Small ABC for growing herbs on balconies and in gardens

Herbs are easy to cultivate on balconies and in gardens. Their requirements in terms of soil, moisture and fertilisers are as varied as the many flavours and substances they offer. With the right choice of herbs, balconies and gardens can be quickly turned into a condiment and tea garden. Here are five suggestions for herbs together with the most important tips on how to grow them.

Agastaches are wonderfully scented and tea plants and attract butterflies, bumblebees, bees and hoverflies. The prairie pioneer plant will survive cold winters, but heavy soils and wet conditions will kill it. The plants can be cultivated in a herb bed in direct sunlight or in a shrub bed. The recommended planting distance is 40 x 40 cm. Feed with a little compost in spring. The herb is picked as a tea herb when in bloom. It will regrow a number of times and can be pruned twice and, in warm locations, even three times. The young leaves – used as a decoration for desserts – can be picked from when they bud, through into the autumn.

The most-loved herb of all is basil. Hardly any other herb is as popular in the kitchen. Even though the herb was still completely unknown 20 years ago and even though it needs more warmth than almost any other kitchen herb, basil can be found on most balconies and terraces, and some even try to grow it indoors. The annual basils are found in Italian cuisine. Most perennial basils offer very different flavours and are suitable for use as a herb or as a wonderfully full-bodied herb tea. Basil needs light to germinate. Sow the seeds in a warm environment (between 13 - 25°C) and transplant in clumps after about two weeks. The recommended planting distance is 20 x 20 cm. Basil can be picked a number of times and regrows very well from the leaf axils. The heat-loving herb will only thrive successfully outdoors once the night-time temperatures are no longer falling below 16°C. That is why, in most regions, basil thrives best in a greenhouse, in a raised bed or in a container sheltered by a wall. Basil belongs to the high nutrient-demanding plants and thrives very well when grown alongside tomatoes.

Even if you don't have a herb garden, one or two lavender plants are easy to fit in on a balcony or terrace. They attract butterflies and many other insects and create pleasant pockets of aroma. In a garden, lavender plants can be several years to decades old – and correspondingly abundant. This depends on the location being suitable and the plant having been correctly pruned from the beginning. Lavender loves sunny locations and poor soil that is well drained and rich in lime. The better the soil drainage, the longer the plants will live. Waterlogging – particularly in winter – may cause the plants to die. Lavender should not be allowed to become too abundant, as this will shorten the plant's life. Lavender must be vigorously pruned each year to prevent the plants falling apart over time. There are two tried-and-tested methods of pruning lavender: either by vigorously cutting it back after it has bloomed from the end of August until mid-September at the latest. Then the plants still have enough time to re-establish themselves before winter and will survive the winter with vigour (if necessary cut into shape slightly in spring) and bloom earlier. Or in spring, as soon as it is warm enough, so that the incisions can heal again (as soon as the forsythia are blooming). Remember: lavender must be really vigorously pruned. All that should remain in spring are plants that are hand-high and that look like small hedgehogs.

Hyssop is a beautiful subshrub that can be grown in a herb bed or also as a low boundary hedge. Hyssop has a long blooming season and will attracts lots of bees. The herb was known to the Greek physician Hippocrates, who recommended it as a treatment for bronchitis. Hyssop has been grown in cloister and cottage gardens for hundreds of years as a medicinal and spice plant and thrives in all well-draining soils. Vigorously prune the plants at least once a year – in spring before budding or in late summer. Older plants will age and die. The most important rule for using hyssop in the kitchen is to use it to season the finished dish, since it has a bitter taste when cooked.

Lemon verbena
Lemon verbena is one of the perennial savories (Satureja montana). It is suitable as an especially fine tea whose flavour is a little reminiscent of lemon thyme. The herbal lemon aroma is especially pronounced in spring in particular and the herb produces abundant white blooms from August to October. It is used as a herb in the same way as lemon thyme. Savories are resilient to cutting and can also be cultivated as a hedge.

Andrea Heistinger
VIKING garden expert

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