All of the following herb plants are readily available at garden centers.
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). An indispensable annual herb that is at its best when fresh from the garden. Harvest stems before flowers open to obtain best flavor and maintain bushy growth.
Red-leaf basil (O. basilicum). Varieties include ‘Dark Opal’, ‘Purple Ruffles’ and ‘Red Rubin’—all provide beautiful leaves for both garden and kitchen. Or try a spicy Thai basil, such as ‘Siam Queen’.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Pink pompon flowers and mounds of strappy leaves have an oniony flavor. Or try garlic chives (A. tuberosum), which have white flowers.
Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana). The sweet-flavored leaves of this tender perennial complement poultry, vegetables, soups and dressings.
Peppermint (Mentha ×piperita). Control its aggressiveness with regular harvesting. Use peppermint in summer teas or fruit desserts. Before buying, taste the leaves to ensure you get a flavor you like.
Greek oregano (O. vulgare ssp. hirtum). Gotta have a good oregano for tomato dishes, eggs and poultry. It won’t get as rowdy in a planter as it can in a garden, but divide it after three to five years.
Curly parsley (Petroselinum crispum). Another staple for garden and kitchen, its frilly leaves are as useful as they are decorative. The plants are biennials grown as annuals (you’ll need to replant it each year). Tolerates some shade.
Flat-leaf Italian parsley (P. crispum var. neapolitanum). The choice of chefs, its gentle flavor is best when leaves are fresh. Tuck extras of this and curly parsley wherever you have extra room in the planter. Tolerates some shade.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). One of the most useful culinary herbs, it pairs well with many vegetables and meats. There are many wonderful varieties to try, including several prostrate types that would look lovely spilling over the sides of the planter. Rosemary can grow quite large—3 feet or taller in warm climates. Provide winter protection in Zones 7
Sage (Salvia officinalis). A classic partner for poultry. The variety ‘Berggarten’ has a beautiful rounded leaf and the same earthy flavor as common garden sage; variegated, purple leaf and tricolored leaf patterns add contrast and variety. Grows to about 2 feet tall.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus). This herb is so much better fresh than any other way; it’s well worth growing. Provide well-drained soil; remove flower stems. Nibble a leaf before you buy to be sure you get that distinctive taste. Use with chicken, fish, eggs and tomatoes.
Thyme (Thymus spp.). This genus is worth collecting for its diversity of flavors, forms, colors and uses in the kitchen, and for its pretty blooms. It even could grow in the planter’s crevices or at its base, and it is very amenable to rocky areas.
Kathleen Halloran is a freelance writer and editor living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.