May 9, 2002
Grower's Six Pack:
Herbs - Beneficial and ornamental

By Robert Bathgate, Richters Herbs

Herbs are plants that have some culinary, medicinal or domestic use, such as dyes, insect repellent or scents. They have been part of the gardening realm for thousands of years. Frequently, when we think of herbal history, we think only in terms of how useful they can be. What we often forget is how beautiful they are. There is a great satisfaction that gardeners have in knowing that a well designed garden can also be a medicine chest, a provider of teas, a source to enhance your culinary efforts and provide the gift of aroma. It is a most personal aspect, which a mere visitor to a garden will never take in.

     At this point in time, we face hotter and dryer summers. Most herbs thrive under these conditions. The sun develops the natural oils of the herbs, and the stronger and better these oils are, the more we benefit from these herbs. Some herbs are excellent as a ground cover as they manage to hold moisture in the soil. Roses, which are a part of the herbal family, do very well underplanted with herbs; for example, fassens catnip, lavender or garlic chives, which are beautiful and repel aphids.

     We should also remember that gardens are habitats for birds, beneficial insects and bees, and herbs provide very well for environment and food. Things like angelica, anise hyssop, bergamots, sages, sweet woodruff, thymes, chamomile, comfrey and borage would be handsome and excellent choices.

     Every year, there are some new potential favourites introduced, such as the beautiful Sweet Pear Mint with the aroma of ripe pears, and Maralroot, which is used to boost endurance and concentration and looks like an elegant thistle.

     When planning a formal bed, consider using something like curly parsley as an edging - lush, green and usable. Five-foot plumes of Bronze Fennel taste like dill and anise but look like look burnished filigree metal in sunlight. Camphor Southernwood is gray-white in colour and makes a great insecticide, but also makes a wonderful foil for bright flowering perennials. Cardoon is a magnificent architectural plant to mark an entrance to a garden. The new Yo-Yo Ma Music Garden, a beautiful garden in Toronto, uses mixed herbal and other material, and is really worth a look.

Salvia sclarea turkestanica alba
Clary, White Turkestan

Biennial with showy white papery bracts. Self seeding. Seeds soaked in water produce an eyebath. Good soil and sunny situation.
Zones 4 to 9.

Tanacetum (Chrysanthemum) parthenium

This has become known as the migraine herb. One to four leaves infused in a tea brings great relief to migraine sufferers. Beautiful in a perennial border, feverfew blooms all season if deadheaded. Golden variety is more compact and spectacular. Tolerant of shade but better in full sun.
Zones 5 to 9.

Humulus lupulus

A well-known flavouring for beer that produces an excellent calming effect, this fast-growing vine can be used to cover bowers or unsightly views. Likes good soil, sun and water.
Zones 3 to 8.

Artemiasia ludoviciana 'Silver King'
Used for diarrhea, headaches and ceremonial smudging, Silver King Wormwood, with its lovely ghost-like flowers and attractive foliage is an excellent plant for drying or as a wonderful foil for other brightly coloured plants. Likes a sunny situation.
Zones 5 to 9. Wormwood 'Powis Castle' is also an excellent drought-tolerant ornamental.

Lavandula augustifolia 'Lady'
Lady Lavender

Used for centuries in potpourris, dried sachets and as an insect repellent, this strain is heavy blooming with somewhat blue flowers. Likes well drained and sunny situation.
Zones 6 to 8.

Verbena hastata
Blue Vervain

Blue Vervain has a tranquilizing effect and is very useful for insomnia. Showy blue flower spikes. Likes damp and sunny situations.
Zones 3 to 9.