My latest passion is growing herbs in ornamental pots. I began, like many gardeners do, by purchasing ceramic pocket pots, the kind of containers with pockets for parsley, thyme, oregano, etc. After a time, I realized that I needed a larger scope for my herbs and began to see the design possibilities of evergreen rosemary bushes and lavender.
The unexpected demise of the boxwood I had featured in two large urns flanking my front porch led to my planting rosemary in their place. I combined the rosemary bushes with cascading thyme and sage plants for color and textural variety. I have found that these herbs overwinter very well in the sunny shelter of my driveway and front door.
I can enjoy these fragrant evergreens right through the winter, and pop out to break off a bit of herb whenever I want to add them to a meal.
Growing herbs in containers is very easy. Any container is suitable for growing herbs as long as it has a drainage hole. Herbs must have good drainage—most herbs do not like their feet to stay wet. Therefore, the soil you use should be loose and friable. Mixing an equal part of potting soil, peat moss and perlite (or vermiculite) will ensure your herbs’ happy feet.
The choice of herbs to use in container gardening is really unlimited. You can choose, as I do, to combine herbs for an ornamental effect, making sure that at least three of your herbs are evergreen. I have included links for each of the herb varieties I will mention,-linking to websites with good information on the plants. One of my most successful combinations involved the use of a large rosemary bush with variegated sage and lemon thyme as evergreen components and Purple Ruffles basil and Thai basil as annuals.
Themed combinations are also lovely in an ornamental pot. A “tea” themed herb planting of lemon balm, pineapple sage, golden lemon thyme, chamomile, and “stevia” (that sugar sweet plant that is now a non-sugar sweetener) would make a lovely combination.
A “salad” theme could include variegated or tri-colored sage, oregano, basil, dill and thyme.
An ornamental pot devoted to “scented plants” could include lavender, rosemary, scented geraniums, thymes, and mint. Either the lavender bush or rosemary bush could provide the height needed for a well designed ornamental scheme; while the scented geraniums would provide a variety of colorful blooms, and the thyme or mint would cascade in a lovely trailing fall.
A bonus to growing herbs in ornamental containers is that pots can be moved about your yard to take the best advantage of whatever sunlight you can catch.
You will be amazed at the variety of even commonplace herbs such as basil. All our local nurseries, as well as the big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowes, carry a variety of herbs. If you want to explore the more interesting cultivars such as ‘Valentino’ basil; ‘Purple ruffles’ basil; Spicy globe basil; ‘Magical Michael’ basil or dwarf bush basil or other interesting herbs such as winter savory; ‘tri-color’ sage; ‘purpurea’ sage or ‘curly’ sage you might want to visit Cravens Nursery on Route 50 in Fairfax, or Debaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly. If you are up for a trip to Debaggio’s make sure to get there by July 1st— they close for the year on that date — and they don’t reopen until next spring.
Eleni Silverman is a Master Gardener, Vice President of the Belle Haven Garden Club, Chair of the Landscape Committee at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and author of the garden blog "Belle Haven Garden Maven." She admits to a fascination with all things gardening, believes even compost is engaging, and will eagerly discuss the relative merits of leaf mold versus hardwood mulch.