Growing Herbs On Your Narrowboat

Herbs are the perfect plants to grow on your narrowboat as they look good, smell good and taste good too! Nothing beats adding freshly-picked herbs to enhance a dish and they’re really easy to grow.

Herbs can be grown in pots or other containers and don’t need much space, so are ideal for growing on your narrowboat. Containers need to be a minimum of 15cm deep, filled with compost and have a few drainage holes in the bottom. There’s plenty of opportunity to use your imagination and be creative with both your planting and your containers.

Herbs will grow well in containers on the roof of your narrowboat, in the rear deck area if your boat has a cruiser stern, or on a front deck area.

When deciding where to place your containers, there are some important safety considerations to take into account.


The helm needs to see over or around the containers to steer the boat. Also, the helm and the crew need to be able to see each other, so make sure that sight lines are not obscured by foliage. Bear in mind that your plants will grow (hopefully) and be prepared to move them, or trim them as necessary.

Boat stability

Containers filled with plants and compost, when watered, can be very heavy. Distribute the weight evenly and don’t overload the roof. Too much weight on the roof can increase the risk of your narrowboat rolling or capsizing.


If the narrowboat has a centre line with a central fixing, then keep plants forward of this point to prevent the rope from snagging on anything.

Avoid obstructions

As well as ensuring good visibility, make sure that your plants and containers will easily fit through tunnels and under bridges. They should also be secure, not likely to fall off or be pulled off by a centre line. In addition, make sure that anyone is not likely to trip over them, especially while at the tiller or the wheel.

Protect the roof of your narrowboat

Herbs in pots generally need good drainage to thrive. You also don’t want water trapped underneath them that will damage the roof of your narrowboat, potentially causing paint to blister or rust. Depending on the types of containers, placing battens underneath them as well as a rubber doormat can give your narrowboat roof some protection.

Which herbs are easiest to grow on your narrowboat?

Mediterranean herbs are happy in quite dry, exposed conditions and don’t need much looking after, so are ideal if you’re not living on your narrowboat full time. Here are some herbs you might like to try.

Marjoram & Oregano – short bushy plants with pink/purple flowers. Grows well in full sun and is ideal on pizzas, in pasta dishes or sprinkling over poultry before roasting.

Thyme – another low-growing plant, which will thrive in full sun. Thyme is evergreen so can be picked all year round. There are many varieties of thyme and all are beautifully aromatic – for example common thyme has the strongest flavour and lemon thyme is ideal with fish dishes.

Mint – this vigorous herb is easy to grow and can invade other plants so is best grown on its own. It requires watering well until it has become established. There are many varieties of mint and they all have a lovely, fresh scent. Traditionally used to accompany roast lamb, they can also be used in a range of drinks. No Mojito is complete without it!

Parsley – a bright green herb with curly or flat leaves. Rich soil in semi-shade are the perfect growing conditions. Parsley adds a lovely savoury flavour to a wide range of dishes and goes well with mushrooms.

Chives – a mild-flavoured herb that is a member of the onion family. Grass-like stems are cut and used as an ingredient to enhance the flavour of many dishes. For example: add chives to potato salad, cream cheese, salads, omelettes and soups.

Rosemary – this is a shrub and, depending on the variety, can have an upright, bushy or trailing habit. Keep cutting it to keep it to a manageable size and, as it’s evergreen, you can cut it all year round.

The trick to strong-growing herbs, once they are established is to keep cutting and using them. Some of these herbs may need protecting from the cold, winter weather. However, ensuring that they are in well-drained soil or compost and moving them to a sheltered spot should enable you to have fresh herbs to pick well into the autumn. Whatever you decide to grow, we’re sure you’ll enjoy it.

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