Patios With Herbs

Overview

Herbs grace patio gardens in any number of ways. Planting culinary and ornamental herbs in pots remains the classic choice. But enterprising gardeners can find all sorts of ways to fit herbs into their patio landscape, from trellising vining herbs along the patio door to actually paving the surface with low-growing herbs.

Setting

Before you order your herb seedlings, consider your actual patio setting. Sunlight remains the most important factor, because soil conditions can always be improved, especially in containers or in raised beds. Many patios offer the homeowner several "microclimates" in which to plant a variety of herbs. A south-facing exterior wall, for example, will enhance heat-loving basil and lavender, while the shadier areas---those near building corners or under umbrellas or taller plants---can shelter herbs such as spearmint, chervil and lemon balm. Consider, too, your access to water. If you have a readily-available hose, you'll find no problem meeting the varying needs of your herbs. But if you'll have to refill a watering can from inside the house, make sure to keep water-hogging container plants to a minimum, and focus on herbs that relish dry conditions.

Use

Generally speaking, the gardener can often "mix it up" more in patio gardening than in more traditional types of gardening, in which the "cutting garden," "vegetable garden," "fragrance garden" and "ornamental garden" are rigidly defined. Still, some gardeners do choose to group patio herbs by their use, making it easier to harvest several herbs for dinner or a potpourri project by placing those herbs together. Some even go so far as restricting all patio plants to one use, whether it be ornamental, tea, culinary or crafting.

Vertical Landscaping

Many raised patios contain retaining walls that profit from the softening effects of taller, spreading herbs planted in front of them. In warmer climates, consider planting bay, which can be pruned to meet the height requirements of your wall. Rosemary and lavender also produce bushy effects on south-facing aspects, especially when interplanted with rose bushes. For shadier or even damp locations, choose bee balm, angelica or catmint. For patios that are level with the surrounding yard, consider bordering the patio with a garden bed of perennial herbs and flowers. Adding ornamental vegetables such as kale and colorful lettuces to the herbal border additionally soften the line between patio, lawn and gardens, pulling together these different exterior "rooms." And don't forget that climbing herbs, especially hops, can add fragrance and color to the house's exterior wall that abuts the patio.

Horizontal Landscaping

To make eye-catching and fragrant flooring for your patio, cover all or part of it with low-growing herbs. Choose flowering thyme or chamomile for especially charming walkways. Gravel patios take surprisingly well to herbs, acting as both mulch and growing medium to herb seedlings, which eventually spread to cover large areas of a patio. If your terrace is paved with brick or stone, you'll often find gaps in which some of the hardscaping can be removed and replaced with soil and herbs.

Container Culture

A surprising number of herbs fit into large or even medium containers. Group plants in any way that pleases you, whether by color of the herb's foliage and flowers, by use or simply by which containers have a few inches of spare space. Alternatively, plant herbs in individual pots, ideally with varying heights, and place them so that they break up spaces on the patio into comfortable zones. In general, herbs rank among the easiest of all plants to grow in pots. Just remember that potted plants dry out much more quickly than those that are planted in traditional garden beds. Check the soil level every day, and water if needed. If your patio gets too much or too little sun to meet individual herbs' needs, move the pot to different locations during the day.

Keywords: patio herbs, vining herbs, herbal landscaping, container culture

About this Author

Melissa Jordan-Reilly has been a writer for 20 years, both as a newspaper reporter and as an editor of nonprofit newsletters. Among the publications in which she has published are, "The Winsted Journal," "Taconic" and "Compass Magazine." A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Jordan-Reilly also pursues sustainable agriculture techniques and tends a market garden at her Northwestern Connecticut home.