Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Bordering and Bedding With Herbs

When studying the basics of garden design, I hustled to classes about perennials, annuals, flowering shrubs, conifers, deciduous flowering trees, native plants. The similar but different herbs basil and perilla were included in the annuals' class final, I suspect to separate the observant, serious student from the ne'er-do-well who didn't bother to sniff the leaves. That was it for herbs in ornamental gardens.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, herbs were prominent in medieval gardens - for medicinal and culinary use. They grew side-by-side with vegetables, flowers (especially roses), fruit trees and grape vines. Even today, European and English gardens often mix flowers and herbs for aesthetics and practicality.

We Americans seem timid about mixing it up. We tiptoe around our gardens, unsure about experimenting. We're comfortable with rules and order and experts: What does Martha say? Is this plant combination "right"? We often look to public gardens as models for plant selection and garden technique.

Mixing It Up with Herbs
Golden oregano, lemon thyme, and tri-color sage often add color and scent to gardens I create. Chives and garlic chives are tops on my list for planters; their puffy, pink-purple flowers are nearly the first to bloom each spring. Simultaneously the young leaves, minced, add delicious flavor to potatoes, eggs and cottage cheese.

So I was thrilled to see easy-care herbs in abundance in the rectangular entrance beds at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. Ribbons of lush, green curly parsley separated an edge of French marigolds (Tagetes) in lemon, orange, and coral from a diamond-shaped swath of giant hyssop (Agastache 'Blue Fortune').

In a nearby bed, parsley edged rows of mealy-cup sage (Salvia farinacea 'Blue Bedder'). In yet another bed, downy-leafed, purple garden sage (Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens') formed a soft margin around a handsome wooden obelisk destined to be smothered in white, fragrant moonflowers. Woolly thyme framed triangles of pink-white salvia in yet another rectangle. Though I really like its soft, fuzzy look, woolly thyme has never lasted long in my gardens. Too much moisture or clay soil.

One section held an herb and the poisonous Datura. Not a good example. Few of us know a safe plant from a poisonous one. I would never combine edible plants with poisonous plants or plants I'm not sure are safe to eat. It's too easy to accidentally pick one leaf or flower instead of another- and not look before nibbling.

That caution said, I am hopeful we Americans are relaxing more, feeling joy in creating our gardens by playing with color, texture and plant combinations just for the fun of it.

Public Horticulture - Education and Modeling
As an internationally known public garden, Longwood is a model in educating about sustainable yet beautiful gardens and environmental responsibility. The latest five students graduating from Longwood and the University of Delaware 's Master of Science program in Public Horticulture researched thesis topics connecting relevant issues to public horticulture venues, including Water-Wise Landscaping, Community for Sustainable Agriculture Programs, Medicinal Plant Collections and Education, Involving Adolescents in Horticulture, and Preparing for Biological Invasions. See the Longwood website ( for more about their work and the two-year graduate program.

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Today's site banner is by Marilyn and is called "Salvia regla 'Royal'"