Garlic chives coming into bloom: photo by Jane Gates
There are so many uses for herbs from cooking to healthcare to potpourris to home crafts. And if you don't care about cooking, aromas or crafts, you can simply grow an herb garden because it is low maintenance and beautiful. Designing with herbs can become an art in itself. You can spot different herbs in colorful pots to create a cheerful balcony or patio garden. Or you can grow an herb garden in your landscape.
If you want to grow herbs as a kitchen garden, design your herb garden conveniently close to your kitchen. Although this may seem obvious, all too often herb gardens are seen only from the decorative point of view and that means that if the weather is inclement or the cook is simply too busy, a trip to snip some tasty herbs will be skipped unless cropping is made easy and convenient. You may simply want to frame your back door with big pots that hold the herbs you use most often and put the rest elsewhere in the garden.
Designing the herb garden into the landscape can take several approaches. Herbs come in a variety of growth forms so you can use a wide assortment of leaf shapes and colors as well as flower habits and colors. Sometimes it is the stem, the root or the seed pod you will want to use so plant your herbs where they will be easy to dig, cut or clip without imparing the design of the rest of the garden. You can also factor herbs into the garden for their scent or because they attract birds or butterflies.
Some scented plants like mints or rosemaries are ideal to plant where passers-by will brush against the foliage and release those delightful fragrances. You might even want to plant some nice smelling herbs in a pet area. Cats adore catnip (Nepeta) but be prepared to have them roll over the plants and flatten them into the ground. Dogs smell perfectly lovely after a romp in sage or lavender.
Smaller herbs can make excellent edgings like some of the small-leaved basil varieties, thymes or marguerites. Add colored foliage with deep purple basil plants or the multi-colored cultivars of thyme. Paint some bright flower colors with the jewel-tone, pure-blue of borage or the scarlet flowers of pineapple sage. Add height with the feathery fennel or stately angelica. Both of these tall plants come with colored foliage, too, to add a color note as well as a vertical element to your garden design. You can even grow the bay tree for a lovely shade tree in the landscape and plan on a never-ending supply of bay leaves. Or try a smaller, decorative herbal tree with the Elderberry which now comes in a wide choice of leaf colors -- some almost black -- and pink or white panicles of showy flowers. Or add the lush, velvety white-furred leaves of the Silver Sage for drama and contrast. Look for delicate leaves in parsley, mustard and dill. And create grassy clumps with Lemon Grass or chives. Chives will blossom with lavender-pink flowers that are decorative enough to mix in with any flower garden â€“ or try the taller, white-flowered Garlic or Chinese chives that are also delicious in salads or cooking.
Herbs can be designed into the landscape just the same as any other plant by factoring in the habit of growth and color of foliage and flower. You can create a formal garden of mixed garden flowers and herbs or really get involved in the project of a knot garden, a formal garden that draws decorative designs on the ground with plants. Knot gardens have been historical favorites of royal gardens and are still putting on shows across the world to fascinate visitors. You can go to the opposite extreme and work herbs into a wild or informal native garden using herbs that grow naturally in the conditions of your natural environment.
More ideas on how to integrate herbs are by thinking of them the same as any other decorative landscape plant. Low growers like thyme offer multi-colored leaves like silver or golden thyme. Thyme can grow as a small bush or a flat groundcover. Most varieties get smothered in tiny pink, purple or white blooms when they flower so they look wonderful as garden edgings or between rocks and stepping stones. Yarrows bloom in many colors with flat-grouped flower heads that make great landing fields for butterflies.Yarrow is also a reliable, drought-tolerant flower. You can now find a bronze fennel that will grow big, bold and decorative as a central feature or as a backdrop to your garden. And sages come in all sizes and colors with showy blooms on almost all of them. Rosemaries and Lavenders no longer are limited to pale flowers. You can find them with many growth habits, sizes and a whole range of blues, purples and pinks as well as white or pale lavender. Other herbs offer bright yellow button flowers, daisies, spires of color and more.
In short, with a bit of designing skill, your herb garden can challenge the beauty of any other garden in your landscape. You can limit your palette to certain colors, textures, heights or even plants. Or you can paint your own picture with a selection of effects. You can keep your herb garden into a space of its own or integrate it into the rest of the flower garden or landscape layout. Not only will an herb garden be easy to care for, look decorative and present you with many choices for cooking, medicinal uses, crafts or hobbies, but it will smell delightful. Any time you want, just pluck off a leaf and enjoy the aroma. And if you have pets exploring your garden, they're likely to return to the house smelling simply delightful! So consider adding an herb garden to your landscape.