Herbs in the Landscape

Each spring I teach an herb workshop that requires preparing several herbal dishes for the participants to sample. I like to use fresh, organically grown herbs. No problem! I just go out to my garden and clip whatever I need – spearmint for one recipe, rosemary, garlic chives or Greek oregano for another.

Some of my other reliable perennial herbs such as pineapple sage, lemon grass, Mexican tarragon and lemon verbena are usually dormant in early spring but reliably sprout back as the weather warms. Basil is a warm weather annual that must be re-planted in April.

All of the herbs mentioned in this article are very easy to grow; not one is finicky as long as it is planted in the right place. You do not need a special herb garden in order to grow herbs. You can place them in the existing landscape or grow them in containers.  I planted a bay laurel as part of our foundation plantings at the front of the house. The rest of the herbs are mixed in with butterfly, hummingbird and bee plants in a garden in the sun.

Most herbs such as rosemary, creeping thyme and Greek oregano need at least six hours of sun each day and well-drained soil. If you are starting a new garden by preparing a bed, mix in a generous amount of mushroom compost or homemade compost to condition the soil before planting. If your soil is mostly hard-packed clay, you may be better off planting in large containers or in a raised bed filled with a good topsoil/compost mixture.

Some herbs, like lemon balm, spearmint and others in the mint family can handle more shade. Most mints spread aggressively. For this reason, I confine my spearmint to an antique black kettle on my front steps. The kettle has a crack in it, which provides necessary drainage.

Herbs are among the prettiest of plants in our yard. Prostrate rosemary cascades over the edge of our limestone rock wall and is in bloom just about year round. Bumblebees are regular visitors to the small blue flowers. Pineapple sage sports showy red flowers in autumn which attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Bronze fennel and parsley are hosts to the caterpillar that will become the graceful black swallowtail butterfly.

Herbs are easy to grow, fragrant, attractive to wildlife and useful in cooking. They are also quite pretty in cut flower and foliage arrangements. Choose one or two herbs and get started today – you will be glad that you did.