Garden & Landscape Tips

Pineapple sage
Attractive pineapple sage attracts hummingbirds, and tastes wonderful in fresh fruit salad.
© Ruth Rodgers Clausen

Almost anything goes this year in modern gardens. Why not celebrate the recent trend that highlights ornamental perennials, annuals, small shrubs, and even tropicals with veggies and culinary herbs. Certainly herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme can also be used decoratively in the garden and in containers. Some, such as sage, have ornamental cousins such as variegated sage, Salvia officinalis 'Variegata', and purple sage, S. officinalis 'Purpurea' that provide as much flavor in a prettier package. Tall pineapple sage (S. elegans) leaves have a wonderfully fruity flavor, perfect to add to fresh fruit salads. 'Golden Delicious' has chartreuse foliage. Here are some others:

Silver Posie thyme
'Silver Posie' thyme is a fine addition to rock gardens.
© Ruth Rodgers Clausen

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), a small, sub-shrubby perennial, is often grown as an annual, as the stems become a little woody with age. The tiny leaves (most flavorful just before bloom-time) are strongly aromatic, and resist browsing from deer and rabbits. Whorls of diminutive pink flowers congregate at the stem tips and are favorites of butterflies and bees, which add another dimension to the garden. The selection 'Silver Posie' has silver-rimmed leaves. Lemon thyme (T. x citridorus), lime thyme (T. x. citriodorus ‘Lime’), caraway thyme (T. herba-barona), and T. 'Orange Balsam' enhance fish dishes, soups, and stews. Thymes are tough, attractive plants for rock and herb gardens, and as edgings. Use mother of thyme (T. serpyllum) and its selections 'Elfin', 'Pink Chintz', and 'Pygmaeus' as fragrant "walk-upon" ground covers.

Thai basil Siam Queen
Thai basil 'Siam Queen' grows large enough to fill out a whiskey barrel.
© Ruth Rodgers Clausen

Basil (Ocimum basilicum). Easy-to-grow basil is grown as an annual. It should be planted outdoors only after the soil has warmed, and the danger of frost has passed. Start seeds indoors early or buy transplants. Remember that the latter have probably been greenhouse grown and will need "hardening off" or acclimated gently to the outdoor temperatures. There seem to be dozens of varieties of the culinary or sweet basil. Examples include: lemony 'Mrs. Burn's Lemon'; dark purple-leaved 'Opal', which makes an attractive container; 'Lettuce-leaf' with its big corrugated leaves and ‘Large-leaf Italian’, both good for pesto; and 'Purple Ruffles', also good for pots. Anise-flavored 'Siam Queen' Thai basil is often used in Thai cooking but makes a striking 18"-24" clump, stunning in a large tub. Very small-leaved 'Spicy Globe' and 'Green Globe' are ideal as edging plants or in small vessels to decorate a table setting. The striking foliage of O. b. citriodorum 'Pesto Perpetuo' is eye-catching with herbs, veggies, or ornamentals.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). In edible landscapes, chives are often used as edging plants.  Stocky and neat, with aromatic grass-like leaves, chives are indispensable in the kitchen and look splendid outlining beds and borders. Their edible flowers, much valued for making vinegar, are attractive in salads or as a garnish too. They grow from small onion-like structures and are winter hardy in most regions. The blue-green leaves of 'Grolau' are extra flavorful; ‘Profusion’ is excellent in containers. Garlic or Chinese chives (A. tuberosum) are similar but with flattened leaves. The heads of white starry flowers on 18" stems are especially attractive in monochromatic white borders or against a dark-leaved ground cover. Attracts pollinators.

Garlic chives
Bees and other pollinators flock to garlic chives for nectar and pollen.
© Ruth Rodgers Clausen

Parsley (Petroselinum spp.). Most chefs seem to prefer the flat-leaved or Italian parsley, and use the curly type only as a garnish to embellish a dish. In the garden however, beautiful curly parsley is frequently used as an attractive edging plant. Since black swallowtail caterpillars  a.k.a. parsleyworm caterpillars, feast on parsley (as well as dill, rue, and other herbs), it is one of the staple plants in butterfly gardens. Parsley grows as a biennial, that the first season it produces only foliage, which is usually what we harvest; the second year it produces a thickened and flavorful root (parsley root) as well as a flower stalk (similar to Queen Anne’s lace). Start seeds indoors or directly in the garden. It is slow to get going and takes several weeks to germinate but produces a nice clump of foliage for summer harvesting. Space about 9” apart or closer for an edging to rose or perennial gardens; tomatoes and asparagus are appropriate companions in veggie gardens.

Variegated basil Pesto Perpetuo
Variegated basil 'Pesto Perpetuo' is an attractive and showy addition with ornamentals, herbs, or veggies.
© Ruth Rodgers Clausen

Dill (Anethum graveolens). Both the fragrant feathery leaves (dillweed) and the seeds of annual dill are valuable for culinary purposes especially in salmon dishes, dill pickles, and herbal vinegar. But as much as chefs appreciate dill, butterflies must depend upon the foliage to feed their larvae. Black and other swallowtails are especially drawn to dill and its cousins: carrot leaves, fennel, and parsley (above). The dwarf variety 'Fernleaf' is usually selected as an ornamental for growing in containers, as cut flowers, and sometimes to camouflage the naked stems of ornamental onions. It bears plenty of fern-like leaves. 'Dukat' and 'Bouquet' are valued for the nutty, anise-tasting seeds and for salads. Seed dill directly, in a sunny spot in the garden after frost time. Site them near plants such as roses, cabbages, milkweeds, and annuals such as nasturtiums, all popular with pesky aphids, as dill flowers attract ladybugs that consume aphids.

Pot marigolds
Pot marigolds do well in containers decorating the deck, as well as in cutting gardens, herb gardens, and elsewhere.
© Ruth Rodgers Clausen

Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) is grown more widely as a reseeding, ornamental annual than as a culinary herb. However it has long been used as a substitute to produce the yellow color of saffron in cheeses and rice dishes, and today is a welcome, colorful addition to salads. The bright yellow or orange petals have a slightly sharp, spicy flavor. Countless generations of herbalists have used calendula to concoct skin healing potions for cuts and bruises, as well as for herbal tea. Start seeds outdoors in a sunny spot when the soil has warmed. Space the plants 10"-12" apart. They require little care.

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