Best Way to Choose Herbs for Your Garden Borders

Many of the plant species categorized as herbs are attractive flowering or foliage plants that can be taken out of the context of the herb garden and used successfully in a mixed border.

Sage – whose foliage colours range from silver to purple and include a tricolour variety that is grey-green with hints of pink and white -is a particularly effective border plant. Since it grows to form a low mass of coloured foliage, it can be useful at the base of plants such as roses that may have bare stems. Later in the season, when in flower itself, sage offers extra ornament. Once the flowers are over, cut back the plant to prevent it from becoming leggy and out of shape and to encourage continuous foliage production.

Garden Borders Best Way to Choose Herbs for Your Garden Borders

If you have space to accommodate their invasive habits, herbs such as mint, comfrey and sweet Cicely will offer good-textured, colourful and shapely foliage followed by pretty flowers. All three are useful in shady sites; with mint suited to moister conditions. Borage is another vigorous but useful foliage plant that bears eye-catching blue or white flowers in summer.

Heartsease, with its small mauve faces, is useful in containers as well as at the front of a border, winding its way through other plants. Its silver foliage and dainty pink or white scented blooms make pinks suitable for low-growing at the front of the border. Similarly, thyme will provide variegated gold or silver foliage, delicate white, mauve or pink blooms and, in some cases, a low-growing mat-like habit.

Oregano or marjoram is a rewarding herb for the middle or front of a flower border, and will grow to form quite large clumps of flowering stems in white or mauve.

Most herb flowers are in the mauve, pink or white ranges, but plants such as pot marigold, with its sunny orange and creamy yellow flowers, and nasturtium, in shades of orange, cream and red, provide great swathes of colour in the mixed border. Nasturtium has the added advantage of colourful foliage and looks good weaving its way along the front of a bed. St John’s wort can be used to add spots of buttery yellow to the front of a border, complementing evening primrose in a similar shade at the back; both herbs will self-seed copiously, so cut them back once the blooms are spent.

At a slightly higher level, fennel’s early offering to the border is a froth of fern-like foliage in either green or bronze, followed by stiff flower heads that look like upside-down umbrellas with masses of small yellow dot-like flowers. These are a magnet for beneficial garden insects such as hoverflies, and, since fennel self-seeds abundantly around the garden, at the height of summer it offers great stands of colour, seemingly dancing with life.

Garden Borders 1 Best Way to Choose Herbs for Your Garden Borders

Lavender, pinks and some other herbs grow in soft mounded shapes that spill over the border’s edge. Others, such as chicory, offer flowering stems that seem to float through other plants in the border. Rosemary and bay are useful grown as standards in formal gardens, serving to raise eye-level and to make a repeated theme along a long border.

Some traditional herb-garden plants, such as echinacea, or purple coneflower (also available in white or green), are especially useful because they flower over a long period late in the season. Bergamot, or monarda, has a similarly long and late flowering season, and provides tall stems of flowers arranged in whorls of mauve, white and pink around its square stems. Agastache, with mauve-and-white flower spikes, is also useful for the centre of the late summer border.

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