As tiny thyme leaves sprout from the mounds of last year’s growth, and mint begins to strengthen for this season’s explosive expansion, I am again reminded of the multiple utility and extensive merits of growing herbs. Even as light, airy snowflakes fall from the sky on this chilly April day, I’m able to walk out of my kitchen door to snip from the clumps of chives as they continue their vertical push from the soil.
Herbs are ideal for the gardener with little time but a desire to grow beautiful and kitchen-worthy plants. They are easy to establish, blend well into perennial, vegetable, or their own planting beds, rarely suffer from insect onslaught and for those living in deer country, many herbs are simply ignored by the furry foragers. Figuring new ways to incorporate herbs into various planting scenarios can be as intoxicating as the fresh scent of lavender leaves or the crisp aroma of lightly brushed sage.
Many herb gardeners create formal or separate gardens for herbs as I did at a former home. I planned out a circular bed consisting of four equally sized sections surrounding a center circle anchored by a birdbath encircled by thyme. Each of the four surrounding beds held stands of oregano, chives, sage, lavender, and mint plus yellow coreopsis and orange poppies for color. Empty spots held basil and dill. I edged each bed with brick and kept grass for the pathways. This garden provided continuous pleasure in it’s appearance – one year the mass of lavender flowered chives bloomed at the same time as the adjacent orange poppies to create show-stopping spectacle (unfortunately, prior to the age of digital photography) – and in its supply of fresh cut herbs.
But now, rather than keeping a formal bed, I spread herbs throughout my planting beds. Here is santolina combined with reblooming iris.
Here chives offset iris in bloom.
Bookstores and libraries are loaded with resources on herbs and herb gardens. One of my favorites: Herb Garden Design by Ethne Clarke, a hardcover filled with beautiful glossy shots of informal and formal designs and how to use various shaped and colored herbs in your overall landscape design. The book also includes a comprehensive list of herbs, their hardiness zones, growth habits, and sun and moisture needs.
Once you start looking, you’ll find books on herbs for medicinal use, Shakespearean herbs, knot gardens, kitchen herb gardens or potagers, and potted herbs. Others tout golden beds of herbs, or silver and white moon gardens – those using foliage that reflects moonlight. The possibilities for using herbs are nearly endless.
Check back here regularly for my series, Herb Highlights – focused reports on each herb I’ve grown and how I’ve used it.