How To Create a Fool Proof Herb Garden
I’ve never necessarily been one with nature. Figuratively speaking, my thumb may be more a dingy shade of green rather than the sought-after bright green shade one would commonly associate with the primo gardener. It’s really no surprise, because as you may recall from my recent article featuring my friend Avon Lyons of Violetta, I kill nearly everything I plant. With that in mind, I began thinking of ways to take what I learned from Avon about sprucing up the indoors one step further...to the outdoors.
Honestly, I’ve always really loved the idea of having a garden - the ability to grow peppers and herbs and edible flowers at my leisure is something I dream about often. It crushes me to buy a whole bunch of cilantro, use half of it, and then watch as it dies a lonely death in the refrigerator (sorry, I just cannot ever seem to use all of it!). Herbs are really freaking expensive to buy and I’d rather spend my money on other things...like the soon-to-be-released Super Smash Brothers on the Nintendo Switch or maybe this dress from Madewell.
So I reached out to my dear friend Sara Gasbarra (who has a bright green thumb!) for help. Sara is the founder and “lead garden girl” of Verdura, a 7-year-old garden design company where she curates and tends on-site culinary gardens for restaurants and chefs in Chicago (Most of the time these gardens are on a rooftop! If you’ve ever been to Chicago, you understand why.) and Nashville. You may actually recognize some of her Nashville clients like Bastion, Henrietta Red and Nicky’s Coal Fired. Recently, she’s been dipping her toe into some residential gardening work here in Nashville, bringing her chefs’ favorite herbs, greens and edibles to the home grower…and that growth is what made this adventure possible!
Yes...you can take what you learn here and build your own garden, but I promise it’s way more fun with Sara right there with you! Needless to say, Sara helped me to create the backyard garden of my dreams - and it wasn’t even too hard on my wallet.
Find the ideal space. It’s important to pick a location that gets about 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Ideally, especially here in Nashville, direct sun in the morning hours with some shade during the intense, hot, late-afternoon hours. That said, water is also important. Try to pick a spot that’s pretty close to a water source for easy watering (and also somewhere that’s just steps away from your kitchen for easy harvesting!!).
Purchase the ideal garden box. Sara’s fond of the simple-to-assemble Cedar Raised Bed kits from Gardener’s Supply. She’s the expert, so that’s what we opted to use for my backyard! The prefabricated boxes come in all sizes ranging from 3’ x 3’ (which is what I got) to 4’ x 8’. Sara recommends mixing and matching sizes for a really beautiful set up. The only tool you need for assembly is a drill -- and a couple sets of hands. Wine helps at this stage, so invite your friends and hand them some gardening gloves and a glass of vino and get to work.
- You can also choose to stain the cedar bed, which I obviously had to do. We used an eco-friendly, whey based stain from Gardener’s Supply and stained the box cloud white. It’s pretty!
With any raised bed you are installing, whether you’re purchasing it pre-assembled or building your own, it’s important to remember to line the bottom of the bed with landscape fabric to prevent weeds from infiltrating your precious edible greenery. Lucky for us, Gardener’s Supply also makes custom-fitting bed liners!
The ideal soil. According to Sara, plants and seed need all of the best nutrients to grow! So excellent quality soil is imperative when building your garden. “For containers, pots and small raised beds, choose a soil that is super lightweight, nutrient dense and retains moisture,” says Sara. “Don’t worry about the price point -- the upfront higher cost of a good-quality soil pays for itself over time!” Sara and I used Fox Farm Happy Frog, but Good Dirt (available at Hewitt Garden and Design in Franklin) is another great product. Don’t want to trek all the way to Franklin? Try ordering online.
The ideal irrigation. Unbeknownst to me, the key to a successful and happy garden is CONSISTENT watering, meaning every day and generally at the same time each day. “When gardens are watered inconsistently and plant roots are allowed to dry out and then get flooded with water to correct the problem - they become stressed,” explains Sara. “Stressful plants don’t thrive and ultimately don’t survive.”
If you’re hand-watering, aim to water each morning, giving the garden a cool drink in preparation for that hot Nashville afternoon sun.
If it’s particularly hot, you may want to water them again as the sun is setting.
To save yourself some time, you can purchase a simple irrigation timer and soaker hose from your favorite local nursery / home improvement store or purchase a dripline irrigation kit. We set up a simple dripline system purchased from Drip Works.
The ideal plants. I was shocked when Sara told me how much we could grow in my little 3’ x 3’ garden bed. My cedar bed is home to 14 varieties of herbs and edible flowers (!!!) including:
begonia (these have edible flowers that taste like a citrus bomb went off in your mouth!)
bright lights chard
red rubin basil
African blue basil
Kentucky colonel mint (the official mint of the mint julep!)
a mini fig tree
one jalapeño plant
We found all of these glorious plants at Nature’s Best in Nolensville, - Sara’s favorite local nursery. “Support your local, independent nursery as they generally have a more diverse selection of plants, take better care of their stock and do their own propagation,” says Sara.
Psst - I didn’t know what propagation meant, and maybe you don’t either. Propagation is basically like breeding your own plants from a parent stock.
The ideal seed. Sara and I didn’t grow anything from seed, but it’s good to know, as she tells me, that some vegetables do better when they’re planted from seed (root crops like beets and radishes, greens and cilantro).
Her favorite (online) seed companies are:
Kitazawa Seed “For every Asian variety of vegetable under the sun...literally!” - Sara
The ideal method. After your liner is in its place, you’ve secured your soil and chosen your plants, it’s time (to quote the Bachelorette Becca Kufrin) to do the damn thing and P L A N T. Place your plants atop the soil to kind of map out where you plan to plant them and, once you’ve laid everything out, start digging. One at a time, dig your hole (for most plants, I dug about 8 inches or so - you want to make sure their roots are completely covered in soil). Where the plant starts to sprout should be near the top of the soil. I was actually surprised by how close in proximity they could be planted - as long as you have enough room to not dig into another plants’ roots, you should be fine!
The ideal time to harvest. This is my least favorite part of this entire journey. We planted the garden. It looks amazing. And what does Sara tell me? “Leave it alone!...for two weeks. No touching, no picking, no pruning, no munching! Let your plants take root and get acclimated to their new environment.” She does tell me that, after a couple weeks, you can begin to harvest the herbs slowly either leaf by leaf or at their “crowns”, making sure to never cut the plant down to soil level. “You always want to leave new growth and foliage on the primary stem so that you’re able to continue harvesting throughout the season.
Gardener’s Supply 3’ x 3’ Deep Root Cedar Raised Bed
- ($149.00 but currently on sale for $117.89)
Gardener’s Exterior Wood Stain in Cloud White
- $29.95 (optional)
Landscape fabric liner for box
Dripworks Irrigation Kit
Homegrown vegetables and herbs harvested weekly from your backyard garden:
Not including optional perks: $321.84
Including optional perks: $411.74
If you want to follow Sara on her Nashville garden adventures, you can find her on Instagram here.