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I’ve tried, and failed, to raise herbs for years and years. Back in Santa Monica, I used to buy those potted herb gardens from Trader Joe’s and try to keep them alive on my kitchen windowsill — no dice. We were on the first floor, and the second floor’s balcony projected over our window, so the wee plants never got enough light.

From left to right: oregano, basil, rosemary, cilantro, chives, thyme, and mint.

When I moved to Paris, one of the first things I noticed was all of the lovely window boxes coming into bloom. Some of them are quite elaborate, with trailing vines reaching almost all the way to the floors below. Our living room windows get tons of light in the morning and afternoon, and I cook so much more now — why not?

Finding the box was the hardest part. It’s just a narrow plastic box with hooks for hanging on the wrought iron railing, but I never saw them at the plants shops. Turns out they keep them way in the back, with the soil. It was my first time using my still-terrible French with a shopkeep: “la boîte… pour… la fenêtre?” Success!

I’ve had the little box for a month now, and the herbs are thriving. I love moving aside our curtains and opening our window to clip a little of this or that for salad or omelets or soup. I know it sounds obvious, but everything tastes so much fresher with the fresh herbs, and it’s so much more fulfilling knowing that I helped them grow.

Some tips, from my very limited experience:

  • You don’t need to start from seeds! I bought adult plants so that I could start using them right away.
  • Make sure to get a planter with holes in the bottom for drainage. You can also drill holes or put rocks, broken pottery pieces, or pieces of styrofoam in the bottom of the planter before you add the herbs and soil to make sure the water drains properly.
  • Put fast-growing herbs, like mint, in their own planters so they don’t choke off the other plants.
  • Don’t crowd your herbs! The roots need room to spread out in the soil. If you want a large variety of herbs in one planter, just plant a smaller number of stalks of each one. I had to split my pot of thyme in half because there was so much.
  • If you start to see yellowing, feed your plants a nitrogen-based fertilizer.
  • Most of all, use your herbs! They will grow and spread better if you trim them often.