Every garden needs a little spice to liven it up. If you aren’t growing herbs, you are missing an opportunity to liven up your life as well!
Herbs are particularly desirable because they serve so many purposes. An herb is defined as a plant that offers more than one use – culinary, medicinal, aromatic, and household purposes. These cheerful multi-taskers add flavor to our meals, fragrance to our surroundings, beauty to our homes and are useful in improving our health.
It’s not too late to add some herbs to your garden since most thrive in summer heat. Here are some of my favorites that work well in our southern climate:
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Nothing livens up a garden bed like the rich, red blooms of bee balm. And as an added bonus, the flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees! The plants will spread and multiply, so give them room in the garden. The fresh blooms add color to a bouquet and are an attractive garnish for salads, while bee balm’s aromatic leaves can be dried for tea or used in sachets or potpourri.
Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Sweet basil is perhaps the most popular and widely-used herb, beloved for its culinary uses, particularly in Italian dishes like classic pesto. It is an aromatic plant with a sweet, spicy flavor that is easy to grow and thrives in full sun and hot temperatures.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
A member of the onion, leeks and garlic family, this drought-tolerant, clumping perennial grows from underground bulbs and produces attractive pink/lavender flowers in summer that look nice in floral arrangements or in a rock garden. Chives can spread quickly, so best to deadhead spent flowers and divide plants every couple of years. The mild onion flavor of the leaves of chives is used to enhance dips, soups, salads, vinegars, cheese dishes and go great with sour cream and butter on a baked potato.
French Lavender (Lavandula dentate)
Loved for its beautiful purple spiky flowers and soothing fragrance, French lavender works well in the South as a border plant along walkways where you can enjoy its scent, or near a seating area, since it is a natural pest repellent that deters flies, mosquitoes and other insects. Lavender attracts butterflies and bees and works well with other drought-tolerant plants (like coneflower) in a butterfly garden. Choose English lavender for culinary purposes, like flavoring a variety of sweet or savory dishes. Dried lavender is often used in sachets or potpourri. Lavender is a popular essential oil used as a sleep enhancer when sprayed on a pillow.
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
The fragrant pineapple-scented foliage of this sage is often added to cold summer beverages or tossed in a salad. The leaves can also be used in jams and jellies and potpourri. Pineapple sage has the added bonus of bright red spiral flowers that attract pollinators. The flowers make an excellent garnish for a summer salad.
Gold Variegated Sage (Salvia officinalis)
While prized for its pungent taste and scent, this evergreen sage is a welcome addition to liven up any garden, with its bright, variegated green leaves and irregular yellow margins. Attractive to butterflies, this sage is truly a multi-tasker.
Fernleaf Dill (Anethum graveolens)
An All American Selection, this dwarf variety of dill has fern-like leaves and is used to make dips, pickles and to spice up vegetables. Pretty summer yellow flowers attract pollinators and look great dried or in floral arrangements.
Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum)
Gardeners who love the spicy, pungent flavor of Greek oregano, usually sample the leaves of the plant before purchase to make sure they are getting the intense flavor they prefer for pizza and spaghetti sauces. Greek oregano also looks great in the garden when massed planted along a border or in a rock garden as a ground cover. It makes a lovely “spiller” plant in containers on a sunny patio.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
This favorite herb has so many varieties and uses. It is a woody perennial that can be used as a large, fragrant, spiky shrub in the garden or another version can be planted as a spreading groundcover. It is appealing to sweep your hand across a rosemary shrub and release the pungent scent into the air and onto your hands! For culinary purposes select ‘Tuscan Blue’ or ‘Tuscan Spires.’ ‘Tuscan Blue’ has the added bonus of bright blue flowers along the stems that attract bees.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
A non-fussy plant that is best left alone to spread in the sun, common thyme comes in a variety of flavors and scents and is used as an ornamental or for culinary purposes, so choose your plant based on its purpose. The aromatic leaves of culinary thyme hold its flavor during cooking and blend with other Mediterranean specialties such as olive oil, tomatoes, and garlic. This herb also has preservative and antiseptic properties. Thyme works well as an ornamental planted among stepping stones and in a rock garden.