By The Old House Web


Santolina chamaecyparissus

Traditionally, many herbs are used for culinary, medicinal, fragrant or other household purposes and are thus defined in a horticultural rather than a botanical sense. They are prevailingly members of the mint and parsley families (Labiatae and Umbelliferae) and are mostly aromatic plants. However, gardeners should not overlook their ornamental qualities.

Herbs offer a wide variety of foliage colors that vary widely; the blue green of rue, the silver gray of lavender, and the bright green of parsley to the reddish purple hues of "Purple Ruffles" Basil. The foliage texture of herbs provide an ornamental contrast; from the needle-like leaves of dill to the bold leaves of angelica. In addition, some herbs have very decorative flowers, such as chive or lavender, while others possess attractive plant forms, such as the compact mound form of santolina.

Although many "herbs" are herbaceous in the botanical sense, there are also woody plants that fit the herbalists' definition; including sage, thyme, lavender and rosemary.

There are many uses for herbs in a garden setting. Herbs can be used in a variety of garden settings including perennial borders, vegetable gardens, rock gardens, or as pot plants in an urban landscape. They are suitable plants to be used in knot gardens when plants are carefully selected to insure the appropriate materials.

Rosmarinus officinalis

Exquisite effects can be created by the combination for textural qualities of foliage; for example, the blending of wooly greens with lacy shades of grays and blues will offer a rich composition of subtle effects throughout the garden. Certain herb plants are particularly well suited to this function; including Thymus, Artemisia, Santolina, Salvia, Alchemilla, Rosmarinus, Lavandula and Stachys. A vertical accent herb like Angelica archangelica can be used almost like a sculpture in the garden, or can be placed in a pot or tub on the patio to highlight its bold texture and exotic appearance.

Both Artemisia aboratanum, southernwood and Artemisia pontica can be grown as a hedge; as they spread rapidly by their roots. The true lavendar, Lavandula Augustifolia, is often used as an informal low hedge or edging for a garden path: its foliage remains attractive well into the winter for added interest and its cut flowers can be used in arrangements.

Arctostachylos uva-ursi, bearberry galium odoratum, sweet woodruff and many of Thymus spp. will make excellent ground-cover in the border, rock garden or for naturalizing. For shady spots, there are beautiful herbs which thrive in moist, cool shade like the sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata.

Cultural requirements must be taken into consideration when using herbs ornamentally. Most herbs do best in a sunny location, with the exception of a few such as angelica, wooddruff and sweet cicely, plants which prefer partial shade. Any garden loam will prove satisfactory for most herbs, while a soil pH of neutral to slightly alkaline is best. Good drainage is essential: poorly drained sites should be avoided or improved with deep cultivation and the addition of sand and organic matter. Once established, most herbs prefer a rather dry soil and require watering only during a fairly severe drought. However, a few herbs such as mint, angelica, and lovage do best in a moist soil.

There are a large variety of herbs recommended for use in the rock garden, including:

Ajuga genevensis Alchemilla vulgaris var. mollis; A. alpina Anemone patens Armeria maritima Artemisia schmidtiana Asarum canadense; A europaeum (pergola "final rock" foreground) (Daffodil- a few early miniature) Dianthus - label lost Digitalis lutea; D. minima Filipendula vulgaris Heuchera sanguinea Hosta albo-marginata Hypericum kalmianum Lavandula officinalis "Munstead Dwarf" Linum perenne Myrrhis odorata Nepeta mussini Origanum vulgare Polygonatum biflorum Salvia officinalis Sanguinaria canadensis, single Satureia montana Sempervivum tectorum Stachys olympica Thymes- both bush and creeping. Hardy creeping favorites are T. Herbabarona and T. pseudolanuginosus Trillium grandiflorum Viola


"Ornamental Uses of Herbs in the Landscape" by Caroline T. Kiang Cooperative Extension Agent, Suffolk County Long Island Gardening, May 1988

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