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Original photo by Ellie Eshima
Life

I Love Herbs So Much I Started an Herb Garden

This summer I started my own herb garden on my front patio. If I had my own gardening show, I’d call it Phineas and Herbs (wait, that sounds familiar). I’ve always loved the idea of having a little picturesque garden and caring for something. So, why herbs and why not some flowers? I cook a lot, so herbs have a lot of great functionalities. I like knowing that I can use my plants (and not only look at their pretty green leaves). One cilantro plant is about $3.50 and a fresh bunch of cilantro is about $2. Also, many herbs like basil, rosemary, and oregano I had a hard time finding fresh. Cooking and growing herbs became the perfect intersection that was both sustainable and economical. I love to use basil over my pizzas and cilantro in my noodles or salsa. Whenever I was making pasta sauce, I’d run out to my front porch and pick some basil, thyme and oregano leaves. 

The herbs I grew: 

  1. Basil 
  2. Lavender 
  3. Oregano 
  4. Apple mint 
  5. Cilantro 
  6. Rosemary 
  7. Thyme
  8. Dill 
  9. Parsley 
  10. Thai Basil* 

*I did receive a small Thai basil plant from a friend, who loves gardening and botany (shoutout to Jessica). However, I accidentally left the plant in my car and I have been trying to revive my little plant. Ty, my Thai Basil, is now a little sad and hanging onto dear life. I apologize in advance to you, Ty, since I have been a bad plant mother. Don’t forget your kids or plants in the car. 

Once you buy one plant, you want to buy another plant and then another. Then, you end up with nine herbs like me, but nine is my favorite number, which is always a plus. I ordered the list of herbs in the order that I bought them. I highly recommend buying your plants at the local farmer’s market or at a gardening store. This is a great way to support local farmers as well as your plants will usually be healthier than a store-bought one. I got all of mine from my local greenhouse and gardening store. 

On a sunny day in July, I was driving around my city, blasting some 2000s music that I still love with all my heart. A greenhouse and with an orchard on the side of the road caught my eye, and I did a lovely U-turn to stop. This is how my affinity for plants began. Strolling around the greenhouse, I inhaled the sweet scents of the hydrangeas and admired the kaleidoscope of colors that all of the blossoms painted. Soft sunlight filtered through the glass, illuminating the verdant leaves with a golden glow. Being around plants and with the apple orchards surrounding the greenhouse, I immediately felt a serenity wash over me as if I could finally fully inhale and exhale. Being around nature evokes such a calming, meditative feeling. And, bringing plants home is like bringing a little bit of nature with you. 

After dissecting each section of the greenhouse and reading all of the tongue-twister scientific names for each of the plants, I looped my way back to the herbs. Closing my eyes, I leaned forward to smell all of the different kinds of mint: apple mint (which I got), spearmint, peppermint, and catmint. Who knew there were so many varieties of mint and oregano? The new world of plants and herbs collided with my excitement to absorb all of the new information. I decided to buy my first herbs: sweet basil and English lavender. Holding the luscious lavender leaves, I love to gently pick off a leaf and rub it in between my fingers to absorb the floral, calming scent. Then, I went back to the greenhouse 4 more times because I simply could not get enough of the calming beauty of being around so much green. And, mainly because I could not resist the urge to just get “one more” plant. Hmm, I think my math needs some work since “one more” really means “eight more” to me, but my philosophy is the more the merrier.

Are you grounded or a pothead? Just kidding… Should you ground your herbs or pot them? 

You can either plant your herbs in the ground or you can pot them. I decided to pot mine because I wanted to use them in the colder months. I personally live in Michigan, so the weather is very sporadic when it comes to being very hot or very cold (just make up your mind!). Depending on how well you care for your plants, they can survive most of or through the winter. The plants will most likely not get bigger during the winter because there is only indirect sunlight when you are indoors. But you can maintain them indoors. 

If you want to plant them in the ground, make sure you read how much sunlight each kind of herb needs. Also, some herbs can grow very fast and can get everywhere, like mint. The pros of planting them in the ground is that they will grow larger than their potted version. Also, some herbs, like lavender, may germinate and come back next year. 

What else is in store? 

If you picked to pot your plants, the next step is storage!

You can tell if a pot is actually for plants if it has a drainage hole. Whether you make them out of plastic containers or buy them, make sure that they all have a drain hole(s). This drainage hole prevents your plant from being flooded, and it allows the excess water to have a place to go. That little hole in the bottom of your pot allows for airflow and for moisture to escape.  Sorry, but no matter how colorful and cute your pot is, your plant needs a drainage hole. 

 I bought some potting soil from Home Depot, which I used to fill my recyclable pots. I also went on my quest for some homes for my plants. I stopped at Home Depot to check out their pots, but I felt it was a bit pricey for me and I was not ready to make that investment. I also stopped at both Meijer and Walmart, but the selection at my local places was sparse. They did not have the right sizes since I was not feeling the four-foot large containers that could practically fit a body. I suggest stopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other second-hand stores because sometimes they will have containers. I personally couldn’t find any at those places around me, but definitely check at yours. The last place I stopped was Marshall’s and TJMaxx, which I highly suggest. I am already a huge fan of Marshall’s and TJMaxx, so it was no surprise that they had exactly what I needed. There is a good selection of ceramic plant pots in their home goods aisle towards the back of the store. Cerulean, terracotta, crimson, eggshell white: TJMaxx had a great variety that was so aesthetic. I was ready to drop $50 on cute plant pots. Oh, how it took so much to resist that calling. 

I ended up going the sustainable route and cutting up old plastic containers. I highly suggest using plastic milk cartons, protein powder containers, coffee containers, yogurt containers, water jug containers, and more. Anything that has a good storage space is the perfect home for your little plant. I used scissors to cut them up, and I ended up using my dad’s metal soldering stick to pick holes in the bottom. You can also use a hot glue gun to make the drainage holes in the bottom, but I found that my hot glue gun did not get that hot. I’m sure you can also use a screwdriver. Drainage holes are a must! Do not forget them. 

Lastly, make sure you read how big your pot should be when potting certain herbs. I know that when you want to plant dill at least 12-inches deep and equally as wide. Some plants have extensive root systems that need certain dimensions. I actually didn’t have a container with those exact dimensions since mine was smaller, like the size of a coffee grounds container. However, I think my dill plant is doing alright. 

Caring for your baby herbs  

Not trying to end up with the Dead Plant Society here. See how I planted a joke in there? Can you be-leaf it? Really hoped I knocked your stalks off since if not, the shade is real. I am really branching out in my humor. Ok, I know if I keep going my only friends will be my herbs. Let’s continue with my TedTalk (kidding). Sidenote: writing this paragraph about plants reminded me to water my herb garden– brb. 

Each herb can be different in needs, like the amount of water or sunlight. I honestly made Google my best friend and read up on each of my herbs. I set my plants on my front patio, and I water them every other day. If it is very humid and hot, I will water them a bit more. Also, I like to feel the soil; if it is still damp, I will not water. Take note of when you last watered your plants since neglect is the biggest killer. 

Underwatering and overwatering are both mistakes when it comes to caring for your plants. You gotta love your plants, but not too little and not too much. Overwatering will show when the plant has browning edges and the leaves are wilting. Also, feel if your plant is soft and droopy. As for underwatering, your plant will feel dry and crisp. If you have underwatered, some common signs include leaves dropping, browning, and slow plant growth. Keep note of any changes in appearance to your lil’ plants. 

 If your plants are potted, I highly suggest keeping note of the weather in terms of large storms or if it is very windy because you don’t want to have scrambled plants all over your patio. 

Michigan recently had a lot of storms this summer, so I always moved my plants indoors or made sure they were in a sheltered location outside.  

Lastly, be mindful of any critters and animals also inhabiting your space. Michigan has a lot of deer, which used to love eating the leaves of our tomato plants. The good thing about herbs is that most animals don’t eat them because of the strong scent and flavor. Just beware because you never know, Bambi and Thumper might get really hungry. Desperate times call for desperate needs (aka eating your basil plant). 

Should you become a plant person? 

Yes! Most definitely yes! And, how is this still a question? Stop reading and go buy some plants right now (just kidding, please keep reading). Hopefully, I did at least a decent job of planting the idea throughout this article (wink, wink). However, I might be a bit biased after writing about plants for the past couple of hours and I don’t mind that I have nine lovely herbs residing on my porch. I was definitely very lucky to start my own herb garden this summer because I had the space and an accessible greenhouse near my house. If you are living in a smaller space or in a city, I understand that it will be harder to care for plants, but keep in mind that you can always care for just one or two plants. When it comes to plants, there are so many options and starting an herb garden is only one of many. Figure out what fits your needs. If you are someone who wants the plant aesthetic, go for some Philodendron or exotic succulents (I promise they don’t ‘succ’). You can even get a cactus to look sharp (or to tell people this slightly atrocious pun). For me, I wanted to synergize my exploration of cooking and gardening. 

There is also propagation that only requires water and a glass jar. Some examples are Pothos and African Violets. You can even propagate rosemary. Propagation is something that I want to look into because I spend most of my year in a college dorm with limited access to space and materials like topsoil. So, propagated plants are a fast and less messy way to fill my room with some greenery. 

Thinking back to my trips to the greenhouse, I am filled with that same peace I felt when I first walked through the glass doors and marveled at all of the lovely plants. I hope that plants can help you feel more at ease because it’s like a little bit of nature in your room just for you. Your little plant is something wholly alive and feeling that you get to care for. One of my favorite parts of having an herb garden is watching each herb progress under my care. Plants remind me to be like them—to just keep growing.

I am the Lifestyle and Wellness Staff writer and editor for Yale's Her Campus! I also am a writer for the Beauty and Style column. I am a prospective physics and East Asian studies major. Now let me rattle off some facts to seem cool (kidding of course): I’ve gone backpacking around the world, like the Himalayas and the Alps. I love to read— I’ll read nonfiction science (for when I want to feel smart and want to kill some brain cells) and thrillers + cheesy romcom to imagine a little. I also play piano, run, do calligraphy, and eat way too much ice cream (but is there really such a thing as too much ice cream? The deeper questions on life that eat away at you or you can just eat ice cream). I might as well say I also am a lover of parentheses (and perhaps an abuser with how much I use them– apologies in advance).
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