Ornamental Herbs

Chives flowersQuestion: 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 flowerRosemary (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.

Rosemary image attribution

Chives image attribution

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3 thoughts on “Ornamental Herbs

  1. I have a bucket garden of herbs. Old galvanized buckets with 1/2″ holes drilled in the bottom. Allows me to move them around as they grow and spread, and the sun gets hotter. Strawberries look great in them.

  2. I always use thyme as a groundcover in my potted citrus: i.e. lemon thyme under my Meyer Lemon, orange thyme in with my mandarin. I also love the look of oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ spilling out of the pot at the base of my potted olive tree. Another fave is creeping rosemary covering the soil around my bay laurel. It is a bonus to have fresh herbs in the winter when I bring these containers inside. I am in Michigan, after all!

  3. I use thyme as a random edging in by border – it is quite attractive and withstands the heat. Also I have lavender in two large containers on my patio that began life in the early spring with pansies and lavendar (about all that was available when the itch to plant occured!) – the lavender is lovely and has completely filled the containers. The foliage and structure make for a wonderful accent.

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