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In the interest of full disclosure…

You are about to read a how-to gardening post by someone who has rarely gardened. My gardening thumb is a purple-black shade reminiscent of a moldering prune.

Don’t believe me?

I once bought a houseplant for my office that the garden specialist assured me was impossible to kill; three weeks later I found myself staring at its lifeless leafy limbs. Seasoned gardeners seeking uncharted levels of botanical exoticism should look elsewhere.

Nope, this post is about stepping outside of my comfort zone (as many posts will be) by attempting to create a simple and beautiful tiered herb garden to save us money and transform my aubergine thumb into a shimmering, verdant green.

This is also a fantastic project to involve your children in, as they’ll love digging their chubby little hands in the dirt.

If you use organic soil, there’s no better way to expose them to important soil-based organisms for maximal gut diversity. Mommypotamus wrote an excellent post on this topic.

Fellow novices, hopefully you can learn a thing or two from what I picked up from this experience!

What You’ll Need for Your Tiered Herb Garden

Tiered Herb Garden - Supplies

  1. 3 galvanized steel tubs (I used 2.5 gallon, 9 gallon and 18 gallon)  It was no easy task to find galvanized steel tubs of varying sizes in Central NJ! But I prevailed and found some very reasonable tubs at the Brinkmann company site.
  2. 2 bags of organic soil.  I used Gardener’s Gold and Bumper Crop, which are both organic-rated soils.
  3. 3 pounds of drainage stone.  You can buy this at the garden center where you’ll be buying your other supplies.
  4. 42 pounds of Crabby Corgi (optional)
  5. 1 roll of landscape fabric
  6. Garden rake, garden shovel, gloves and pruning shears (not pictured)
  7. An assortment of herb plants. I used sweet basil, true Mediterranean oregano, thyme, flat parsley and spearmint. I also planted feverfew and green Santolina as natural bug repellents, and we’ll see how that works. You won’t be seeing any Roundup near this garden!

Thanks to Molzon’s Landscape Nursery in Lincroft, NJ, for all of these fabulous organic supplies! Really sweet, knowledgeable folk that talked me down from more than one ledge while planning this escapade.

The Method

Alright my maverick, let’s do this.

Step 1:  Rinse the tubs inside and out with clean water.

Step 2:  Drill a good number of drainage holes into the bottom of each tub, as well as a couple in the side.  Good drainage is essential when planting in tubs as you want to prevent mold growing in the bottom.

 Step 3: Carefully choose where your tiered herb garden will reside before filling the tubs. Place the tubs somewhere where they’ll receive full sun. Basil, in particular, needs about 6 hours of sun per day.

We have an extremely shady backyard so I have a feeling we’ll be migrating these bad boys from our deck to the pool area where they can sun it up South Beach style. 

Note: We placed ours on our backyard deck, so to make sure we wouldn’t grow mildew on the wood, we raised the bottom tub using several bricks.

Step 4:  Fill the two larger buckets with rock or stone about 2 inches deep, also essential for good drainage. One inch of stone in the smallest bucket should do the trick.

Tiered Herb Garden - Drainage Stone

Bucket filled with drainage stone

Step 5:  Line the buckets with landscape fabric to prevent the galvanized chemicals from leaching into your soil.  Kind of like a giant black cupcake liner.  Trim the excess fabric to fit the edges of the bucket. 

I found cutting the landscape fabric the most irksome step in the process; maybe I had the wrong kind of scissors, but cutting that stuff was a b@&$!   If you have advice on how better to work with landscape fabric, comment away!

Tiered Herb Garden - Landscape Fabric

Lining the bucket with landscape fabric

Step 6:  Fill the buckets with your soil at about 1 inch below the rim of the tub.  I mixed a 2:1 ratio of Gardener’s Gold and Bumper Crop, taking care not to pack the soil tightly.  

Step 7:  Decide how you’ll stack the tubs.  To prevent metal leaching from the stacked tubs, I cut a piece of landscape fabric to sit hidden underneath and laid it where it would rest on the tub below.  Stack the tubs.

Step 8:  Start planting! This is the fun part. Dig about a 1-inch hole for each planting, and “bush out” the roots to release them so that they can take a stronger hold in the soil.  Place the plantings in each hole and surround with soil to steady them. 

I planted 4 basil plants on the bottom to give them room to flourish (’cause I LOVE me some basil), dill, thyme and feverfew in the middle, and oregano on top since it is quite an “enthusiastic” plant.  Whatever herbs you choose, do some research on which ones are compatible.

I actually ran out of space for all of my herbs, so I built a second tiered herb garden with the parsley, chives and Santolina on the bottom and spearmint on top, because mints are voracious growers suffering from only-child syndrome.  I chose breeds of herbs that could be used for both cooking and medicinal purposes for my witch doctor brews.

Tiered Herb Garden - Basil Plant

Awwww, baby basil.

Step 9:  Prune the plants.  This is an essential step to getting an herb garden started so that they’ll quickly flourish.   Here is a really helpful tutorial about how to properly prune herbs

Unfortunately, I made the rookie mistake of reading this after pruning, and was a bit overzealous with the basil. Make sure to follow the guideline of pruning above the first 3 sets of leaves.  #oops

And, voilà! There we have my very first tiered herb garden, and it ain’t too shabby. In a few weeks I’ll be posting a photo update of my garden’s progress, and will share any further hindsight tips.

A HUGE shout-out to master gardener, woodworker, and dear friend Rob of Romancing the Woods for bestowing infinite gardening wisdom for this project. If you’re seeking beautifully rustic, lasting custom furniture and fencing work, he’s your man!

Are you starting a garden this season, and if so, what are you planting?

Build a Tiered Herb Garden in Galvanized Metal Tubs (1)


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Lea, The Maverick Mama

Head Chef at MavericKitchen
Lea is Head Chef of MavericKitchen, where she offers real food for thought on healing nutrition, holistic health, and progressive parenting. She is a seasoned digital marketer and doting mother of the monolithic Judgey Bear, her delicious deputy in smoking out sneaky toxins in the food we eat and products we use. She lives in the gardens of New Jersey where she feverishly hunts down elusive farmers’ markets and pastured egg purveyors.