Herbs on the Balcony

Herbs on the Balcony

Herbs are perfect for balcony gardening. They’re easy to grow, many smell quite nice, and they provide ready-to-use flavours for your meals; just harvest them right out of the containers. The selection is almost unlimited; there’s mint, chives, basil, summer savoury, dill, lemon balm, coriander, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme... the list goes on and on. There are a few important things to remember before cultivating herbs. For instance, most of them are quite
vigorous—especially mint, chives, and summer savoury. Because of this, I always keep each variety in its own container. Herbs should be grown in very clean soils with good drainage; high-quality potting soil is best. For basil, I recommend a soil-less mixture; there are fewer problems with disease when basil is grown in this medium. Basil is prone to a stem rot
that garden soils can encourage; clean soil can help prevent this occurrence.

To get the best herbs, I fertilize them with 20-20-20 once every two weeks. Of course, I keep my watering consistent to promote strong, even growth and to inhibit disease. Adding rich compost to the soil gives herbs (except basil!) a real boost, as well.

I always harvest soft new growth to promote branching in the plants, and produces a greater overall yield. When winter arrives, you can bring the smaller herbs like bay, basil, savory, chives, parsley, sweet marjoram, tarragon and sage indoors for year-round production. Just make sure that they receive at least 5 hours of direct sunlight per day (you will probably have to use grow lights in the dead of winter). Indoor herbs will be smaller than those grown outside, but they are still quite tasty and well worth cultivating. With containers full of fresh herbs at your disposal, you’ll have a blast preparing meals with an extra bit of dash.

Favourite Herbs: Parsley



Petroselinum crispum

Biennial or short-lived perennial; generally grown as an annual

Height 30 to 45 cm (Italian varieties up to 1 m); spread to 30 cm (Italian varieties 45 to 60 cm).

Upright, multi-stemmed plant that forms attractive, dark-green mounds.

Try these!

Petroselinum crispum crispum (curled parsley): Strong aroma and flavour

Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum (Italian parsley, flat-leaf parsley, plain-leaf parsley): Lovely, rich, full flavour

Petroselinum crispum tuberosum (Hamburg parsley, root parsley): Both leaves and roots are used; good for soups, stews, and steaming.


Parsley is best grown from young plants purchased from a garden centre. The seed germinates very slowly and requires very warm temperatures for successful germination; the seedlings also grow very slowly.

How much: Two to six plants.

When: About a week before the date of average last spring frost in your area.

Where: Full sun. Prefers rich, well-drained soil. Space plants 20 to 25 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Parsley is easy to grow! Garden parsley need little attention other than water during dry spells. Parsley grown in containers needs water every day. Parsley loves cool temperatures but will tolerate heat.


Begin harvesting when parsley produces leaf stems with three segments. Harvest root parsley, in the fall, when the plant is mature; pull up like parsnip.

For best flavour: Harvest mid-morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the day gets too hot.

Leaves: Harvest individual leaves by clipping the leaf stalk where it attaches to the plant stem. Cut sprigs and use whole, or strip the leaves. Stalks are edible but discard if too tough.

Flowers: Edible, but not normally eaten.

Preserving the Harvest

Use fresh, frozen, or dried. Keep a jar of chopped parsley in your freezer and crumble off whatever amount you need, or use the ice-cube method (see page XXX). Parsley dries very well, too. Crumbled dried leaves and stems and store in plastic containers.


  • Here’s a quick and easy method for drying parsley. Dip sprig in boiling water for 2 minutes. (I use a colander, so it’s easy to get out.) Bake the sprigs on a cookie sheet in a cool oven until crisp. Keep an eye on the parsley to avoid toasting it. As soon as the leaves are cool, crush and store in an air-tight container.
  • Parsley prefers cooler temperatures, although it will tolerate heat. When we grew it commercially, we had little choice of location: we had to grow it in an open field! At home, I like to choose a location that is shaded from the hot late-day sun. The overall plant growth may be less vigorous, but the leaves are much sweeter and tastier.
  • If parsley is left in the ground for a second season, it will flower and set seed. In warmer areas, parsley patches may sustain themselves for a few years. Plain-leafed varieties are hardier than curly-leafed varieties.
  • Because of its high chlorophyll content, parsley is one of the best plants to chew to fight bad breath. I’m an advocate of eating the parsley garnish from my plant at restaurants, and I encourage my family and friends to do so too. Parsley cleanses the palate, freshens the breath, and tastes great, too! Chefs often leave a bowl of parsley sprigs in ice water in their kitchens, for the waiters to chew before serving guests in the dining room.

To Note:

  • Parsley is an excellent source of vitamins A, B, and C. It is very rich in iron, iodine, and magnesium.
  • Parsley is an attractive ornamental, good for filling in empty spaces or edging in flowerbeds.
  • Parsley can irritate sensitive skin on some individuals.
  • Parsley gets its name from the Greek word “Petroselinon,” a combination of the words petros (rock) and selinon (celery).
  • The Greeks fed parsley to their horses to give them strength and courage in battle. The Greeks also wore parsley wreaths during eating and drinking binges, believing that parsley would relieve the effect of intoxication.
  • Powdered parsley seed, placed on the skull several nights each year, was thought to cure baldness.