Season the Patio with Designer Herbs
Golden oregano (top) and variegated pineapple mint (left) are two perennial ornamental herbs that should be planted alone.
Knowing designer herbs is to love them. Like all herbs, they are easy in pots, window boxes and containers, but they are also as beautiful as they are fragrant and delicious, making them perfect for creative planting designs. Some have variegated or colorful leaves and others columnar or compact forms giving them a visual edge—whether we’re talking a bold lemon grass in a patio container, trimmed mini basil contained in an urban kitchen garden, or glorious variegated lemon thyme spilling out of a window box.
Visually appealing herbal delights cover most culinary favorites. Sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano and marjoram come in lots of pretty variations. Others, like lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), make a big impact in their natural form. Here is a sampling of some of the most interesting and lovely herbs for containment:
This trough planting of oregano (left) and tricolored sage (far right) shows the rhizomatous oregano engulfing the clump-forming sage, which is why oregano should be planted alone.
Basils (Ocimum spp.) are some of the easiest summertime annual herbs for pots and many are colorful and attractive. Three for beauty as well as longevity are the purple-hued Thai basil ‘Siam Queen’, variegated non-flowering ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ and the fine-leaved bushy dwarf, ‘Pistou.’ All add unique interest to containers and continue to produce flavorful leaves from planting time to frost. Purple sweet basils, like ‘Amethyst Improved’, are also beautiful but only remain flavorful and full when their flower buds are continuously removed or deadheaded.
Oregano is a classic perennial herb for containers and Origanum vulgare ‘Gold Tip’ and ‘Aureum’ are real show offs with gold enhanced leaves and somewhat cascading forms. Two marjorams for color are the golden-leaved Origanum majorana ‘Aureum’ and beautifully variegated Origanum majorana ‘Variegata’, which has deep green leaves with irregular ivory edges.
Some of the most diverse and interesting herbs for foliar color are sages (Salvia officinalis). The semi-evergreen herbs all have soft, velvety leaves. Of these, the rounded, silvery leaves of ‘Berggarten’ sage are unusually ornamental as are the purple, ivory and green leaves of ‘Tricolor’ sage and the golden variegated leaves of the classic ‘Icterina.’ Purple sage is another charmer.
The bold, silvery leaves of ‘Berggarten’ sage (background) will add pleasing cool color to any container.
Trailing and weeping plants consistently add flair to containers, which is why the fragrant trailing rosemary plants Rosmarinus offinalis ‘Lockwood de Forest’ and ‘Huntington Carpet’ add extra flair at the base of containers. Thymes are also choice trailers for spilling over the edge of a potted herb garden. Of these, the lemony gold and green leaved ‘Doone Valley’ is a perennial favorite, as is the silver-edged Thymus x citriodorus ‘Silver Queen’ and super fine and compact Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin.’ All add lush looks and strong fragrance to containers.
When creating herbal planter designs with ornamental herbs it pays to think of habits and heights as well as textures and colors. Life-cycles and root spreads are also important considerations. Tidy non-spreaders should be planted together and spreading perennials should be planted in pots that can withstand overwintering.
Design-wise, groupings look best in threes. One complimentary combo-of-three would be the variegated and columnal ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ basil, the bushy purple sage, and clambering ‘Silver Queen’ thyme. Choose a spacious attractive container, water regularly and it will look lovely all season long. And when the annual basil dies through winter it can be replaced the following season.
Aggressive spreaders should be planted alone. All mints spread quickly via rhizomes, and the colorful and deliciously fragrant variegated pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’) is no exception. Oregano varieties spread almost as quickly and will overcrowd non-spreading herbs over time. Lemongrass is another that will create a huge clump by summer’s end, if provided a large pot and consistently moist soil (unlike all the other herbs listed, which require very good drainage).
All herbs mentioned are sun-loving garden plants that grow best in fertile, well-drained medium like Grower’s Gold Outdoor Growing Mix. A light application of slow release fertilizer early in the season will also help them remain vigorous and happy through the season. Give them good care and they will reward you with contained culinary splendor all season long.
The finely variegated leaves of Thymus x citriodorus ‘Silver Queen’ will add interest to any potted planting.
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