Take advantage of indoor space with an easy-to-grow herb garden
When it comes to gardening, the winning combination of green fingers and good soil for planting is rare - especially in urban settings.
Even if you're lucky enough to have garden space, once the summer sun fades and winter sets in there's little to be done in the way of gardening.
The solution? Plant indoors.
"I love to encourage people to garden both indoors and out," says The Plant Doctor Melinda Myers, author and gardening guru. "And growing herbs on a windowsill is a great way to get started with gardening and enjoy the fresh-from-the garden flavour - even if your garden is on the windowsill."
Myers says an indoor herb garden is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to get your green fingers going. Here are her top tips to get you started:
First, decide what you want to grow before heading to your local nursery. The plant selection can be overwhelming, so it's good to go in with a game plan. "Start with the herbs you use most in cooking," Myers says. "I recommend people start with basil."
Chives can also be very useful, and both the flowers and leaves are bursting with flavour. "Oregano is also a popular herb for cooking and very easy to grow - almost as easy as mint," she adds. "All these will thrive in the lower light conditions of an indoor garden."
Rosemary is a common selection because of its fragrance, but it can be very difficult to grow, Myers says. "Save that for the second garden. Remember, if it dies, you are not alone!"
When you arrive at the nursery with your shopping list, pick the plants with the greenest leaves or the most vivid appropriate colour for that plant. Make sure they're free of brown edges, dry stems and any insects. "No need to spend money on existing problems," Myers says.
Some garden centres only stock herbs in the spring, so if yours is lacking, Myers suggests checking out the fresh fruit and veggie section of your local supermarket. "That is often where I buy my plants for winter workshops," she says.
If you're a beginner herb gardener, basil may be the best bet for a no-fail plant. Photo: Corbis
Myer's step-by-step herb garden guide:
1) Purchase healthy plants and either a windowsill container that will hold several plants or individual pots for each. Aim for pots 6 - 12in deep. Make sure there are drainage holes.
2) Also purchase a well-drained potting mix; put a 2 - 3in layer of potting mix in the bottom of your pots.
3) Loosen any circling roots before planting to encourage new roots to grow into the surrounding soil. When you pull the plant out of its container, grab around the base to lightly break up the formed roots, then place in pots.
4) Fill in remaining areas with new potting mix, pressing down gently around the plants. Leave about 1in at the top of the container for watering.
5) Water thoroughly until the excess runs out the bottom; never let the plants stand in water. "I like to fill the saucer with pebbles so the excess water collects in the saucer and the pot sits on the pebbles above the water," Myers says.
6) Feed once a month with a fertiliser than can be used on herbs you are going to eat.
7) Place pots in the sunniest window you have. If you don't have a sunny window, you can also use fluorescent lights; place them close to the plants (about 18in away) and keep them on for about 10 hours each day.
8) Allow the plants some time to acclimatise to their surroundings. Once you see new growth, feel free to start cooking with your herbs.
9) To keep the plant growing, harvest leaves as needed. Regular harvesting will keep plants full and bushy, which means more for you to harvest (and use) throughout the year.
10) Never trim more than one third of your plant's foliage to keep it healthy.