Ornamental Herbs in the Garden

Although herbs are commonly used for their medicinal and culinary uses, they can also be very ornamental. Herbs add various leaf colors, textures, fragrances, and flowers to the garden, making them attractive as well as useful.

Low-growing herbs, such as thymes, make wonderful perennial ground covers. Though they have small, delicate looking leaves the plants are very hardy. They grow in full sun and in most soils. Thyme can be found with variegated leaves and a variety of different colored blooms. Silver thyme has white-edged leaves, while variegated lemon thyme has yellow-edged leaves and a lemony fragrance. Woolly thyme is very low-growing with tiny, fuzzy, gray leaves and red Mother-of-thyme covers itself with rose-red flowers in summer.

Another hardy perennial herb is rosemary. It comes in both prostrate and upright forms. The low-growing types have a mounding habit with branches that will trail over walls making a handsome appearance. Upright ones can be sheared into thick hedges. Both can be used in cooking and are very deer-resistant.

Sages make up a huge family of ornamental and culinary herbs. Culinary sage, with grey-green leaves and beautiful blue flowers, is hardy in well-drained soil. Two colorful varieties are Tricolor sage, with purple, green, and white leaves, and Golden sage with bright yellow-edged leaves. All are easy to grow in full sun, and have the same flavor. The variegated forms of common sage are a feast for the eyes in a flower bed of green.

Other ornamental sages include the elegant ‘Victoria Blue’ with beautiful, bright blue flowers all summer long; ‘Blue Hill’ and ‘Snow Hill’ Meadow Sages, which are tough, long-flowering plants; and Autumn Sage with its bright red flowers set against smooth, dark green leaves.

A number of decorative oreganos are now being used ornamentally. The variety ‘Herrenhausen’ has purple-flushed young leaves and dense clusters of pink flowers. It makes a small bush, while Golden oregano makes a low carpet of lime green to golden leaves. ‘Kent Beauty’ oregano is a most unusual variety. It is a groundcover with grey-green foliage and showy, mauve pink flowers.

There are many different yarrows that can add color to the garden. Common yarrow, with its fine, fern-like leaves, bloom in red, pink and lavender in addition to the common white. It covers the ground with its soft foliage and sends up clusters of colored flowers that are loved by butterflies.

Lavenders are, of course, wonderful ornamental plants. Their many varieties include Spanish, French and English lavenders, and tall or dwarf plants in many shades of blue, lavender and purple.

Lavender cotton, or Grey Santolina, has bright yellow button flowers set against ferny gray foliage that makes a low sprawling bush. Russian Sage, Perovskia, is a tough, low-maintenance shrub with a sage-like fragrance. It makes a large shrub and blooms over a long season with spikes of lavender-blue flowers.

Ornamental herbs are “a reasonably safe bet” when it comes to deer. So don’t overlook the “lowly” herbs for color and fragrance in the garden.

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