By Jane Milliman
Growing herbs is one of the smartest financial gardening moves you can make. When it costs the same amount to buy a fresh bunch of basil as it does a whole plant, why not go for the renewable resource?
Plant culinary herbs where you’re most likely to use them. That can mean rosemary in a pot right outside the kitchen door but also chives in the back 40. There is nothing so pleasant as wandering out, glass of wine in one hand and scissors in the other, to harvest your homegrown goodness.
Containerized herbs offer many benefits. You can extend the season by bringing them inside in colder temperatures, and you conserve water by letting runoff provide moisture to nearby plants. Here, arugula (Eruca sativa) gets the triple benefit of ground-shielding stone mulch, excess water from the pots, and a little extra from the downspout.
One of my favorite underused garden herbs is the basil-like ‘Akajiso’ perilla, a member of the mint family traditionally used in Asian cuisine and medicine. It’s gloriously glittery in youth, colors to a dark purple, and self-sows reliably. Some might say it self-sows too reliably, but I just pull them where they aren’t wanted — it’s not a nuisance. Purple perilla provides the perfect foil for all of the other greenery in your garden, guaranteed. And yes, you can use it in your pesto.
Look for unusual forms of your favorite herbs to spice things up. ‘Tricolor’ sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) and golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) are tasty and add interest to your garden, complementing your straight-up green selections.
Some of the most fun herbs to use in the garden are the creepers. Every year I plant a small, decorative container of Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) to use as a centerpiece on the outdoor dining table. Give it a rub and you can’t help but want a cocktail — it smells exactly like crème de menthe.
Need erosion control? Water conservation? Something you can walk on that isn’t grass? Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) to the rescue! Adorable, tiny, pink blossoms cover this plant during much of the summer. But even in its green state, this workhorse herb softens hardscape corners, holds soil in place, and resists drought. Plus, when trodden upon, it releases the savory aroma that lets you know — make no mistake — you’re in a garden.