Vertical Gardening

Herb Gardening in a Small Gables Backyard

For 11 years I lived vertical – as on the 22nd floor of a Brickell condominium. The direct sun and salty winds that reached my balcony barely allowed me to keep a few weathered succulents alive. My dog Benny and I had bolder dreams to go horizontal. He wanted to chase squirrels within his own enclosed yard. I desired a garden to help me cultivate any well-hidden horticulture skills I might possess.

We purchased our 1936 Coral Gables home in 2014. The small shaded yard was perfect for Benny’s outings, but not for my dream of an herb garden, which would require about 6 hours of sunlight per day. “The minimum sized lot in Coral Gables is 5,000 square feet,” Ana Collongette told me. She is a Gables resident, member of the Coral Gables Garden Club, and realtor at BHHS/Florida Realty. “Not everyone has acres of land. You can have a wonderful vibrant garden by creatively utilizing all the space around your house.” Collongette, who has seen houses of all shapes and sizes over her 35 years as a realtor, assured me that my rather narrow, bricked side yard had just the right amount of sunlight for growing herbs. 

The potential pallet became motivation enough. In South Florida we can grow a great variety of herbs for any feast, including basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, dill, sage, lemon balm, mint, parsley, tarragon and thyme. Basil makes for an amazingly easy Caprese salad. Rosemary works wonders on lamb chops. Mint is essential for a fine mojito. Herb-filled omelets or scrambled eggs are taken to the next level. Thyme and oregano serve us well on chicken (and for a perfectly herb-marinated turkey for Thanksgiving Day!). And the month of September just also happens to be a great time of year to start any garden.

Herb gardening in a small Gables backyard

Due to my limited space, however, I would have to go vertical. Cedar wood is naturally rot and insect resistant, so I purchased two vertical planters from Amazon that came with three tiered and adjustable levels on each. Mine had wheels so I could easily turn them for sunlight preferences or roll them to my garage should a hurricane approach.

Going vertical not only saves space, it improves drainage to avoid rotting plant roots; it even saves water, which trickles from one level to the next. Plants requiring more sunlight can take the top row and those requiring less can go down a tier or two. Your back will thank you as you remain mostly vertical when picking what you’d like to add to your next meal.  

My green thumbs are now 6-years-old and I am happy to report that Collongette was correct. My herb garden still thrives in its small side nook. Benny, a rather senior dog now, still joins me outside, though less concerned with chasing squirrels than sunbathing with his new friend Elle. I have since joined the Coral Gables Garden Club alongside many experienced women. What has remained true is that nature is always eager to provide therapeutic opportunities. When I share a homemade meal with loved ones, I think to myself, “These herbs were grown and handpicked for us to share. Made with love.” Above all else, this has always been the best ingredient.