Wednesday

Herbs in the Garden

Herb lovers enjoy establishing special spots for their favorite plants. They may be modified flowerbeds, borders or rows along a vegetable patch. They may be decorative wagon wheels accessible via crushed stone walkways or dozens of pots assembled cheek by jowl against the worn wooden side of a shed or garage. There are lots of ways to dedicate a spot for herbs, but most people starting out with their first few herb plants take a more democratic approach. They intersperse their herbs with their other garden flowers like petunias, roses and snapdragons.

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.
These are just a few samples of the wonderful variety herbs have in a conventional setting. Try one or two. You won't be sorry. If you like these suggestions, you can find plant profiles for the herbs listed in the sidebar at the left of this post.


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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

3 comments:

  1. Very informative. I am slowly building my herb garden. I want to try some pineapple sage this year.

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  2. Olga,

    Pineapple sage is one of my real favorites. The leaves are a bright green that almost glows when the sun hits them. This sage's small trumpet shaped, red flowers are also a big treat. Bees like them and hummingbirds come running (um - flying). I think you'll enjoy pineapple sage in your garden this year. It can get tall, though, so plant it in the back of your herb patch or flowerbed.

    Sara

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  3. Thank you for this blog post I found it very informative. Your blog is such a joy to read and you have inspired me to expand my Herb garden so that I can try all your wonderful suggestions.

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