Create an All-Season Herb Garden

With smart planning and season-stretching techniques, you can enjoy fresh flavors and scents year-round

| December/January 2008

A good design will make your herb garden an inspiring place to visit every season of the year. As you plan your own design, use these strategies to create an herb garden that will thrive in your yard while pleasing the senses year-round. 

1. Include structure plants. The best way to keep an herb garden from disappearing in winter is to structure it with a couple of shrubs or narrow, upright trees. Most herbs are relatively small plants that need full sun—so they can be overwhelmed by shrubs that grow more than 6 feet tall. In our design, we’ve balanced a 4-foot apothecary rose with a dwarf berry-bearing (and bird-friendly) native viburnum. You can achieve a similar effect with dwarf boxwoods, compact conifers or a passion vine trained to a pillar.

2. Use vibrant verticals. Too many rounded mounds start to look fuzzy without the visual excitement provided by spiky plants. In our design, fragrant spring-flowering valerian and late summer-blooming blue anise hyssop provide vertical contrast. In the foreground, chives catch the eye in spring; later, in summer, interest shifts to the bloom spikes produced by three different basils. Angelica, hollyhocks and even dill could be used this way, too. If your herb garden is too small for a large plant, consider including a simple garden ornament.

3. Unify with neutrals. You won’t need to worry about colors or textures that don’t quite connect if you include plenty of plants with grayish foliage, which has a cooling effect on the entire garden. Silvery plants, such as lamb’s-ear and culinary sage, also illuminate their neighbors, maximizing color from soft pastel flowers. Germander or gray santolina are ideal plants for this job in small spaces, and Russian sage could join the band in a more spacious site. Many herb gardeners love to weave a silver lining of curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) through mixed containers.

4. Plan for easy access. Don’t let anything—including design rules—get in the way of you and the herbs you use most often. Just as this plan lets chives and basil push at the bed’s edge, you might opt to give front-row placement to a compact dill, marjoram or Greek oregano. Use well-placed stepping-stones and always reserve accessible spots for lavender and other fragrant herbs that beg to be pinched and sniffed.

5. Celebrate small details. Quality culinary herbs that also feature interesting colors and textures can give your herb garden an exciting edge, whether you’re slipping in mounds of variegated ‘Tricolor’ or ‘Ictarina’ sage or flanking a purple basil with two green-leafed plants. Curly parsley’s deep green color and texture never go unnoticed, and a big container can become a focal point when filled with a tapestry of rosy, golden and sprightly green mints. In winter, choose a neat mulch material that pleases your tastes (and those of your herbs), such as pine needles sprinkled over rich, black compost.

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