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Dear Friend and Gardener

Herb Garden in a Strawberry Jar

Herb Garden in a Strawberry Jar

Container gardens seem to be more and more popular for ornamental plantings, and even for vegetable plantings. No matter which there is an opportunity for container shopping, ceramic, terra cotta, resin – all kinds of handsome containers are available at garden centers. This spring I succumbed and bought a terra cotta strawberry jar, not because I wanted to plant strawberries, but because I thought it would make a good looking herb garden in a pot.

I bought a tall strawberry jar that has nine little pockets and the top planting hole. I began just as I would with any container, covering the drainage hole so the potting soil  would not fall out. Many people use old terra cotta pot shards or stones, but I often just use a couple of thicknesses of newspaper which works just as well.

I bought potting soil lightened with perlite and mixed in a bucketful of my own compost. Whenever I use commercial potting soil I always add my own compost. The potting  soil is necessary because it is light and allows plant roots to develop and grow. My compost is necessary because that potting soil contains limited nutrition, even when it has been enriched with fertilizers.

I put in enough potting soil and compost to come up to the hole for the first pocket. Then I tried to stuff a three and a half inch pot of sage through the hole. First root first from the outside, and then foliage first from the inside. Herbs can tolerate a little manhandling, but I gave up.

I took a parsley start from a six pack, broke up the roots of this smaller plant and put that in root first from the outside. Perfect. Then I pressed the roots into the potting soil and went on to the next plant, a cilantro start. Breaking apart the roots to loosen and tear them slightly is a form of root pruning that encourages new root growth. This is just what you want for a newly installed plant.

With one parsley and two cilantro plants the first layer of the pot was filled. I added potting soil up to the next level and gave it a gentle watering.

I dug up pieces of golden marjoram and common thyme from my regular Herb Bed. Both of these have fairly horizontal roots but I stuck each of them through a hole, and pressed some of the roots into the potting soil, leaving a portion outside the pot. I filled the final hole on that level with a French tarragon plant. This was in a larger pot, but it was smaller than the sage plant. With a little manhandling and pulling apart of the roots, I did get it through the hole, and pressed the roots into the potting soil. I added more potting soil and watered again.

For the final level of strawberry pockets I was determined to get the sage plant installed. Sage is a fairly sturdy plant, but it took a firm hand to get the foliage through the hole and the roots pressed into the soil. It looked a little sad by the time I was done, but it was in the pot.

A little pot of rosemary went in more easily, and a piece of golden thyme from my own garden easier yet. I pressed the  roots into the potting soil, added more and gave more water.

I topped off the strawberry jar with a four inch pot of a variegated lemon thyme and a pot of Tangerine Gem marigold. I stuffed a little extra potting soil around the edge where I could and voila! A final watering and I have a whole herb garden in a very handsome pot.

I admit that immediately after planting the herbs don’t look handsome. In some cases they have been very roughly treated and although they tolerate this roughness they are allowed to sulk for a few days. Their temporary sulkiness is a small price to pay. It is gratifying to be able to plant a whole garden in just an hour or so

I would have put basil in my potted garden, but was worried about the surprises the weather might still have in store. Basil is very tender.

Though I only used herb plants in my potted garden, I could have used seeds like dill or caraway as well.

The rain that that followed was welcomed by all the gardens, but it really set up the strawberry jar. It will not take long before I can begin some judicious harvesting.

All containers need to be watered regularly. Don’t forget your plants drink a lot of water every day. You should too. Herbs generally don’t need a rich soil so I do not worry about regular fertilizing as I would with flowers or vegetables.

Can your summer kitchen use a potful of delicious herbs?

Between the Rows  May 12, 2012

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