Fresh ways to make your herb garden both functional and super-stylish
October 25, 2016
| Updated July 2, 2020
1 of 10Linda Lamb Peters
A world of color
Take advantage of the fact that not all herbs are green and leafy. Local nurseries have varieties in a wide array of colors, textures, and heights, as well as those that flower and bring bees into the garden. Here is a prime example of an explosion of color and varying heights: tall pineapple sage with red trumpet flowers and chartreuse leaves; the mid-sized flowering basils—African blue and Mountain magic—with spires of purple flowers; and a low-growing blue-green German thyme spilling over a rocky border. A feast for your eyes and also your nose!
2 of 10Linda Lamb Peters
Of course, it wouldn’t be summer without a bushel of sweet basil growing in your garden. But the cluster of vibrant-flavored herbs shown here is just as perfect for the season. Some, like mint and cilantro, are familiar, while others—shiso, lemongrass, and Thai basil—are more exotic. But they all can be used to add bold Asian flavor to a variety of dishes. And thanks to their variety of heights, textures, and shades of green, they make for a winning combination in the garden, too.
3 of 10Linda Lamb Peters
Think both in and outside the box
Don’t feel restricted to growing herbs in traditional in-ground or raised beds. Most herbs, including annual green basils, will grow happily in wooden crates, willow baskets, small pots, and other containers. All they need is good drainage, regular water, and at least 6 hours of sun. From thyme and sage to oregano and marjoram, there’s really no excuse not to spruce up your stoop, windowsill, or balcony with a favorite culinary herb.
4 of 10Linda Lamb Peters
A busy gardener’s saving grace
Perennial herbs are a great solution to any difficult spaces or sections in a landscape—they fill in nicely, overlap and play well with their companions, and don’t need much attention from the home gardener. If they start to get unwieldy or wild, a few quick cuts down to new points of growth will rein them in and leave you with a pretty harvest of herbs to hang and dry. What’s more, mild temperatures in areas such as coastal California allow for continuous harvests of tri-color sage, golden oregano, French thyme, and rosemary through the winter months.
5 of 10Thomas J. Story
There’s no need to limit your herb selection to traditional low-lying mounds of thyme and oregano. Experiment with taller, more dramatic selections that will stun you with quick and vigorous growth. Here, the limey leaves of pineapple sage intermingle with licorice-tasting anise hyssop in full bloom—a solid wall of aromatic herbs that delight the senses and attract the busiest of hummingbirds.
6 of 10Thomas J. Story
A mix of three types of flowering basils grows at the base of each trellis. ‘African Blue’, ‘Magic Mountain’, and ‘Wild Magic’, are all grown specifically for their flowers, which, unlike traditional types, aren’t a sign of being at the end of their season. (All varieties of basil available by mail order from Morningsun Herb Farm.)The basils bloom all season and die come frost. They’re still edible (though more astringent than traditional Italian types) and ridiculously loved by the bees.
7 of 10Thomas J. Story
(All herbs available by mail order from Morningsun Herb Farm.)Herbs make fantastic border plants. Seen here: white-flowering lavender ‘Hidcote’, orange-flowered Agastache ‘Sunset’, intensely purple-flowered A. ‘Blue Boa’, lighter purple-flowered A. ‘Blue Fortune’, the green and yellow variegated leaves of ‘Variegated Berggarten’ sage, the chartreuse leaves of pineapple sage, and the green leaves of Thymbra spicata, spilling from the bed onto the path.
8 of 10Thomas J. Story
Spilling is ok here
The simplest way to soften a straight edge: Plant a spilling herb. Along the sides of each of our Test Garden’s raised beds, Homestead Design Collective planted herbs that do just that. Not only do herb blossoms look beautiful and attract pollinators and beneficial insects, but they’re also edible. Most herb blossoms, including the French thyme seen here, taste milder than their leafy companions and are great additions to salads, soups, and egg dishes.
9 of 10Thomas J. Story
Follow your nose
Your herb garden should not only look beautiful, but should fulfill your other senses as well. Just imagine the rush of aromas that would result in brushing past this bed of flowering herbs—a mild licorice and minty scent from both the flowering purple spires of anise hyssop and the cheery apricot blossoms of the agastache, a sweet perfume from the white lavender, and a hint of Mediterranean spice from the low-lying purple blossoms of the culinary herb za’atar. A garden should be a source of inspiration, and who wouldn’t want to run back into the house with a bouquet of these fragrant herbs to use in the kitchen?
10 of 10Stefanie Bittner
A perfect pairing
Never be afraid to mix your herbs with your vegetables. Here two chile de arbol peppers, bearing fruit that are fiery in both their bright fire-engine red color and their smoky flavor, are surrounded by a border of herbs, including blossoming thyme, marjoram, and wild magic basil. The herbs are allowed to spill over the bed’s rocky border, while they’re pruned and harvested away from the peppers–giving them necessary breathing room and space to grow. Meanwhile, the herbs also bring pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden–visitors that are essential to the health and production of all vegetables!