Sparrow and Finch Gardening Starting an Herb Garden in a Small Outdoor Space

Starting an Herb Garden in a Small Outdoor Space

 My backyard, which is a typical Brooklyn brownstone landscape, features an assortment of ground and container plants, as well as the sun is only available for a limited amount of time. I stopped trying to grow sun-loving tomatoes a few years ago, but I’ve enjoyed great success in the kitchen with herbs.

The ability to walk outside of your kitchen to cut the fresh mint sprig to add to your julep, or grab some chives for garnishing an omelet or sprinkle a pinch of thyme for a flavoring in a pasta sauce is a home cook’s desire. If you’re blessed with an outdoor space that has direct sunlight, you are able to make that wish become a reality. Here’s how you can start an outdoor garden that is small or to expand on existing plants.


The small size of your garden lets you play around with the plant arrangement. Within a 750-square-foot brownstone landscape, you will find many microclimates that are small areas with various environments. The basil plant that is in one area could thrive more than one located several feet away. Nearby fences, buildings and trees, or even huge trees could prevent sunlight from reaching areas of your garden, but they could offer some shelter from the winter wind.

It’s well worth spending a few hours looking at the way the sun moves through your garden before buying the plants and planting. If you find that a certain plant that isn’t flourishing in a specific spot, consider taking it down and planting it in a different location.

In my garden, I have sage and rosemary plants (both native to Mediterranean-type temperatures) in large pots that I place near the center of my patio in the summer months to maximize sunlight hours.


The majority of herbs are available in farmers’ markets as well as local nurseries. It is possible to start every growing season with a new batch of herbs without worrying about winters and treating every plant like an annual. There is something wonderful when you tend a perennial garden, and it is my first preference. Basil and parsley, two kitchen staples, aren’t the only exceptions. I begin them from seeds or buy seedlings each year.

The plants that are listed below can be planted in a pot or the soil. The majority of herbs thrive in full sun, which means at minimum 6 hours direct lighting every day. However, I’ve grown all the herbs listed below under part-sun conditions lasting 4-6 hours.

Peppermint and Spearmint (Full Sun to Part Shade)

The peppermint ( Mentha x piperita) and spearmint ( Mentha spicata) are prolific growers, which is why I would prefer to place them in containers. They die back over the winter months and, when they start to grow again in spring, you’ll find that they’ve grown towards the edges, leaving an uninspiring center. I remove them each spring, separate them and then replant. If you plant mint in the ground, it will probably expand. Every spring, you can split sections to distribute.

Sage (Full Sun)

The Sage ( Salvia officinalis) is a perennial with a woody appearance that can withstand the majority of the NYC winters. I plant mine in a container I transfer to a more protected area during the coldest winter months. In spring, I cut off dead branches and trim healthy ones over the nodes in the area where new leaves are beginning to emerge.

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