In my last post, I focused on just four herbs; this time, I’ve chosen some of my favorites from the wide range of other culinary, aromatic, and medicinal species and their selections. Above is Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), which I’d planted with the intention of harvesting and drying the flowers for tea. It’s so cute in bloom, though, that I kind of hate to cut them. Here’s it’s planted with ‘Dali Marble’ burnet (usually listed under Sanguisorba menziesii, even though its height, flowers, and bloom time are far more like those of S. officinalis).
I abhor the scent of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), but I grow it sometimes for a friend who enjoys cooking with it, and it does make a pretty filler in bloom. Above it’s with garlic that’s heading into bloom, and with ‘Becky’ Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum).
Below is another green-and-white pairing, this one featuring two enthusiastic spreaders: sweetly scented pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’) with sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum).
No worries about the combo below, with these two well-behaved partners: variegated ‘Harlequin’ rue (Ruta graveolens) and ‘Cramers’ Plum’ love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena).
The usually blue foliage of ordinary rue is also lovely in combinations.
Above, it’s tucked between silver sage (Salvia argentea) in the foreground and ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) in back, with a bit of ‘Cora White’ rose periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) on the left.
Below, the rue is next to ‘Sheffield Pink’ chrysanthemum, a bit of aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), and some Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), with crosswort (Phuopsis stylosa) foliage and sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and white South African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’) flowers in front.
In bloom, rue (the yellow flowers on the left, below) can repeat the form and color of euphorbias, such as the Euphorbia oblongata (also sold as E. palustris ‘Zauberflote’) at right. Some other highlights of this early June setting include ‘Argentea Variegata’ sweet iris (Iris pallida), white Ornithogalum magnum, a pink dianthus, variegated ‘Kosmic’ kale, and a patch of gray-blue woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus).
About a week earlier, the striped sweet iris in the border above made a cute combination with another one of my favorite flavorful herbs: common chives (Allium schoenoprasum).
Common chives usually begin flowering in early to mid-May here in southeastern PA and keep their color for about 3 weeks, so they overlap with many spring bulbs and perennials. Below, they’re with orris root (Iris ‘Florentina’), one of the irises whose dried roots are used in perfumes and potpourri.
The pink flowers of common chives are pretty with yellows, too, such as the flowers of Euphorbia oblongata, and with silvers, like the foliage of ‘Parfum d’Ethiopia’ wormwood (Artemisia).
That stunningly silver wormwood was a new one for me last year. It’s supposed to be hardy to Zone 6, but it already looks quite dead, which is disappointing but not that surprising. According to its patent, it’s a selection of Artemisia arborescens, which is said to be one of the parents of ‘Powis Castle’; that hybrid may squeak through a year or two here but usually doesn’t last longer than that. The foliage is so gorgeous, though, that I don’t mind replacing it when it fizzles out. Below, it’s in front of ‘Black Adder’ anise hyssop (Agastache) and ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ basil.
I like the richer flower color (and the name) of ‘Black Adder’ anise hyssop, but ‘Blue Fortune’ is nice too, and its foliage smells as good. Above is a cool combo of ‘Blue Fortune’ with Geranium wlassovianum and ‘Skyracer’ purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea); below, its spikes are mingling with South African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba).
Below, a simple foliage pairing; creeping winter savory (Satureja montana subsp. illyrica) around the base of upright, bushy ‘Lemon Twist’ plectranthus (Plectranthus).
Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) is as vigorous as creeping winter savory is restrained.
It self-sows so freely that it can quickly get out of hand, but it’s so pretty that it’s hard to resist. Above it’s with ‘Red Majestic’ contorted hazel (Corylus avellana) and, in the background, ‘Onondaga’ Sargent viburnum (Viburnum sargentii).
To be fair, bronze fennel wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t have a chance to self-sow. But there are so many flowers that it’s hard to keep up with deadheading, and it’s a pity to cut the whole plant down when new flowers are still forming. Sufficient unto the day is the plethora of seedlings thereof; while it’s in bloom, I just enjoy it. Above it’s with Hint of Gold blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Lisaura’), ‘Dancing Flame’ scarlet sage (Salvia splendens), ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata), and love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus).
Below is another clump of bronze fennel, this one with ‘Coppelia’ sneezeweed (Helenium) and New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).
I originally started with meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) in its variegated form (‘Variegata’), for its cream-marked leaves. In fact, I cut the flowers off for the first few years, because I thought they detracted from the foliage. Eventually, the clump reverted to solid green, so I finally let it bloom, and the abundance of creamy white flowers and powerful, sweet scent made it a true delight. Since then, I’ve divided that original patch so I could spread the pieces throughout my gardens. Below is one piece just coming into bloom, in front of ‘Ambassador’ allium and Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA1’).
Golden feverfew (F. ulmaria ‘Aurea’) is much less vigorous and doesn’t flower as freely, but the brilliant foliage color has been consistently beautiful. In the shot below, it’s with variegated pokeweed (Phytolacca americana ‘Silberstein’) and almost-open ‘Montenegro’ Asiatic lily (Lilium).
I can get away with keeping golden meadowsweet in full sun because my soil is on the damp side–at least until July or August, when we get dry spells and the foliage scorches; then I usually cut it back and let it resprout. A yellow-leaved herb that’s much better suited to sun is golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’). Below, it’s with magenta-flowered winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), ‘Oehme’ palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis), purple ‘Redbor’ kale, red valerian (Centranthus ruber), peachy ‘Terra Cotta’ yarrow (Achillea), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and, in the very back, ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum).
Like bronze fennel, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is one of those herbs that can end up everywhere through self-sowing if you don’t cut it back before the flowers finish. On the bronze fennel, at least, it’s obvious when the plants are in bloom; on lemon balm, you have to look closely to see the tiny white blooms, so it’s easy to miss them. On the plus side, the seedlings of ‘All Gold’ are as bright yellow as their parents, and they have the same lovely lemony scent, as well, so it’s not a hardship to have a lot of them around. Below is one that seeded next to a clump of ‘Creme Brulee’ heuchera.
Above is a clump of ‘All Gold lemon balm along a path, in front of ‘Espresso’ wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) and Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha). Below is another section of the same border later in the season, with the lemon balm in front of ‘Oehme’ palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) and some sprawled seedheads of ‘Lemon Queen’ perennial sunflower (Helianthus).
And one more shot of it above: ‘All Gold’ with hot pink ‘Profusion Cherry’ zinnia and ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas). If you’re interested in trying this beauty for yourself, be aware that you may instead find it listed as Melissa officinalis ‘Gold Leaf’ or as ‘Aurea’, though the latter name is also sometimes used for the version with yellow-splashed green leaves (technically ‘Variegata’), so read the description carefully.
Ah, glorious ‘Axminster Gold’ Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum). Above, it’s in leaf with ‘Queen of Night’ Single Late tulip, plus some variegated sweet iris (Iris pallida ‘Variegata’), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), and Chocolate Chip ajuga (Ajuga reptans ‘Valfredda’). Below, it’s in bloom with Guinevere (‘HARbadge’) floribunda rose.
If you happen to be searching for ‘Axminster Gold’, I found two online sources in the US that currently have it listed as available this spring: Avant Gardens and Digging Dog.
And last, one of my top-10 plants: ‘Isla Gold’ tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). As with ‘Axminster Gold’ comfrey, the flowers of ‘Isla Gold’ are not nearly as showy as the foliage.
The foliage holds its color from the time it sprouts through the rest of the growing season. Above is ‘Isla Gold’ in early July with ‘Desert Coral’ coreopsis (Coreopsis) and ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet.
These last two shots are of ‘Isla Gold’ in bloom in late August/early September. Above, it’s with ‘Jester’ purple millet (Pennisetum glaucum), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), tall ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), and Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia), with some ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata), ‘Coppelia’ sneezeweed (Helenium), and ‘Mahogany Splendor’ hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella), and golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’) at the very back.
Below is the same clump but in a different year and from a different angle, with cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), tall ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), ‘Henry Eilers’ sweet coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), Canna indica ‘Purpurea’, and golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’).
‘Isla Gold’ tansy can be tricky to find, but it’s not as elusive as ‘Axminster Gold’ comfrey, thank goodness. Some online sources for this one include Colonial Creek Farm (they also carry “golden lemon balm” plants, by the way), Digging Dog, Plant Delights, and Romence Gardens. (I have no personal connection to any of these sources–just found them through a Google search–so I suggest checking their listings on Garden Watchdog before you order from them or any other online nursery.)
Well, that’s it for the herb combos. I’ll be back on March 15th: for Bloom Day, if there’s anything springing here (which seems unlikely at the moment), or with another topic in case we’re still frozen. In the meantime, thanks for visiting!
19 thoughts on “Better Together: Herbs – Part 2”
I sought out ‘Isla Gold’ and loved the color and texture where I had it planted, but mine got a little rangy after flowering, so I sheared it back to about 6″ (thinking, it’s a tansy!) at which point it promptly died. I’ll definitely try it again, but any tips on how you manage yours? Mine was in very lean soil at the top of a retaining wall, so I’m not sure why it got so lanky.
Interesting that you mention that, Robert. For the first few years with mine, I gave it a hard shearing before flowering, and it hated that too. Since then, I’ve just left it alone, and it’s been much happier. It’s not so floppy now that the clump is about 18 inches across: it pretty much holds itself up. If you can get over the experience of killing a tansy, of all things, I agree that it’s worth trying again.
It sure seems like it isn’t going to be nice again. This is why all of these colors, textures and smells are so nice to see this time of year. Can’t wait until I can see, smell and feel all of these things this year. I hope you and the boys are warm…
Hi there, Lisa! Spending the day in a warm, flowery, fragrant greenhouse sure would be a great antidote to the winter blues (or rather, whites). The boys are quite cozy, thanks: they’re wearing 2-inch-thick fleece coats, after all!
Lovely pictures. It’s just what I needed in this below zero weather we’re having.
I love to grow everything, but I have to say my favorite is herbs. I’ve been growing them for over 30 years. Remember when you couldn’t get them at the grocery store? We had a grower here called Sunnybrook Farms. They did mail order too. They carried the most unusual varieties. Sadly they are gone now.
I love bronze fennel too. I think it’s gorgeous. I dry the seeds. I’ve started drying the flowers too.
Good morning, Mel! It seems like herbs were very popular in the later 80s/early 90s, then kind of fell out of favor. I worked in an herb greenhouse back then, and it was the best job EVER. Seems like they are overdue to come back in favor, so maybe more growers will pick up on them again. It *is* neat to see cut herbs available at many grocery stores these days.
some beautiful pictures to break up winters drab days, and to help dream for spring :)) i always enjoy reading your posts and drooling over the beautiful plant combos!
I appreciate hearing that, Christine. Let’s hope that we will all get a break soon. At least the days are getting significantly longer now, and we’re closer to the end of winter than the beginning!
Hi Nan, Thank you for your faithfulness. I knew there would be something interesting in the mail on the 15th of the month. I look out at our ice covered pond and the surrounding dam, pasture, and paths into the woods covered with a light frosting of snow with a reading on the thermometer of less than 10 degrees F.
About 10 days ago I succumbed to the New Acquisitions shelf in the library (14 day limit) and got Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy’s new book “The Living Landscape”. Between that book and your blog I got views of the Eastern Pennsylvania area with which we’ve been so familiar. My husband Ed was born in Mt. Holly, NJ but moved across the Delaware into West Philly suburbs at age 3. We have 2 “children” (in their 50s now) and one grandchild (recent grad of American University) who are Westtown School graduates so we’ve gotten East at intervals over the years.
Our old farm has more commonalities with Rick Darke’s place than yours but my color sense becomes very moved by your combinations. The scale of growing herbs makes more sense for us when we look at the realities of Ed approaching his 90th birthday (March 12) and me about 7 years younger. I’m particularly affected emotionally by the red-violet/lime green contrasts in your combinations.
Thank you. Chris N.
Thank *you* for reading, Chris. I’m glad the pictures were of interest to you. Herbs do lend themselves well to containers and small gardens, where you can admire them up close and reach them easily for harvesting and maintenance (or just for petting). Best wishes to you both for the upcoming growing season!
Thank goodness for your cheery post on the most bitterly cold day ever in central Virginia. Trying not to look out the window–time to read your warming post again. I’m with Daniel and Duncan. How about some ultra-early flower photos?
Good to hear from you, Marcia! We’re up to 9 degrees F (-13C) here at the moment, which is about as high as we’re going to get, but at least it is sunny today. I promise: if I’ve nothing to show for Bloom Day, I’ll come up with some other way to work lots of color into my next post!
Thanks for bringing some sunshine into my day with your wonderful pictures and writing. You are a wealth of knowledge for me! I Love your books also. We are going to get snow again today :( But spring is on its way!
I wish I could send you some actual sunshine as well, Karen; it’s almost blinding here (fantastic for solar production, now that I’ve gotten some of the panels brushed off). It looks like we have another rough week coming up but milder temperatures after that; I hope it is the same for you. In the meantime, stay snug inside!
Nan, Thanks for the inspiration!
Good timing as we all need to see a bit of color as we dream of Spring.
Hi Carmelita! Going through my archives to find these images was a treat for me too. It seems like we’ve had snow on the ground for months now, so anything that isn’t white is welcome. Thanks for stopping by–and thanks for turning me on to All Things Plants, too!
Hi Nan, I loved seeing all of the beautiful flowers and foliage …it did my heart good! The perfect pick-me-up for February. Poor Daniel (I’m complaining too) and Duncan this goofy weather seems to be getting to everybody. We’ve actually had some really crazy weather here in January and February we’ve had weather that ranged from in the 60’s to minus 22 below zero. My perennials don’t know if they should grow up or down LOL! I loved the ‘Desert Coral’ coreopsis that was in one of your pictures …where did you find it and did you plant it from seed? I will have to keep my eyes open for either seeds or plants around here this spring. I have started ‘winter sowing’ some of my seeds in milk jugs (and putting them out in the snow on the patio) I’ve had really good luck using that method the past two years. They don’t actually germinate until the weather starts to warm, and the plants are much hardier than the greenhouse grown ones. Thanks again for your wonderful blog!
Hi Margie! I can just imagine your poor perennials poking up their leaves and then pulling them back underground when you get a cold snap. I think we’re much better off here, since it has been consistently cold.
The ‘Desert Coral’ coreopsis is vegetatively propagated, so you’ll need to start with a plant. Bluestone Perennials is the first source I came across in a quick Google search, but I’m sure you can find others, or maybe you can get it locally. It wasn’t hardy for me, but then, not many coreopsis overwinter well here.
Nan, thanks for the information …I’ll check the Bluestone Perennials web site and I’ll also keep my eyes open for this plant locally. I have had the Route 66 and Moonbeam coreopsis come back for several years now …but I don’t know if they survive the crazy weather extremes we’ve had so far this year. I’m in zone 5.
Oh, good to know. I’m guessing that ‘Desert Coral’ coreopsis is more like Zone 6 or 7, so I doubt it’s worth $13 plus shipping. But if you can find a starter plant locally for $5 or so, it could be worth growing as an annual.
Your post has reminded me of the value of mixing herbs in garden borders. I did that extensively in my former garden but, once I got a bigger garden with dedicated space for vegetables, I started segregating the herbs – it’s clearly time to break loose and set the herbs free as they mix so well. Cilantro/coriander does well here and I’ve found that the critters that chomp my lettuce and sugar snap peas steer clear of it so maybe it’ll be safe to spread it about the garden as a start – it flowers quickly here.
I hope you see an end to the winter storms soon, Nan, and that spring finds its way in!
I did the same thing, Kris: mixed my herbs with my flowers at first, then separated them when I finally had a place for a “proper” herb garden. But when I started sneaking flowers into the the herb garden, it seemed only fair to put some of the herbs back into the ornamental areas. I can tell you: if I were a bunny, I’d surely stay away from your lettuce and peas if I had to go through cilantro to reach them!
Hi, Nan. Just thought I’d say hi, without whining about our subzero temps. Trying . . .real . . . hard, Uh! Gasp! Is pineapple mint hardy for you?
I hear you, Kathy: I know you have it even worse than we do! Yes, pineapple mint is fully hardy for me. (Well, it has been so far; we’ll see it fares after this winter.)
Good luck getting through the rest of this bitter spell!
For once you seems to have worce winter than us! Here on the island Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea its have been a rather nice one without to much snow. In fact, for the last weeks its non at all and there is a fealing of spring in the air.
Thanks for the lovely photos and interesting comments.
Good to hear from you, Susie. You deserved to have a break this winter. May your mild weather continue and bring you a lovely early spring!
So beautiful and so inspiring ! Wish I’d had you 20 or 30 years ago … The pineapple mint… Not too invasive to let loose ?
Thanks, Amy! Hmmm…how to answer that: well, it does spread, but (here, anyway) not as quickly as peppermint or spearmint. And, it’s easy to spot, so you can keep an eye on it and start pulling it out if it looks to be getting away.
What a sight for my snow covered eyes! Thank you!
Happy to provide a bit of an antidote for your snowblindness, Elizabeth. I hope you’ll be seeing green in your garden soon!
Hi Nan. Thanks for the beautiful and inspiring post. I, too, have gone the same route with the herbs, flowers, dedicated kitchen garden cycle and am now back to planting more herbs in the ornamental gardens. Thanks for expanding my palette. Sorry to hear about the winter and hope you’ll be seeing signs of spring soon. We have had an exceptional one here. Have spent the last 3 weeks weeding, mulching, deadheading, mowing….it’s hard to keep up with it all esp. when so much needs dividing. Wondering how you people in colder climates cope with it all as when spring does come for you the garden seems to develop so quickly. Thanks again.
You are weeding…deadheading…MOWING???? What are these activities of which you speak? I have a vague idea of them, perhaps, but we’re so solidly frozen here that gardening activities are a distant memory. It’s good to know that they continue in some part of the world, anyway. May you enjoy your green and growing garden to the utmost!
Oh my, so many lovely combinations. You are so masterful at that, Nan! I always see something in your posts that inspires me and this time it is rue. I must figure out a good spot for that. It looks like it goes well with just about any plant!
Greetings, Jean. Yes, rue goes well with many companions. Just keep in mind that it may cause a serious skin rash if you get the oil on your skin. I have it right next to a path and like to brush against it to release the scent, and I’ve never had a problem, but it can apparently be nasty for some folks.
Lovely post and such pretty pictures! I’m attempting Roman Chamomile this year for the first time and hope to get the seeds planted soon. It’s nice to see some growing so nicely in your garden.
I hope it does really well for you. I don’t know which it better: the sweet-scented foliage or those charming little blooms. Either way, it’s a joy to have around.
Hi Nan: I just ordered your latest book through Amazon. If I had just ordered it sooner, I would be able to read it when today’s snow storm arrives. I am sure it will help to take away my frustration over this lengthy winter. I downloaded Deno’s information, and I want to thank you yet again for helping me to be a better gardener. I am just now expanding into plants which need stratification. I also learned about your Profield grit and wondered why it had not occurred to me. Since I winter sow, I could eliminate a step or two by including the grit you use. Brilliant! Thank you again for your vast knowledge, not to mention such incredible inspiration! Best wishes–Deb
Hi Deb! Your lovely message has really brightened this dreary day, while we too are waiting for the next round of snow on top of the slush and ice. I’m so happy that you found the seed germination info of use, and I wish you loads of happy, healthy seedlings to fill your gardens and share with others. I hope you like the book too! Rob’s photos will give you a much-needed dose of color while we’re waiting for proper spring weather.
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