Growing A Windowsill Herb Garden In New York City

courtesy of Their's looks so lush, I couldn't resist the picture.

My manicurist is starting to get really annoyed with me. I always show up with dirt under my fingernails because I’ve been expanding my herb garden. Yes, sadly, I’ve reached that age where I felt the need to plant an herb garden. And even sadder, yes, my herb garden makes me happy.

Growing up in queens, my grandmother always planted a beautiful garden. I grew up with stunning roses, gorgeous tulips, juicy peaches, sweet watermelon, pears, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and god knows what else. Well I do know what else, but it’s too long to list. Though I must say, I guess I got my penchant for eating random berries from her, which really aggravates my friends because they always feel the need to stop myself from poisoning myself. I never got sick with my grandmother because she could tell which berries wouldn’t kill me, a habit I never picked up. Today, living in Manhattan doesn’t allow me the luxury of having a backyard. So a year ago, I decided that since I spent so much money buying fresh herbs, I might as well start my own windowsill garden.

My first time around, I hit up the farmers market at Union Square and bought basil, parsley, cilantro, chocolate mint, rosemary, sage, spearmint, thyme, oregano and dill. I managed to kill half of them in six months. The other half fought for their lives and somehow managed to survive under my care. Not one to give up when it comes to food, last month I tried to replace my murdered plants and ended up at a lovely hardware store on the corner of 1st ave. and 6th str. in the East Village. I had originally been on my way to the farmers market again, but it was Sunday and they were closed, and this wonderful gentleman overheard me lamenting about herb plants and directed me to this store.

After talking to a couple of the workers at the hardware store I learned a few things.

1)    The plants must get sun for a few hours a day. (I know, I know, it seems so basic, but when my plants were dying the winter, where the hell was I going to get real sunlight from?)

2)    Use organic potting soil. At this hardware store it cost the same as non-organic soil. I could immediately see and feel the difference from the regular potting soil I had previously purchased.

3)     Do not over water your plants. I was told to stick my finger an inch into the soil and if it still felt damp to leave it alone. Apparently the number 1 reason why people kill their herbs is due to over watering.

With renewed enthusiasm I am glad to say that nothing looks like it is dying…knock on wood. I now have a windowsill full of basil, dill, cilantro, scallions (I replanted store bought ones, they regenerate), garlic (I took some leftover cloves and planted them in the dirt, they are sprouting amazingly), chives, mint, parsley, lemon thyme, sage and oregano. The lemon thyme smells like lemon drops! I might try rosemary again one day, but I’ve already killed two of them so my pride is slightly hurt.

Oh! And if anyone has any advice about growing basil, please let me know. Mine are short and squatty like me, they never grow tall and full.

Thank you!

-Joyce Huang


  • Congrats on growing the herb garden and having some success. As for your basil, when starting a new plant, I always try to pinch off the top leaves and stem just above the pair of leaves below. Once you cut or pinch it off like that, the basil will throw up two stems from that one, so it helps in getting a fuller plant and avoid a lanky, thin one. So, when you use it from then on, do the same to keep it looking full. Good Luck!

  • My only herb is in a pot in my garden window and it’s basil. It loves the sun and seems to grow out of control for me. I heard you are only supposed to pick 1/3 of the plant for it to continue to grow.

  • Not sad at all! I dream of landscaping with edible plants! Great tips.

  • Thank you so much for the tips! Everyone always has these gorgeous, full and tall basil plants. My last one grew tall, but nothing would grow back on the bottom after I picked them off to cook with. I hope I have better luck with this batch!

  • Shoot, everything looks pretty healthy except for the basil now….two stalks look decent, but the third stalk is drying out. Basil really hates me. Can never keep rosemary alive either.

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