ISSUE 9  |  Grand Gardens

DIY: Shade-Tolerant Herbs To Grow in Your Apartment

March 08, 2014 11:00 AM

BY Erin Boyle

Buttermilk biscuits with chive butter, egg salad with ribbons of tarragon, iced tea with fresh mint. There are a lot of reasons to love warm weather, and the addition of fresh herbs to some of my favorite foods is just one of them. Sadly, as a city dweller living in an apartment that doesn’t get bright sun, I always figured that I wouldn’t be able to grow my own. Turns out, I was just hoping to grow the wrong herbs. While it’s true that many herbs–such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, and sage–need a lot of sunshine to thrive, a slew of culinary herbs can thrive in a shadier spot.

For more, see Seed Starting: Adventures in a Tiny Apartment.

Photography by Erin Boyle.

Soft, leafy herbs like chives, parsley, mint, cilantro, tarragon, oregano, and lemon balm can do quite well in slightly shadier spots (though tread lightly with basil and dill, which are soft-leaved, but require full sun). If you have a tiny window ledge (or, dare we suggest, the tiniest edge of a fire escape), consider potting up a few of these herbs to enjoy all summer long. If you don’t have outdoor space, but you get plenty of sunshine inside, many of these guys will even do just fine in a sunny windowsills or on a bright kitchen countertop. 

Where do you Hide Your Potting Soil in Plain Sight in a Tiny Apartment?

I stopped into my local garden shop and chose four different organic herbs to place in my planter: parsley, oregano, chives, and tarragon. 

If you prefer, you can order garden-ready herb seedlings from Burpee; three-plant packs of Single Italian Parsley, Greek Oregano, and Common Chives are $14.95 apiece. 

I also bought a skinny 3-inch-wide teak planter with good drainage. If you like wooden window boxes, here are a few others to consider.

You might decide to use small rocks in the bottom of your planter to prevent the soil from compacting and clogging up drainage holes. A lot of the more sun-loving herbs are particularly sensitive to overly damp roots, but if you’re sticking to herbs that don’t require as much sunlight, you won’t have to worry as much about keeping your soil sandy. (If you’re keeping your planter inside, consider investing in a small tray to place beneath it to catch water drainage).

Since I’m fairly certain that I’m going to spend the summer sipping mint juleps, I bought a mint plant, too. Mint is an herb that really thrives in shadier gardens. In fact, it sometimes thrives too well. I didn’t want my mint to take over my tiny window box, so I picked up a Ben Wolff pot in white and potted it there instead.

A three-pack of Orange Mint, available seasonally, is $14.95 from Burpee.

When it came to potting the rest of my herbs, I left about 2 inches between each plant to ensure that they’ll have room to stretch out a bit.

My apartment windowsill only gets about three hours of direct sunlight daily, but that’s more than enough to keep these plants happy. (Full disclosure: I stuck a basil start out there a few weeks ago, and to my surprise that’s doing a-okay, too. If you can’t get through summer without a daily caprese salad, I say give it a go–just don’t get too sad if it doesn’t survive).

Herbs are meant to be eaten, so harvest often. In case you need a little help with your clipping, here are some beautiful scissors to help with the task.

If you’d prefer a zinc or galvanized window box, see some of our favorites at 10 Easy Pieces: Metal Window Boxes.

N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published on May 15, 2013 during our Gold Coast week.