Herbs as Pest Control
This is actually a very nice idea. Herbs have more going for them than fragrance and flavor. Because they typically have strong aromas, they're often good at repelling insect pests. Here's an example: I keep catnip in the garden for my two cats, of course. I also plant it next to my squash, cucumbers and okra to repel bugs. As the catnip plants get leggy, I cut the longer stems, crush the leaves to release the scent, and place the stems around other veggies like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, too. I also like to place catnip close to the house. Catnip oil is used to repel termites (it's even being tested as an ingredient in outdoor paint products), and I figure a snoot full of catnip near my home's foundation couldn't hurt.
Other herbs can be useful this way, too. I've talked about planting hyssop and garlic together near rose bushes to repel the many insects that love to chow down on roses. Garlic also works as an all-purpose repellent. The same goes for French marigold and others. You can find out more about companion planting in my blog: Companion Planting Herbs
Herbs in the Garden with Big Appeal
That's not the only reason to plant herbs in your standard flowerbeds. A lavender bush by your garden gate is a fragrant welcome to guests as well as a sturdy plant that can take thoughtless foot traffic. It produces attractive spikes of light purple, pink, white or even yellow blooms, and if you stick to the fragrant and culinary varieties, you can use them in dried arrangements, aromatherapy, in your potpourri and in your recipes. You can even grow successive lavender plants into an effective hedge. That's a lot of service for your plant buying dollar.
Herbs are like that. They're multitaskers that work with the mainstays of your garden, like that lilac tree, azalea or holly bush, and contribute other attributes that will enhance your outdoor spaces. Even better, most herbs are pretty maintenance free. A sage plant will fill in a corner of your border nicely and stay chubby and attractive for years. Common sage has pebbly, gray-green leaves that are very touchable. Its monochromatic look will give your eyes a rest among those brightly colored lilies, irises and other spring and summer showstoppers. Once the flowers stop blooming, you can snip some sage for your autumn turkey stuffing and dry a few stems for other winter cooking projects. You're not going to get that kind of flexibility from a begonia or hydrangea.
Other Garden Herb Superstars
Here are some other herbs that work very nicely in your landscape:
- Chives - Grow them as close to your kitchen door as possible. Snip the tops when you need to add color and a little oniony flavor to potatoes, salads and casseroles. Chives come back year after year once they get established. They have an upright habit and look like grass. Ornamental grasses are popular these days, so nestle a few chive plants in your borders as a linear accent -- and a mealtime flavor enhancer.
- Oregano - Another hardy perennial, oregano has tiny round leaves and grows into a full, bright green mound about two feet across. It sends up spikes with purple or blue flowers. It's attractive in its own right and adds some nice texture to a bland flowerbed. It's also delicious minced into marinara sauce or homemade meatballs.
- Pineapple sage - Tall and light green. Pineapple sage isn't winter hardy, but it does have a to-die-for fresh fragrance that really smells like pineapple, as well as lovely bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds.
- Rosemary - Rosemary has a spiky look with long, narrow leaves that somewhat resemble pine needles. It has a deep green color and a sharp tangy aroma. In California and other warm, temperate climates, it's a common plant for hedges, and although common rosemary is not frost tolerant, newer varieties can be cultivated to U.S. Zone 5.
- Thyme - With tiny, delicate leaves and small purple, pink or white flowers, thyme is a lovely little plant. It's available as a shrub as well as a creeper. The quintessential thyme application is between loose paving and stepping stones in a cottage garden. Thyme is hardy and won't crowd the plants around it. It's available in varieties that smell like lemon, lime, caraway and other fragrances. There are also gray, yellow and variegated options.
Photo 2 - By Pamla J. Eisenberg from USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d0/Herb_Garden%2C_Spring_Blooms%2C_Huntington.jpg
Photo 3 - By Richard Croft [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Herb_Garden_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1404860.jpg