Lavender stems launch a passing grasshopper. Lavender, like many herbs, is not very susceptible to pests.
Anyone who has ever ventured into the art of cooking knows the power of herbs to improve the flavor and visual design of a dish. Long before they are harvested, however, herbs can serve these very same purposes in the garden.
We generally group herbs into two categories, those used for medicinal purposes, and those like basil, parsley, sage, etc. that can be used in cooking. My focus today is on the latter.
Like most people, I suspect, I started growing my first herbs with the end result in mind: I wanted to eat them. Specifically, I wanted enough basil to make pesto. So, I bought a little basil seedling and tended it in a pot on my apartment patio. I'd always thought basil's glossy leaves were attractive, but I was charmed to learn the plant also produced little white flowers. I'd never known that before. (Technically, pinching off those flowers is necessary to encourage strong, bushy leaf growth. Since the flowers are edible, they make great garnishes.)
Another year, when I'd acquired more garden space, I tried my hand at growing dill. I envisioned making pickles and a yummy bread recipe with the wispy leaves. A bonus was the canopy of tiny connected yellow flowers that burst open at the top, prompting my son to excitedly call dill "the firecracker plant." A spice jar couldn't provide the same memories.
Who knew recipe ingredients could be so beautiful? Yes, grow herbs for eventual use in the kitchen, but first use them to design an attractive garden. Herbs flavor the landscape with scent, texture, color, shape. They can be tall focal points or ground cover, flower bearers or foliage kings.
Lavender, in the bottom right corner, fits into a flower bed on a rock-lined slope in my front yard.
Given lots of sun, most herbs aren't fussy when it comes to water and soil needs. They can be equally at home on a slope or on a level plane. Many, like sage, oregano, rosemary and chives, are perennials.
Sage's purple flowers are among the first blooms in my garden each spring.
About four years I bought a sage seedling for 19 cents at the nursery. Even with periodically cutting back the woody parts, this plant is now a three-foot wide bush that rewards me with beautiful purple flowers in the spring. Its pungent green leaves become more silver by autumn's end. My mother likes harvesting long sage branches to make into wreaths. Early last spring I transplanted volunteer seedlings underneath this one plant to other parts in my yard, and they flourished. All for 19 cents.
Herbs also provide protection to other plants, as principles of companion planting demonstrate. Click here for a look.
This year, when planning your vegetable garden and flower beds, think "outside the jar" and grow herbs for beauty's sake, as well as to eat.
Chives' delicate purple flowers offer the same mild onion flavor as the tubular green stems we normally eat.