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I pride myself as being someone who’s good at keeping houseplants alive. I pay attention—reading their signals and adjusting their water/sun intake for maximum plant happiness. However, herbs have evaded me. When I moved from New York City to Northern California a couple years ago, I thought: This is finally my moment. I’m going to have a big, sunny, Nancy Meyers–style kitchen where my fresh potted herbs will thrive and I will casually clip bits as needed for all the impossibly fresh cooking I’ll be doing on a daily basis. 

That, unfortunately, was not to be the case. I still had New York in my system, and I was ordering takeout much more than any Cali girl—especially one with access to abundant fresh food and a car to go grocery shopping—should. 

Then came the Time of Corona. And like much of the rest of the country, I slowed down. I started cooking at home and I tended my garden—finally giving those herbs I couldn’t keep alive a proper home. I spent the summer hopping out to the backyard giddily declaring to my husband that I was “just going to go snip a few sprigs of tarragon.” It was lovely and I got used to it…until winter (if you can even call it that here in the East Bay, where temperatures rarely dip below 40 degrees) rolled around. My rosemary and oregano made it through the cooler months; my basil, dill, sage, and tarragon didn’t. 

But after a summer of fresh herbs, there was no way I was going back to buying individual packages at the grocery store—which inevitably cause waste (they either come in way-to-big bunches or in single-use plastic containers, which I’m trying desperately to avoid). 

Enter the Modern Sprout Grow Light. This full-spectrum LED—an energy-efficient lighting type that approximates the sun’s rays and give off a white glow—comes in a few different forms (your standard bar, a decorative frame style, and a cute little house) and helps plants thrive indoors in places that lack natural light (think: that dark bookshelf or a tucked-away corner). My kitchen is a prime candidate for this invention; it gets some sunlight but not enough to keep herbs—which generally need six to eight hours of direct sunlight—alive. 

Image Courtesy of Modern Sprout

I live in a small bungalow that was built in 1924, and the kitchen has a funky layout with very little counter space. So I opted for the Smart Standard Growframe ($195), which can rest on a surface or be mounted on a wall. (I also like the way it turns my greenery into a calming visual display.) 

The roughly 20-by-17-inch frame was a little tricky to hang (securing the bottom two screws required some finagling), but once it was on the wall, it was a breeze to get my herbs—cilantro, lemon, and dill—situated. I opted for the matching Planter Box ($40), which rests on the frame’s lower ledge and fits 4-inch grow pots perfectly, but it’s just as easy to rest your plants right on the ledge itself. 

Modern Sprout has an app that allows you to control your grow lights from your phone (it connects via Wi-Fi) by selecting presets based on the plants’ needs (partial shade, partial sun, or full sun). Or you can customize the light settings (brightness level and how long and when the lights are on). The app is great—just set it and forget it!

I was slightly worried about having an LED light on in my kitchen throughout the day—some LEDs might be good for plants but are not so pleasing for humans. This one, fortunately, checks both boxes. I’ve actually stopped using the overhead lights in my kitchen when the grow light is on. The frame is working great—my plants are thriving like I’ve never known indoor plants to thrive. It’s actually become a source of joy to see my little buddies so happy—not to mention the culinary benefits. 

A few things to consider before you buy:

  1. The Modern Sprout light needs electricity, so make sure there’s an outlet where you’re planning to set it up. 
  2. Even though you can automate the light, you still need to stay on top of watering. I’ve found the Planta app ($8 per month or $36 for a one-year subscription), which I heard about via the excellent Jessie Randall episode of Design Time, to be a great companion to the grow light. You can enter all of your plants into the app, and it sends you reminders about when to water, mist, and fertilize. 
  3. The plants that you plan to group together under one grow light should have similar light and water requirements.