Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners

Gardeners from across the country share their gardening trials and tribulations...

| June/July 2002


Pat Herkal

RIVERTON, Wyoming—Years ago, I fell in love with roses, and this time of year they are the stars of my garden! These glorious flowers deserve lovely companion plants. Medieval monks mixed plantings of herbs and roses, and this combination of colors and textures still seems the best way to enhance roses’ sumptuous blossoms. Herbs not only work visually with roses, but their cultural needs also match. Both prefer a full day of sun and well-drained soil. While some herbs do well in dry, lean soil, most appreciate the loam that roses prefer.

Many herbs have silver, spiky leaves that contrast with the heavy foliage and flowers of rosebushes. Artemisias, clary sage, and catnip weave themselves in and around my bushes. Their pungent odors contribute to the heady scent of the garden. I struggle unsuccessfully to over-winter lavenders here, but they are ideal partners in milder climates. Lacy rue’s fine blue leaves are another appealing combination. Dark red ‘Cuthbert Grant’ pops out of the middle of artemisia ‘Valerie Finnis’. The combination is stunningly beautiful! I do have to work to keep Valerie from invading all her neighbors, but she is worth the extra labor.

When I first started planting roses, I used lamb’s-ears, catnip, and lady’s-mantle to soften the borders of my gardens. They have self-seeded in and around the roses and are more visually appealing since casually redistributing themselves. Silky lamb’s-ears provide a startling contrast to prickly shrub roses. Children and adults are drawn to its downy leaves. My cats become intoxicated rolling around on the young catnip (Nepeta cataria). Its prolific self-seeding must be a technique developed to survive the cats’ frequent attentions. The first clumps to appear soon become almost obscured by a thick mat of cat hair. As the catnip grows taller, its appeal diminishes, although the cats can’t resist an occasional frolicking roll any time during the summer. The catnip responds to the hard pruning it then requires by putting out more growth and another bloom cycle. Few yellow roses are hardy in Zone 4, so I’m very proud of my Rosa rugosa ‘Agnes’. She is one of the first roses to bloom in my garden with a heavy flush of peachy yellow semi-double blossoms. She’s lovely underplanted with silver and blue catnip.

White-flowered feverfew grows around the French rose ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’ (R. gallica). The daisy-like flowers contrast starkly with its rich, velvety smoky-purple flowers. Pink, blue, and purple cranesbills (Geranium spp.) marry well with all the roses and are also dependable self-seeders. I especially like how they look around a large R. ¥alba ‘Semiplena’ that has draped itself over the side of the porch. The dense cranesbills hide the rose’s leggy, bare base and are lovely with its pure white blossoms.

Tall valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has moved itself freely throughout the gardens. Its white blossoms and sweet scent are a welcome addition around the roses. It has larger flower heads than many herbs, adding texture among spikier herb blooms. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is planted around the base of a shade-tolerant ‘Therese Bugnet’. It is a good ground cover with small white star flowers. Tiny but prolific pinks (Dianthus deltoids) surround small-blossomed ‘The Fairy’. They both make up for size by exuberantly covering themselves with long-lasting flowers. Other larger varieties of dianthus pop up throughout the gardens. Their fringed edges, multicolored eyes, and spicy scent put them at the top of my list of favorite herb perennials. Speedwells (Veronica officinalis) form pleasing mats under and around the roses. A formal edging of chives lends order to the cheerful chaos.

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