A barbecue grill is standard equipment for patios, decks, and balconies. It's part of what brings us outside to enjoy the good things in life -- food, family, friends, and warm weather. Most folks also grow potted plants in their outdoor hangouts, so why not put the two together and grow something for the grill?
There are two main approaches to the idea of a grill garden. One is to grow grill-able vegetables -- think of what you like to skewer for your kebabs and you'll be on the right track. However, since cooking meat is the primary purpose of having a grill for most people, herbs and other flavoring agents are the top priority in a grill garden. Herbs and spices are easy to grow in pots and won't take up much space, but they do require at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.
Savory herbs are the basis of a grill garden. Rather than reaching for the bottled versions in your kitchen when marinating meat, use the fresh version of those herbs from your own back door.
One of the most robust herbs there is, rosemary grows as an evergreen shrub 2 to 4 feet tall and thrives with minimal care other than a bit of water now and then. Cut the long straight sticks of rosemary branches for a pre-flavored skewer.
A small evergreen shrub that rarely grows more than 2 feet tall, sage is easy to grow and is a key ingredient in meat rubs.
Marjoram is almost identical to oregano, but the flavor of the leaves is lighter and sweeter. Both grow as a low groundcover about 8 to 10 inches tall and can be plugged in at the base of larger potted plants.
Also a groundcover, but shorter at 4 to 6 inches tall, thyme is a beautiful plant to use for edging throughout the grill garden. There are special varieties, like lemon thyme, that offer a range of flavors.
All of the above herbs are perennials that come back year after year, but as an annual, basil has to be planted again each summer. Grow it in its own pot or planter and sow a new crop every few weeks for a continual supply. Use it to make a pesto marinade for your kebabs.
Many barbecue enthusiasts are also hot sauce enthusiasts. The good news is that hot peppers grow well in containers and, like most savory herbs, they thrive in the hot conditions of a sunny spot against the wall of a house.
These are tiny peppers that grow on tiny, ornamental plants. They are often dried as a condiment, but you can also use them fresh in sauces.
Large green peppers known for their unique flavor, jalapeno plants grow about 2 feet tall and wide and are perfect for using fresh, especially in Mexican-themed cuisine.
There are dozens of pepper varieties to choose from, most of which grow and are used in similar manner to jalapenos, but you may also want to consider horseradish as a fresh grill-side condiment. Only the roots are used to make that delicious paste for slathering on hot dogs (the leaves are mildly toxic), so you will have to occasionally dig up portions of the plant to enjoy it. However, it grows like a weed -- just put some of the roots back in the pot and they will start growing again immediately.
Onions and Garlic
Both of these are annuals that like to grow in cool weather and are very small plants that do well in pots. Plant them in fall for a late spring harvest or set them out in early spring for a summer harvest. Use them fresh after harvesting or allow them to dry for a few days in the shade before bringing them in to store for later use.
Most vegetables suitable for grilling take up lots of space, making them harder to grow in a container garden. You don't generally grow corn in a pot, for example. However, there are a few standard grilling vegetables that are suitable for a grill garden, if you have the space.
Look for dwarf 'patio' cherry tomato varieties like 'Patio Princess' which grow just a couple feet tall, rather than as sprawling vines. Skewer them whole and roast them on the grill for a mouth-watering complement to a meaty main course.
The best vegetables for grilling are those that can be sliced into patty-like pieces that don't disintegrate when they're placed on the grill. Zucchini is one of the best in this category and they produce such enormous harvests that you'll have to throw a party to eat them all. The plants are quite big, however, so plan on using at least a 5-gallon pot for each plant
Another grilling favorite that slices up nice and firm, eggplants are one of the more attractive annual vegetables and will grow satisfactorily in a 2-gallon container. Rub with olive oil, salt, and some of your savory herbs before popping them on the grill.
Putting It All Together
Arrange your grill garden with the largest plants in the back and the smallest in front. You can use containers of varying shapes and sizes or you can opt to build larger wooden planters that can hold multiple plants. There are no hard and fast rules to setting up a grill garden -- just make sure to use a lightweight potting mix for the soil and check the plants daily to see if they need water.