Garden Guru Gayla Trail Talks Small-Space Gardening, Herbs, and Edible Flowers (Interview)

gayla trail© Gayla Trail

If you're determined to start gardening, or determined to start gardening better -- and having fun with it (most importantly!) -- then you really need to be reading Gayla Trail's work. Her blog, You Grow Girl, was one of the first garden blogs, and her three books (You Grow Girl!, Grow Great Grub, and the brand-new Easy Growing) provide inspiration and information to help you get growing.

I recently received my copy of Easy Growing, and highly, highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in growing herbs and edible flowers. In the book, Gayla covers everything from how to grow each type of herb and flower, how to preserve those herbs, and lists galore of herbs and edible flowers to grow in different situations (shade, dry sites, etc.) And a book about herbs wouldn't be complete without plenty of recipes -- lavender mochas or borage fritters, anyone?

I had the pleasure of talking with Gayla the weekend before her book came out, and she offered plenty of great tips and advice for anyone who wants to get started with edible flowers and herbs.

TreeHugger: What made you decide to write a book about herbs and edible flowers?

Gayla Trail: With my last book, Grow Great Grub which was about growing food in general, there was obviously a lot of food to cover, and I could only allot so much space to herbs and edible flowers, and it just didn't feel like enough.

Even now, having done this book, it's still not enough! There are just so many herbs and edible flowers out there that people just don't know about. People appreciate herbs, but not so much with edible flowers. People think of edible flowers as just being kind of "floral" tasting, when there's really so much more to it. Also newer gardeners often don't realize that the flowers of culinary herbs are also edible, such as basil and cilantro and that type of thing.

easy growing by gayla trail© Clarkson Potter Publishing

TreeHugger: So, who is your ideal reader? Who did you write "Easy Growing" for?

Gayla Trail: I think I write all my books for myself (laughs). I hope that doesn't come off as narcissistic, but it's like, I am my reader in the sense that I've lived what I'm talking about. I've only gardened, always, in small and difficult spaces. And I try to think back on what it was like when I was first starting out.

What would I want to know? And then, of course, there's a lot of "what do I really like?" I can't really think about what other people will like because I'm not in their head, so to a certain degree, I do just have to think "what do I like?"

Cilantro, for the Absolute Beginner Gardener

TreeHugger: Which herbs would you recommend for an absolute beginning gardener?

Gayla Trail: Herbs that have a short season. So cilantro is a good example, it comes and goes so at least if you kill it you don't feel so guilty about it -- it's also a pretty easy herb to grow. On the flip side of that, perennials can be quite easy to grow because once they're established, they're really a no-brainer you don't really have to do very much at all, including watering.

Oregano is really easy, in that sense. Mint can be quite easy. Thyme. Sage. The thing about herbs is that they're all kind of easy. And that's part of why I wanted to write the book. I know that people are sometimes intimidated by certain edible plants -- tomatoes, for example. But I really think anybody can grow herbs.

Impossible to Kill: Cuban Oregano

TreeHugger: Via Twitter, @booksnyarn asks, what are your recommendations for the best herbs to easily overwinter indoors?

Gayla Trail: The number one, totally unkillable, as far as I'm concerned, is Cuban oregano. Unfortunately it's not very well known, and it doesn't readily lend itself to a lot of uses. It has fleshy leaves, and it's used in the West Indies and tropical climate. I went away for a month, and it wasn't watered -- it was totally fine when I got back. Thyme is also very forgiving. Oregano can be quiet good on a windowsill. Chives are not too bad over the short term.

The tough thing about growing herbs on a windowsill during the winter is the light. Even on a sunny day during the winter, the sun isn't in the same position in the sky as in summer, and the number of hours of light in the day is much less. The plant doesn't get as many hours of sun in the day. One of the things that helps is if you lower your expectations, or change your expectations.

Think instead of growing herbs on a windowsill as short term thing. They just don't last very long, and that has nothing to do with you, it has to do with growing on a windowsill. Basil, for example -- just doesn't last no matter what you do. They're not going to get big the way they do outdoors -- think of them more as microgreens -- over-sow basil or dill, then just keep cutting it while it's growing, because it's going to poop out in about a month and a half anyway.

Starting From Seed

TreeHugger: Which herbs can you start easily from seed?

Gayla Trail: Quite a few. Coriander, dill, fennel, basil, any of the greens (they're kind of on the cusp of herbs/not herbs.) Chives can be quite easy. A lot of the perennials I don't suggest growing from seed. They can be quite easily, but they can take a long time to grow. And you often don't need a lot of plants, you just need one. So just get one transplant, because you can start harvesting in about two weeks. If you're going to be starting from seed, you'll have to wait a lot longer.

TreeHugger: Do you find that most herbs do well being direct-sown?

Gayla Trail: Yes. Basil is really one of the few herbs I start indoors, just because it doesn't like the cold. I'll do a few indoors, and then direct sow more later on outside, to stagger my plantings. You can ever have enough basil.

Gayla's latest book, Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers for Small Spaces, published by Clarkson Potter, is currently available for $7 through Amazon. Thanks for your time, Gayla!

Garden Guru Gayla Trail Talks Small-Space Gardening, Herbs, and Edible Flowers (Interview)
TreeHugger chats with the author of Easy Growing who dishes on her number one totally unkillable herb.

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