soil.  You can mix your own or buy it in bags at the big box store.  Our website has several articles on container gardening that include recipes for making your soil for your containers.  They can be accessed here.

Now, on to the plants.

Herbs for your Garden

Bee Balm
herbs bee balm

Monarda didyma is a perennial.  Bee balm has bright showy blooms, which is always a plus in a small space garden and is a great attractor for pollinators.  The foliage has a flavor that seems to blend sage and oregano.  It is well used with roasted meats.  The flower petals are milder in flavor and can be tossed into salads to add a burst of flavor and color.

herbs - chives

Chives are perennial herbs that will tolerate partial shade.  The number of blooms that the chives produce may be reduced if grown in partial shade, but the foliage is where the flavor resides.  Chives come in several varieties featuring different tastes and flavors.  Chives can be had with onion hints and garlic hints.

herbs calendula

Calendula officinalis is an annual that is often called pot marigold.  These plants produce yellow and orange blossoms that can be a highlight in an edible landscape.  They are good attractors for pollinators.  The more sun these hardy plants get, the bigger and more plentiful the blossoms.  The flower petals are edible and are often used as a garnish in soups and salads.  Be aware that the flower petals can be spicy and impart a bit of zing when used.  Many people dry the flower petals and use them to make herbal teas.

herbs chervil

Known as French parsley or garden chervil, this herb is grown mostly for it’s very like green foliage when used as an herb, it brings a light anise-licorice flavor.  Used in sauces to compliment fish, poultry, and soups, chervil can also be used in salads.  Chervil needs full sun.

herbs cilantro

The mainstay of southwestern cooking, Cilantro, otherwise known as coriander, is an annual that offers quick growth in the garden.  Cilantro is a cool-season herb, so don’t expect it to last through the heat of summer.  Used in Mexican, Asian, and Indian foods alike, cilantro adds an earthy lemony flavor to foods and can be used in salads, soups, and, most especially, in guacamole! Cilantro needs full sun to do well, but not heat.  A bit of shade as the days get hotter will keep it going for a while longer.

Lemon Balm
herbs lemon balm

Melissa officinalis is a perennial that grows in clumps.  The leaves exude a lemony scent and can often be substituted for lemons in many of your recipes.  When added to salads, lemon balm brings a tart zesty flavor burst.  It can also be used to flavor teas or other cold drinks in the summertime.  Lemon balm loves the sun.  Make sure it gets 4 to 8 hours of direct sun a day.

hebs lovage

Lovage is a little known plant in our part of the world but should be more used and grown.  Levisticum officinale is a perennial with green leaves and yellow blooms that are great draws for beneficial insects.  The plant can grow to a height of 6 feet, so be aware of this when planning your container garden.  The whole plant is edible and has a flavor akin to celery.  Lovage needs 4 to 6 hours of direct sun a day to prosper.

herbs mint

What more needs to be said.  Mint now comes in so many different varieties that it is almost impossible to list them all.  Added to teas, salads, and drinks, mint is often paired with sweet and savory dishes, roasts, soups, and pasta.  Mint needs 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight.  Be warned; if mint takes a liking to the place you plant it, it can become invasive.  That is why we usually confine mint to containers so that we can easily control its growth.

Greek Oregano
herbs greek oregano

Oregano is a mainstay in Italian and Greek foods.  You will be delightfully surprised at the difference in flavors when you used fresh oregano from your garden as opposed to the dried flakes that you usually get at the supermarket.  Oregan needs 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.

herbs parsley

Whatever variety you chose, parsley needs 4 to 6  hours of sunlight a day.  Normally grown as an annual, in some zones, parsley will survive as a perennial if cared for properly.  Some varieties are used in cooked recipes, while others serve best as a garnish.

herbs sorrel

Sorrel is a perennial leafy herb that is known for its tangy, acidic flavor.  Some people find the taste offsetting, while others relish the contrast the herb can offer when paired correctly.  Sorrel comes in several varieties offering different heights, flavors, and colors.  Toss the young leaves into salads, soups, and sauces or cook the mature leaves as you would spinach.  Sorrel needs 4 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day.

herbs tarragon

Light green foliage that brings an anise-licorice flavor to recipes is the trademark of Tarragon.  Much used in French cooking, tarragon is a versatile herb used to flavor meats, roasted vegetables, seafood, and in many sauces.  Tarragon appreciates 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.

herbs thyme

Thyme grows as a woody shrub that in most zones, will act as a perennial.  Thyme imparts a savory flavor when used with meats, especially chicken and pork.  Thyme needs 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day.

These herbs are all suitable for container gardening and will tolerate some shade.  If you are tightly confined in space, growing a small container garden with a few of your most-used herbs is a great way to enjoy a bit of gardening while enhancing your meals with fresh herbs grown as close as possible to your kitchen.

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Culinary Sage



If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.

We have a Facebook page and love your comments, questions or input. You can find us on Facebook using this tag. @westtexasorganicgardening