Growing Herbs Together

Pairing herbs effectively, for the beginner.

| February/March 2003

Herbal Companions 

When I began gardening years ago, the only plants I grew were herbs. I was intrigued by the idea of growing plants that were useful in some way, rather than merely beautiful, which had less appeal to me. I was something of a purist about my herbs.

I don’t feel that way today. Growing herbs for my dinner table opened up the wider world of gardening to me. Now I don’t need an excuse to add any plant that intrigues me to my “herb” garden. I’m always looking for companions for my favorite plants.

In early spring, when the chives start pushing their way up through the cold soil and the gardener is prancing with anticipation for the weather to warm enough to get outside, that’s when the burst of happy color from chives and other spring-blooming bulbs is most appreciated. Those early flowers are always a welcome surprise. Now is the time I’m grateful that I planted flowering bulbs in and among my perennials in the fall.

Hardy bulbs actually make quite good companions for most perennial gardens, as they add their brilliant color at the very time when the rest of the garden is still asleep, and the dry shade suits them during hot summers, when they’re dormant. By the time the spring flowers are gone, when the bulb foliage dies back and looks ugly as the bulb stores nutrients for the next season, the rest of the garden is ready to take over the job of providing beauty, color, form, and fragrance. Mother Nature is efficient that way.

Bulbs also do well when mixed in with wildflowers in a meadow or woodland setting. They can be planted in the shade around deciduous trees and shrubs, grabbing what sunlight they need to bloom before the bigger plants have even leafed out yet. They can be mixed in with carefree perennials such as calendula and violets. And they can be mixed in with groundcovers. Daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinth, crocuses, and snowdrops look lovely planted among creepers with interesting foliage—such as ‘Blackie’ sweet potato, lungworts, lamiums, ivy, and prostrate rosemaries; the other plants fill in and disguise the bulbs’ dying foliage.

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