Many herbs do quite well in the backyard garden and make a fine addition to the perennial edible garden. Some can be invasive, but there are tricks for dealing with them. By taking a look at plant color and height, you can also add some delightful interest with herbs. There are many herbs that are hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 8 at the very least. Here are a few good ones, with a little information from what we have learned in our garden.
Oregano: 10 to 24 inches. White flowers and dark green leaves. We consider oregano, and its cousin sweet marjoram, to be rather invasive (by roots) and better grown in pots than in the ground.
Common sage: 15 to 30 inches. Silvery green leaves. Sage does not spread like oregano but rather it gets bushier each year. In our garden sage does better in the ground, though it will also do well in a container.
Thyme: 6 to 12 inches. Evergreen with spiny leaves. German winter thyme is the hardiest; most other varieties are considered to be tender perennials and may not survive in colder climates. An exception to this is creeping thyme, which is grown as an aromatic groundcover, not necessarily something you would want to harvest for your kitchen. Thyme has not been invasive in our garden, and will graduate from pot to plot this spring.
Chives: 12 to 18 inches. Bright green, narrow, upright leaves. Chives have a light onionlike flavor; the purple blossoms make a wonderful flavored vinegar that is a light pink color and tastes great on fish. Chives are quite invasive in our area so we keep ours in a large pot.
Mints: up to 3 feet and more; color varies by variety but the flowers are generally in shades of blue and purple. This is another extremely aggressive herb here, as it spreads its seeds about even when contained in pots. That’s okay by us though; our friends are happy to get free plants each spring. Catnip is a mint that you should be careful planting if you have felines in your area. Our first attempt at a potted plant on the porch was loved to death by our cat. She found herself sitting outside the garden fence the following season, unable to get to it but still capable of smelling it. Now we grow it in a pot in the center of the garden where she isn’t tempted at all, and she enjoys her catnip toys as the season progresses. Count lemon balm in here as well, as it’s a nice citrusy member of the mint family.
Winter savory: 6 to 12 inches. Evergreen. This will be our first time growing savory, so if you have experience we’d love to hear from you. We’re going to start it off in a pot to see how it does before taking a chance and planting it in the ground. We learned that lesson the hard way from chives and oregano.
Lovage: 4 to 6 feet. Tastes a lot like celery. We were given lovage last spring by an acquaintance who was moving. She said she couldn’t bear to leave it all behind, and wanted to know at least some of it was going to a good home. The plant even smells like celery and we’re hoping it will become our new substitute once established.
Lavender: 1 to 2 feet; pretty purple flowers. Often thought of as an addition to soaps or potpourris rather than an herb, lavender is delightful in the kitchen as well. Lemon-lavender cookies anyone?
Of course there are other herbs, such as Russian tarragon, that can be grown in a perennial edible garden. Note also that some annuals will reseed themselves and grow the following spring. Dill is a fine example. Just be careful when choosing an herb for your garden that you get the variety that is for consuming.
Gardening Jones is a master gardener in Pennsylvania. Learn more atgardeningjones.com/blog.
Get started in herb gardening with The Beginner's Guide to Edible Herbs.
Learn all about growing and using more than 100 herbs in Homegrown Herbs by herbalist Tammi Hartung.
Many herbs are easy to grow from seed: get the Basil Lovers Collection, the Easy-to-Grow Container Herb Garden Collection or the Herbs for All the Senses Collection. Each collections includes 5 packets of different herb varieties.
Plan your gardens with the handy 3-9 Bulb, Herb and Perennial garden wheels.
Make the most of your herb plants by learning how to harvest, dry and store your herbs.