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Herbs in the Garden — Some Thoughts

July 29, 2007

Often I am asked to include an herb garden into my landscape designs, and recently a fellow blogger told me she had started an herb garden and was interested in some ideas about gardening with herbs. So….here are some starting thoughts.

Every garden should include herbs!

That’s my initial reaction. I honestly don’t know if there is a place where you couldn’t include herbs in the garden. Whether you have a small pot of herbs on an apartment balcony, a designated herb garden or sprinkle herbs throughout an entire landscape, they truly make wonderful additions to the garden. They invite pollenators, add fragrance, improve cooking, are visually stimulating, offer healing properties, and so much more! Sure, some may be grown as an annual, but many perform year after year. Regardless of their lifespan, I think they’re worth every penny.

In most of my landscape designs, I use herbs as ornamental woody shrubs. Here in Seattle I use plants like lavender, sage & rosemary as evergreen shrubbery in many gardens.

  • Rosemary blooms intermittently year-round in our area. I use upright varieties as well as trailing varieties. Last year’s icy freezes took out some rosemary plants throughout our area. However, I cut several back hard, an they bounced back nicely. Others had to be replaced, but considering they are readily available in the trade and fairly inexpensive, I believe they’re worth it!
  • Lavender offers so much in the garden. Brushing against tired winter branches will still send out a blast of amazing fragrance. Bees love it and flock to gardens to pollenate everything if there’s lavender to be found. And the blooms come in thick, feather-tipped Spanish varieties ranging from light pink to deep purple and even reds or in tight English and French forms from whitish/pale pinks to deep purples.
  • I love being able to visit my garden in the winter to harvest sage for soups or turkey stuffing. I use it in flower arrangements throughout the year. Colors range from grey to purple to yellow-green. A must-have for every garden!

As well, I use low growing oreganos and thymes as edging plants and groundcovers.

  • Thyme takes many forms. All attract pollenators. All spread nicely and supress weeds. And, many options are becoming available that have specialty scents like my new lime thyme, which has hints of citrus and has a greyish green mother of thyme form.
  • I love using ornamental oreganos in the garden. Some appear like blueish-grey with pink hops and have a short season. Other like low yellow oreganos add a beautiful finish to beds, say below deep purple heuchera!
  • Of course, upright oreganos are wonderful for cooking, too!

In our area, I incorporate many basils into my garden beds. When harvesting basil to keep for the winter, I freeze leaves in zipper bags. It maintains flavor much better when frozen than when dried (thanks for teaching me this Mom!). When picking basil, be sure to pinch it to a node. (More on pruning this way in forthcoming posts.) This will encourage new growth and keep your plants going strongly. Pinch out flower buds to keep it from going to seed!

  • Purple basil: Adds beautiful color and form to the vegetable beds or flower beds. Plus, the leaves are beautiful torn into salads. This year, I planted mine below a purple-fruiting tomatillo & above a yellow-variegated sage in a tiered vegetable garden. The combo is beautiful.
  • Spicy globe basil: There are small-leaved options that have extra kick. I don’t find the plants particularly stunning, but the flavor is amazing.
  • Genovese basil: This is very available in the trade & is a favorite to many. And, it produces well.

I do have a few favorite herbs that I maintain annually, knowing it is unlikely the plants will re-generate. Tho, this year, I was lucky & both came back.

  • Lemon verbena is a must have to me. The scent and flavor is unbeatable, if you’re a lemon fan. I use it for many cocktails, desserts, meats and fruit salad dressings
  • Pineapple sage is another with amazing scent. Plus, it blooms red late in the season, attracting hummingbirds. I don’t really cook with it.
  • Lemon grass. This is my first year growing it in Seattle. I love the form it adds to the beds & it seems happy this summer.

The Garden invaders….There are several herbs that I like (and some I dislike), which still appear in my garden.

  • Mints: I love spearmint and peppermint. I keep a container of chocolate peppermint going yearround, and I harvest from it. But I will not put it in my beds as it can become quite invasive as do all the other mints I’ve encountered.
  • Lemon Balm: I used to love lemon balm, but I’ve come to find it weedy and disease prone. I prefer lemon verbena instead. If you do grow lemon balm, don’t let it seed & do keep it in a container.
  • Catnip: There are several kinds of catnip available. I have a perennial variety that I planted for an old cat at the end of his days. That was years ago, and I’m still battling it out. I find it attracts whitefly, and frankly I just don’t like it. I do have a self-seeding annual that is pretty equal to the plants you’d buy at the petstore for your cat. I have neighbor cats who nap under it throughout the summer. I know what it looks like young, so I let it self-seed & then thin it as needed.
  • Feverfew: I love this medicinal herb, which looks similar to a small daisy. It is a great remedy for headaches. If I get a migrane, I like to have a feverfew bouquet in the quiet, dark room. It is calming and quite lovely. It too can be invasive. I allow it to self-seed and then move plants in the spring to place them in desirable locations.
  • Parsley: I prefer flat leafed parsley. I keep it in vegetable beds, but it does try to spread & take over the beds. Do not let it go to see or you will have it everywhere. I keep it cut hard & pull out unwanted volunteers as soon as they appear. I have parlsey just out my door throughout the year.

New to me: In addition to trying out Lemon Grass this year, I’m also growing Valerian for the first time. The plant itself is beautiful. I’m not sure what to expect in the long run.

I’m sure I’ll think of other herbs to mention as time goes on. If there are any you’d like more information on, let me know. But, again, all gardeners should try their hand at growing herbs!


  1. […] asked for some herb gardening info. Here’s some starting detail: http://www.gardenhelp.org/uncategorized/herbs-in-the-garden-some-thoughts/   « Ballard Seafood Festival | […]

  2. Liz says:

    So… I have a HUGE plant (5 gal.) blooming with Basil that my mom got on sale (end of season)… I can’t make enough pesto to ever use of all the leaves. 😉 My question is… how can I be sure this plant will live through the winter? How do I care for it? … am I cheating by asking? I suppose I should do my own research. 😉

  3. rhaglund says:

    Basil is not a hardy plant. It is unlikely you will be able to maintain it once the temperatures begin to drop. I have seen it maintained into the fall in places like Los Angeles, California. But, if you live somewhere with a real set of seasons, you’ll want to think of this as an annual. If you have indoor growing lights or a greenhouse, you could bring it inside and try to simulate a summery environment for it to keep it going. Otherwise, I’d suggest harvesting it now on a regular basis by pinching it back to a node regularly. Pop the pinchings you can’t use right away into a zipper freezer bag. Basil keeps its flavor great when frozen. It isn’t as pretty, but it makes for great sauces!

  4. That was a great post. I will have to bookmark this site so I can read it later.

  5. rhaglund says:

    Thanks for your comment. I just discovered Sorrel and shared some thoughts on it here: http://www.gardenhelp.org/food/sorrel-my-new-favorite-leafy-green-herb/

  6. […] if you’re just getting into gardening with herbs, read more about them in my earlier post, Herbs in the Garden — Some Thoughts. rhaglund posted this entry on Friday, July 25th, 2008 at 3:37 pm. Posted in the category […]

  7. […] that to help alleviate our aches and pains, cutting out the Bayers of the world? Could it be that Feverfew, which I’ve relied on for years in managing migraine pain, actually excretes this chemical […]

  8. […] I finished up the corn, I cut back my lemon verbena, which I’ve discussed growing in the past,  for the last time this season. Soon it will begin to color and whither to die back for winter, […]

  9. […] them in at just the right time for you to set them out in your garden. And even easier: put in a few herbs. Many add fragrant, low maintenance evergreen interest to your garden as well as saving you several […]

  10. bulk herbs says:

    great tips. I enjoyed reading this

  11. Nice design. I’m an apartment dweller and don’t have a lot of space to actually “plant” anything. I’ve been using an Aerogarden now for a couple of months and the idea of having a little larger and less proprietary setup is starting to grow on me (no pun intended).

  12. […] Herbs for Every Garden: A rundown of the easiest edibles […]

  13. […] that to help alleviate our aches and pains, cutting out the Bayers of the world? Could it be that Feverfew, which I’ve relied on for years in managing migraine pain, actually excretes this chemical […]

  14. […] And, if you’re just getting into gardening with herbs, read more about them in my earlier post, Herbs in the Garden — Some Thoughts. […]

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