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7 Essential Window Box Herbs
The satisfaction a cook can gain from preparing food using home-grown produce is immense. Unfortunately, not many people have enough outdoor space, a suitable climate, or the spare time to grow a full range of vegetables, but even a small window box can provide useful ingredients for the kitchen. Many herbs can be grown in containers, and having a fresh supply close to hand can make a huge difference to your cooking.
Growing Herbs in Containers
The convenience of growing herbs close to your kitchen means you’ll be more ready to use them liberally and inventively, while the resulting freshness makes for unbeatable quality and taste. However, not all herbs are happy to grow within the confines of a window box. Problems can include fast dehydration, poor quality soil, and a lack of space causing over-large plants to bolt to seed.
These difficulties can be overcome by careful watering, regular feeding, and frequent cutting to keep your plants from outgrowing their containers. Many herbs are a perfect fit for this type of cultivation, including these seven window box essentials.
Thyme – Thyme is a hardy herb that’s easy to grow, although it’s somewhat slow to develop into a bushy plant providing enough leaves to be usable. It can be raised from seed, but buying young plants is more reliable. Thyme prefers to grow in full or partial sun, and in well-drained, sandy soil.
In culinary terms, thyme is very versatile. It adds depth to stews and soups of all kinds, and a few sprigs in the cavity of a roast chicken provide a delicious flavor boost. The lemon thyme variant adds a fresh citrus character alongside the earthy savor of the regular herb, making it an ideal partner for robustly flavored fish.
Rosemary – Rosemary is another hardy herb which grows readily in a sunny spot and well-drained compost. In a large pot or the open soil, rosemary will grow into a large bush, but with regular cutting, it will thrive in a window box – although it may not develop enough root strength to survive a harsh winter. Rosemary and garlic is a natural combination for all kinds of food, from sauteed potatoes to roast lamb, while the herb goes exceptionally well with cooked tomatoes, for example in a hearty pasta sauce.
Oregano – Once established, oregano will return year after year and requires very little attention, although plants will need replacing or dividing every few years to prevent them becoming woody. Oregano is an essential herb for Italian cooking of all kinds, and it also compliments lamb and pork extremely well. A bumper crop can be easily dried for future use, which also intensifies the flavor.
Garden Mint – Mint is a vigorous herb that is extremely easy to grow – in fact, if planted in the same container as almost anything else, it will quickly crowd out all competition. Because of this, either grow it in its own container or confine its roots by planting it in a small pot within your window box. In the kitchen, mint adds freshness to oriental soups, lends an extra dimension to leafy salads, and gives a lift to peas and asparagus in a creamy risotto.
Chives – Chives are extremely easy to grow and will return annually for years to come – the new shoots are often a first early sign that spring is on the way. For a more generous harvest, dig up patches of the herb, divide into smaller clumps, and replant them spaced a few inches apart. Chives can be used as a garnish or salad ingredient where they lend a subtle onion flavor, and they also make an excellent sauce flavoring for white fish and shellfish.
Sage – Sage will quickly develop into a large bush if grown in open soil, but with regular pruning, it will establish itself happily in a pot. Sage’s slightly medicinal tang is excellent with richer foods like liver or roast pumpkin and is good when used with a light touch in a meaty stew.
Basil – Basil requires plenty of sunlight and shelter to grow successfully, and it can be difficult to achieve healthy, bushy plants able to withstand heavy picking. However, planting many seeds in the same pot will give enough tender young plants to provide bountiful leaves on a rotating basis. Basil is known as the Royal Herb and is the ideal partner for tomatoes in all forms from pizza to pasta dishes. It can also add a fragrant edge to spicy Southeast Asian curries, and an abundant crop can be transformed into a luxurious pesto sauce.
Fresh herbs add an amazing depth of flavor to cooking and can transform a workday dish into something special. Growing your own in a window box gives you a convenient supply for when culinary inspiration strikes, and it’s nowhere near as difficult as you may think.