Herbs were among the first plants grown to soothe and heal body and mind. Herb gardens started out as a living store cupboard of plant remedies and flavours used for everyday cooking and the curing of ailments.
Herbs are traditionally defined as ‘a type of plant whose leaves are used to add flavour in cooking or for medicinal remedies’, with no real consideration for their ornamental potential. It seems a humble job description for plants that can add so much more to the garden.
Whether you have room for a dedicated herb garden, or only space for a window box or planter, or want to incorporate scent, texture and wildlife-friendly plants into a border, herbs are beautiful, useful and essential plants. They are also easy to propagate and grow from seed, so they are a great plant for new gardeners.
The traditional palette of shrubby herbs of Mediterranean origin spans a range of gentle grey-greens and purples – think sages, thyme, French or English lavenders, catmint, rosemary and santolina. The aromatic leaves have herbal properties, but the foliage textures and colours complement each other, and as they like the same growing conditions they are perfect partners. But all work well individually and look great mixed through a hot sunny border as a foil to flowering perennials.
Curly parsley and chives
Leafier herbs such as parsley, chives, dill and fennel can also be incorporated into a mixed planting scheme. Curly parsley is wonderfully ornamental and great for the front of a border; chives are the perfect mini-allium with edible flowers too. Why not use the frothy foliage of dill or fennel in a mix of tall summer perennials, as well as adding to fish dishes? Basils and mints are best grown in individual pots – use classic terracotta, which makes a great display with the range of leaf colours.
If you want to try some less common herbs, evergreen teucrium can be used as an alternative to low box hedging. Bergamot, although a little temperamental to grow, is worth the effort for its flowers and aromatic leaves. Angelica, traditionally cultivated for its candied stems, makes a statuesque architectural feature plant.
Some flowering plants that were a feature of the traditional herb garden, such as nigella, Verbascum, alchemilla, achillea, marigolds and valerian, are grown mostly as ornamentals, their medicinal or culinary properties being barely acknowledged. They are far more likely to be flagged as wildflower or bee-friendly plants rather than herbs.
6 of the best herbs for cooking
The small, tasty leaves are good for stews, soups and pasta sauces. Creeping varieties are good to grow between paving stones, but a common thyme bush is better for picking leaves for cooking. HxS: 1x1ft (30x30cm).
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