Question: Recently you wrote about ‘Boxwood’ basil. What are some other very ornamental herbs?
Answer: There are many options when it comes to attractive-looking herbs. In fact there are many plants commonly grown as ornamental plants that are in fact herbs with histories of use in fragrances, cooking, medicines, cosmetics, etc. These include bee balm (Monarda didyma), scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), perennial sages (Salvia spp.), lavender (Lavandula spp.) and nasturiums (Tropaeolum majus).
Here are some plants generally thought of as “culinary herbs,” but which also have striking ornamental features that recommend them for use in ornamental beds.
Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis; Zones 8–10)—slow-growing evergreen tree with narrow, dark green, glossy oval leaves. Makes a good hedge or potted specimen because it responds well to pruning.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum; Zones 2–9; shown at top), Garlic chives (A. tuberosum)—firmly upright leaves and tall stalks of purple or white globular flowers. Can become weedy if allowed to set and drop seed. Deadhead spent flowers to prevent unwanted spread.
Thyme (Thymus spp.; generally Zones 3–8)—mats of tiny green or gray leaves. Generally used as a groundcover or to fill the spaces between pavers.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis; Zones 8–10; shown right)—silvery gray foliage and small purple flowers. Easy to train into a standard (lollipop shape) for a formal accent.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus; Zones 9–11)—the look of a small, bright green ornamental grass. Fragrant. Also repels mosquitos.
Dill (Anethum graveolens; annual)—ferny, feathery foliage and flat-topped clusters of bright yellow flowers, reminiscent of yarrow. May self-seed.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum; annual)—low mounds of textural foliage; makes a good edging.