Over the past year, we have seen a trend in kitchen design. Kitchens with easy access to fresh garden vegetable and herbs are in style. New designs have growing cabinets built right in the kitchen with even easier access. Think about it for a minute, who wouldn’t love freshly picked herbs right from their own garden just as the sauté requires some.

Most mountain herbs and vegetables can be grown outdoors on a seasonal basis, but a few can be grown right through the cold of winter. Greenhouses extend the season substantially, but often there is little room for such a glass structure.

Most of us are familiar with the ‘Garden Window.’ This is a deep window box, usually behind the sink, (for access to water I suspect). These windows are usually single pane glass, aluminum framed, and hard as heck to reach. They often leak, and in the colder months do little to protect fragile plants from the cold. So what plants are best to grow in the kitchen, and how do we best plan for them?

Since I know kitchens better than I know plants I have asked my good friend and fellow Rotarian Ken Lain for his advice. Ken is the consummate professional when it comes to all things green in the garden, both inside and out. The Mountain Gardner himself has agreed to help us grow the best plants for a successful kitchen garden.

Here’s what we learned about kitchen gardening when we sat down with Ken:

What garden tends are you seeing at Watters Garden Center this year?

Ken: We are riding three significant trends this year here at Watters; each is seeing double-digit increases over last year. Planting and delivery services doubled again this year, but that’s expected in a retirement town. Plants grown indoors, especially large floor plants are very trendy, and then edible gardening, especially with fresh herbs of all varieties.

Can herbs be grown indoors?

Ken: Absolutely, and with great success; especially the cold tender herbs like basil, lemongrass, and cilantro. Many mountain herbs are so hardy they can even be grown outdoors, in a pot by the front door.

Which herbs have you found most popular this year?

Ken: The top 5 are definitely best sellers, but there are several close runner ups. Rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano, and basil top the list. Mint, sage, and cilantro come in a close second, especially when used in the kitchen.

How successfully could these be grown indoors?

Ken:  They are naturals with the right temperature and light controls. Most windowsills are too small to hold mature plants. In January, I’ve seen double pane windows ice over, and plants will not like that. By using a full-spectrum light, herbs can be grown anywhere in the house you want. Herbs not only smell wonderful, but they’re beautiful plants to look at.

Any insider tips on growing better plants indoors?

Ken: The number one ingredient when growing herbs in a container is the soil. I recommend using Watters Potting Soil and planting your herbs directly into that soil mix. Whatever you do, don’t use soil dug from the outdoor gardens. This will become dry and very hard where your plants stop rooting, and if they end root growth, you will not be able to cut herbs for kitchen use as often.

To maximize the harvest, fertilize them every other week with organic ‘Root & Grow,’ and you will have so many fresh herbs you’ll need friends to share them with.

You mentioned a windowsill is not big enough to grow most herbs, how much room does the average herb plant need?

Ken:  Herbs in the yard become very large, but I’m assuming with easy indoor access plants will be harvested more often. Plants like dill, fennel, and tarragon are quite large and probably need a square foot of space with two foot of clearance above them. Smaller plants like thyme, chives, oregano, and garlic only need one foot of clearance if the lighting is right. A lot of herbs can be grown with minimal space. If space allows, peppers, spinach, lettuce, and other vegetables could also be introduced indoors.

Which way should a window be facing for best gardening?

Ken:  I personally find my east-facing windows grow the best plants. North facing windows will require the addition of full-spectrum lights to keep plants healthy. Again, with the right interior lighting, you can grow plants anywhere you want in the house.

Do you hear much about ‘Indoor Greenhouses’?

Ken:  There are more greenhouses in the area than you would imagine and even more Arizona Rooms which are much like an indoor greenhouse. These are bright rooms with lots of light where plants thrive. They extend your growing season indefinitely. I set up an inspirational indoor greenhouse board on our Pinterest that readers would really like.

Is watering the indoor greenhouse plants difficult? Is there a lot of residual H20?

Ken:  Those new to greenhouse growing are far more likely to over water plants. Plants help each other keep cool and increase the humidity within the room. That is why greenhouses feel so pleasant whether indoor or standalone. The health benefits are just felt when you spend time in a greenhouse with so much humidity and increased oxygen.

Our homes tend to be very dry in winter; would a whole-house humidifier be advisable from a plant’s perspective or a spot humidifier in a contained space?

Ken:  Yes, and I have both installed in our home. We love antiques, and we installed a whole-house humidifier for our furniture health, but the plants like it even more. You feel better with a humidifier, anything made of wood feels better, and your indoor plants love it. Lisa and I also have a large room humidifier in the main living and kitchen area as well. This would be especially important if a home uses fireplace or pellet stoves that tend to really dry the air out in your home.

I love the idea of using full-spectrum lighting. It works at keeping the winter blues away and do plants really flourish as well? Do you keep them on 24/7 or cycle like a summer day?

Ken:  In a basement full of plants you might need them on 24/7, but most of us have lots of bright windows in our home. We use full-spectrum LED lights at Watters Garden Center that keeps indoor plants happy and healthy. We turn them on only during store hours, then off at night.

Any last tips for our readers from The Mountain Gardner?

Ken:  Tap water is the enemy to plants grown in containers, especially when a water softener is used in the home. Homes with water softeners should switch from using salt-based additives to a potassium-based additive in their softener. It works just as well while making your plants really happy.

Lastly, our tap water has lots of minerals in it that are hard on plants. Never use salt-based fertilizers like MiracleGro on container plants, or you’ll find a white, crusty buildup at the base of containers that inhibits root growth. I recommend using Watters Flower Power, but proper plant nutrients are a topic for another interview.

Thank you Ken Lain, the Mountain Gardener. You have helped establish thousands of outdoor gardens in our slice of heaven, and hopefully, now folks can get started indoors as well!

Ken can be reached at Watters Garden Center throughout the week or contacted through his website at WattersGardenCenter.com

When you are ready to start the planning for your indoor garden space, give me, Tom Reilly, a call at 445-8506.