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Planting Herbs in the Landscape: Choices, Design Tips

Why bother planting herbs in the landscape? If you think that herbs are just for herbal supplements or for flavoring stir-fries, then you have not taken a good look at these fascinating plants lately! While many of the specimens I'm talking about do boast medicinal and culinary benefits, my focus below is on good-looking choices useful in landscape design.

Bee Balm
The bee balm (Monarda didyma) with red flowers is especially useful in attracting hummingbirds. These herbs will spread (which can be good or bad, depending on what you want). A definite drawback is their susceptibility to powdery mildew.

Tricolor Sage
Planting herbs such as Tricolor sage is a two-for-one deal. Not only can you cook with this sage, but it is also "easy on the eyes" in a landscape design. Evergreen in the South, it will die back in winter in the North, where I recommend mulching or even creating a warmer microclimate for it.

Sweet Woodruff
I grow sweet woodruff as a ground cover in a circle under a tree. The runners escape from the circle and I have to pull the unwanted shoots that emerge, but it is a trade-off I can live with. Because the fact is, herbs that are to be grown under trees must be vigorous (those are tough conditions with which to cope).

Planting herbs is not always unproblematic. Take tansy. Sure, it has nice golden flowers; even the feathery foliage is not bad to look at. But tansy is toxic. And if that fact does not trouble you (I, myself seldom feel compelled to graze on my landscaping plants!), maybe this one will: it's also invasive.

Creeping Thyme
Planting herbs between garden stepping stones is a great look and cuts down on weeds (especially if you supplement with mulch). But you need low-growing plants for this task. What choices do you have? Well, the various types of creeping thyme, alone present several choices. Wooly thyme is a nice twist on the darker-leafed varieties.

You probably love landscaping if you are visiting this website. Do you also love cats? If so, a great way to combine your two passions is to grow catnip (Nepeta cataria). Catnip will not do much for your landscape design (grow Nepeta mussinii if it's good looks you want), but it sure is entertaining to watch cats go wild over it.

Planting Herbs for Fragrance: English Lavender
Unlike catnip, lavender is a classic choice when design is foremost in your mind. The types with which I am familiar offer not only attractive flower stalks but also compact forms. Good drainage is a must. Harvest some of your lavender in fall and dry it for use in potpourri.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has a feathery foliage and flattened flower heads. Yarrow is often grown for design purposes, being a good choice for border plantings with flowers or in rock gardens. But yarrow also has a traditional medicinal use: to staunch blood.

Spotted Dead Nettles
As with yarrow, dead nettle was traditionally used to staunch blood (the technical term for that quality is "vulnerary"). Of course, such medicinal usage is usually no longer the primary reason for planting herbs like yarrow and dead nettle. The latter is valued for its shade tolerance and variegated leaves.

Six Hills Giant Catmint
6 Hills Giant catmint is a good choice among the Nepetas if you have sufficient room, because it is large. Relatively showy for a Nepeta plant, 6 Hills Giant catmint will bloom continually if you shear it.

Little Titch Catmint
'Little Titch' catmint reaches just 10 inches tall and thereby qualifies as a dwarf catmint plant. It's a better choice for small spaces than catmint plants such as '6 Hills Giant,' which can be rather overwhelming.

Planting Herbs in the Landscape: Oregano
As noted above, the uses for herb plants aren't restricted to the culinary and the medicinal. Herbs can also play a role in landscape design. Marie Iannotti, About's Gardening Guide, suggests oregano -- which is certainly best known for its use in flavoring food -- can also be used as an edging plant, ground cover and rock-garden plant.

Planting Herbs for Mediterranean Gardens: Rosemary
Did you know that the name "rosemary" literally means "dew of the sea?" Apt for a plant associated with the Mediterranean, don't you think? As with oregano, your first thought when you hear mention of rosemary may be cuisine, but it is not without its uses in landscape design, as Marie Iannotti reminds us. Its fragrance is a nice bonus.

5 Best Herbs for Container Gardens
Why grow herbs in container gardens? Amy Jeanroy says that you have more control when planting herbs in container gardens, rather than in the ground. "You can easily move the containers towards a warmer area if needed and back into the shade if the season gets too hot." Read the rest of her container-gardening tips here.

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