At this time of year, colorful summer salads are a staple at the dining table at home. There’s nothing simpler and more gratifying than creating your own palette of vegetable greens, reds and yellows in containers of all sizes. And don’t forget to spice up those nutritious salads by tapping into the bounty of home-grown herbs.
“The sky’s the limit,” says Laura Lee Rose, consumer horticulturist and water resources agent for the Clemson University Extension Service Agency in Beaufort County. “People are growing all kinds of vegetables and herbs in containers.”
Among the bumper crop of vegetables available to local container gardeners of all skill levels are peppers, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, soybeans, sweet potatoes, collards, kale and zucchini. The lineup of options for herbs is just as formidable: basil, rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme, oregano, cilantro, mint, dill, chives and oregano.
“Every aspect of what you need you can create in a pot,” says Carol Guedalia, resale horticulturist for the past 20 years at The Greenery on Hilton Head Island. “Pots are a perfect opportunity for people to create a garden.”
Guedalia, a lifelong gardener, says container gardening provides a dash of practicality and aesthetics and, perhaps most importantly, a direct link with nature through your fingertips. “It allows your spirit to connect,” she says. “All of nature connects without other restraints.”
Connecting with nature and experiencing the fulfillment of growing your own herbs and vegetables in containers is simple -- and rewarding for those with limited time, limited space, limited physical ability, limited know-how and limited patience.
“I think it’s easy,” says Chris Rosenbach, a certified master gardener and Hilton Head projects coordinator of the Lowcountry Master Gardener Association. “There’s flexibility that you don’t have with regular gardens.”
Virtually any area outside the house, apartment or villa is suitable for container gardening: patios, balconies, sidewalks, windowsills, window boxes, porches and doorsteps. “You can have a small herb garden right next to your kitchen,” Rosenbach says. “You only need a limited amount of space to grow vegetables.”
The first step in starting an herb and vegetable container garden, whether it’s perennials and/or annuals, is conceiving a plan — of your own design if you have a green thumb or with the expert assistance of a savvy gardener at a nursery. You’ll need to know what you want to grow, where you want to grow it, and how much space and sunlight are required.
In other words, “Pick the right plants in the right place,” Rose says, adding, “Pick the right plants for the right season.”
The planting season with seeds for summer meals has passed, but you can plan your fall and winter seed planting as soon as summer wanes. The herbs and vegetables you buy now at local garden centers are showing plant growth.
Pots come in all sizes, styles, textures, materials and colors. Just make sure they have good drainage for root care and are the right size for the plants to flourish. Find the right location for the proper amount of sunlight, which varies from plant to plant. Proper hydration — not too much water and not too little —stimulates sustained plant growth. Fertilizing and food depend on the plant variety.
One advantage of container gardening over traditional bed gardening, besides portability, is overall plant health.
“Living here in the Lowcountry, we can have a healthier garden in containers,” Rosenbach says, because nature’s elements like poor soil and pest disease are more controllable using pots. “Plants respond really well to a good quality soil,” Guedalia says.
And, of course, nothing beats container plants for home-grown freshness.
“I think it’s very nice to pick your own herbs … it’s more pleasing using fresh ingredients,” says Barbara Maniotis, co-owner and executive chef of It’s Greek to Me restaurant in Hilton Head. “Using fresh items is more authentic and flavorable … we use the finest and most nutritious ingredients.”
Patrons will see upward of 20 pots behind the restaurant, which moved to its Lagoon Road location in 2008 after opening its doors for business in 1997. Her husband and co-owner, Bill, she admits, is the gardener in the family and spends time daily on nourishing his mint, parsley, basil and rosemary, as well as peppers, potatoes, cucumbers and eggplant. Satisfied customers who order a Greek salad, spanakopita, mousaka, tilapia and many other dishes will taste the difference that fresh ingredients make.
As if the scent of herbs as you pinch them off the plant isn’t arousing enough, wait until you taste the fresh chives in your gazpacho, mint on your carrots, oregano in your pasta sauce, basil on your fish, and parsley in your potato salad.
The Greenery, 960 William Hilton Parkway on Hilton Head Island, will be hosting a series of free seminars in June. For reservations, call (843) 785-3848. All seminars begin at 10:30 a.m.
Sue Roderus will present Butterfly Gardens on June 5 and June 8; Deer Resistant Plants on June 12 and June 15.
Carol Guedalia will present Herb Pots on June 20 and June 22; Heat Tolerant Summer Plants on June 27 and June 29.