As a child, Gayla Trail got her first taste of gardening on the balcony of an apartment building in Ontario, where her West Indian grandmother grew potatoes in a bucket. It wasn't until college that Trail would have a garden of her own, but she quickly made up for lost time. Her modest five-by-eight-foot plot of soil produced more beans, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and carrots than she could possibly eat—not bad for a girl on a student budget. The success of this little scrap of land turned Trail into what can only be described as an activist gardener. In 2000 she launched the website YouGrowGirl.com—years before the term locavore was embraced by the masses. In 2005 Trail published You Grow Girl, which she follows up this month with Grow Great Grub, a primer on turning windowsills, rooftops, and backyards into bountiful sources of fresh food. Here, Trail lays out a plan for planting herbs—which she says offer the biggest rewards in the shortest amount of time.
"This easygoing herb can be crammed into tiny spaces and subjected to all manner of neglect, but it'll keep coming back, and it's available in many varieties, so it never gets dull. My current favorite is lemon thyme, which pairs well with fish or can be added to applesauce along with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of lemon zest."
"I prefer marjoram over its cousin oregano because it has a slightly sweeter, more aromatic flavor. It's also drought tolerant and grows easily in containers of all sizes. If it starts to look lanky, as with many herbs, prune the leaves to encourage bushy growth. Tastes great in stocks, soups, and sauces."
"This hardy plant loves the sun. It's slow growing, adapts to pots of all sizes, and can grow as big as a large shrub. It's classic in roasted potatoes, and can also relieve a headache if steeped in hot water to make an herbal tea."
"Don't keep this herb in a damp environment or it will mildew. Sage wants a sunny spot with lots of good drainage and airflow. Its potent leaves are best in dishes that it won't overpower, like roasted chicken. I also use it to make savory muffins."