Having a beautiful landscape and eating the bounty of it, too, is easily accomplished with herbs. When choosing herbs to add to the landscape, there are several things to consider. Knowing something about your site and the conditions the herbs prefer will make your garden more successful.
What is the soil drainage like? What other plants will be in the same flower beds? When inter-planting, group plants together that need the same conditions. You don’t want to water or fertilize each plant individually, but treat the bed as one unit. While many herbs prefer full sun, many can also take partial shade. Keep in mind that we rarely use any chemicals on herbs. Don’t plant herbs near plants that you regularly spray with fungicides, insecticides and herbicides.
Some easy ones to start with include chives, which are part of the onion family. Onion chives produce tufts of grasslike foliage topped with beautiful clusters of purple flowers. It is much better behaved than its cousin the garlic chive. Every flower forms a seed head full of black seeds, and most of those seeds germinate, so it can become invasive. You can eat the foliage and flowers of both plants quite nicely. They make a great garnish with a hint of onion or garlic flavor. The bees love the blooms on both plants.
Rosemary is a very popular evergreen plant for dry, poor sites. It doesn’t tolerate heavy, clay soils. It is drought tolerant and usually pretty carefree. Rosemary has a gray-green foliage and lovely lavender flowers in the late winter into spring.
Thyme makes a lovely groundcover and comes in several different foliage forms with green, yellow, silver and white variegation. Common thyme has lovely pink or purple blooms. The lemon thyme has a wonderful lemon scent and comes in variegated or yellow forms. And creeping thyme makes a great amendment to plant around stepping stones in the garden. Thyme can be used in containers or in the ground. Like rosemary, it prefers dry sites.
Lavender is a great perennial that can be a bit finicky until it finds the right spot. This Mediterranean native, with gray-green foliage, again indicates its love of a drier site. It has fragrant spikes of blue to purple blooms. Culinary sage is in the salvia family, which is a huge family of plants. Our culinary sage is evergreen and there are varieties with gray-green leaves, some with purple, white and green leaves, and others with yellow and green variegation. The culinary sage plant also has light purple blooms in early spring. Pineapple sage is a showstopper in the fall with pineapple-fragranced foliage and fire-engine red blooms. The above herbs are perennials and for the most part evergreen. You can also grow annual herbs in with your flowers including numerous varieties of basil, dill and nasturtiums. Beware of the perennials oregano and mint, as they can take over a garden. If you want to grow these herbs, consider growing them in containers to stop their spread.
Janet B. Carson is an extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.