Growing Herbs Outdoors? Try These 7 Garden Themes
Add Thyme Plant and Many More Herbs to Create Themed Gardens
By Gayle, Blossom’s Herb Farm – We are all inspired to plant a gigantic vegetable garden every year to cut costs at the grocery store. But have you ever thought about combining your hobby with your landscape? By growing herbs outdoors as well as perennials you can do double duty. Did you know that landscape gardening can add 10 percent to the total value of your home?
When you decide to add a new planting bed, think about what you like to do in your spare time. I enjoy tackling soap making recipes and homemade toiletries, so I started growing herbs outdoors that I dry and use in my homemade concoctions. If you are a weaver and would like to start using natural dyes for wool, then start growing herbs outdoors that will serve as dye plants.
For my church this year I was planning to donate a Bible garden. Not only will it be there to touch and feel for the students, but the students can look up passages that go with each plant. If your religion is different and you’re in touch with Mother Nature, then plant yourself a garden full of Wicca herbs that you can use in your rituals.
A medicinal garden is a good theme as one never knows when an ailment or condition may arise. Passionflower (headache treatment), lemon balm (depression treatment), and lavender (insomnia treatment) are just a few of the common herbs in a medicinal garden.
Another one of my favorites is my hummingbird and butterfly garden. I just sit back and listen to the rumble of the hummingbirds. Remember butterflies need to lay their young on host plants so plant a few extras of their favorites to allow the caterpillars to feast on. The number of theme gardens is endless. I’ve listed a few ideas here:
Many plants attract hummingbirds, but the best attractants are tubular in shape and many are red, although that’s not always the case. As long as you provide nectar sources from late spring through the first frost, convenient places for them to nest (willows), perch, and of course a water source, they will visit. Here are a few suggestions: Ladybells, snapdragon, columbine, butterflyweed, bee balm, false indigo, butterflybush, dianthus, foxglove, daylily, coralbell, heucherella, hibiscus, hosta, lobelia, maltese cross, catnip, catmint, beardstongue, phlox, obedient plant, willow, salvia, veronica, honeysuckle, and clematis.
To have a successful butterfly garden you need to provide both nectar and host plants, a water source (a shallow dish with a few rocks) and places for hiding and resting. After mating the females will seek out specific “host plants” in which they will lay their eggs and the hatched caterpillars will then eat. For example, Monarch caterpillars will only feed on butterfly weeds (also known as the milkweed plant). So it is quite important to provide both host and nectar plants in your garden. The caterpillar will then shed its skin and transform into a chrysalis and firmly attach itself to a host plant over winter.
Take care when tidying up your garden for winter not to disturb chrysalides, caterpillars or eggs. It is better to cut down your perennial garden in spring.
The following is a list of both nectar and host plants: Achillea, allium, antirrhinum, aquilegia, armeria, artemesia, ascelepia, boltonia, buddleia, campanula, caryopteris, centranthus, chelone, coreopsis delphinium, dianthus, digitalis, echinacea, erigerion, erynigium, eupatorium, foeniciculum, gaillardia, gaura, helenium, hemerocallis, hypericum, hyssops, inula; leucanthemum, liatris, lobelia, lychnis, lysimachia, malva, monarda, nepeta, origanum, penstemon, perovskia, phlox, physotegia, rudbekia, rue, salix, salvia, sedum, sempervivum, thalictrum, thymus, valeriana, veronica, veronicastrum, humulus, loncera, campsis, loncera, and viola.
A “Perfect Cup of Tea” Theme
Pick two tablespoons fresh herbs per cup of tea or one to two teaspoons of dried herb per cup. Bruise herbs with a wooden spoon, place in a teapot and pour boiling water over the herbs. Cover and let steep for about 15-20 minutes.
Plant and combine any of the following to make your own special herb brew. Yarrow, hyssop, lemon verbena, calendula, German chamomile, clove, pineapple sage, betony, stevia, thyme, and lavender.
The following plants historically provided color for fabrics and wool, but many times a mordant will be needed to get the right colors. (Consult a book for color achievement.) Yarrow, Roman chamomile, calendula, elecampane, horsetail, bronze fennel, sweet woodruff, lady bedstraw, St. John’s Wort, woad, bay tree, catnip, parsley, weld, rosemary, madder, black-eyed Susan, rue, sage, betony, comfrey, feverfew, tansy, or hops.
Herbal Bath Theme
Smoothing, soothing, and hydrating to the skin, herbal baths are a perfect antidote to combat impure air and water conditions. The basic bath is to place ½ cup of any combination of herbs in a non-metallic pot, add water to cover. Bring to boil, simmer 10-20 minutes to extract the wonderful benefits. Strain. Pour the fragrant brew into your warm—not hot— bathwater. Perspiring does not allow the absorption of the herbal nutrients. Try planting a few in a pot or in the ground. Lavender, mints, sages, chamomile, thymes, calendula, hops, parsley, basil, rosemary, roses, savory catnip, strawberry leaves, marshmallow, bay, verbena, comfrey.
Mix up a combination of herbs, dry thoroughly, and make into sachets to tuck into dark, creepy corners. Wormwood, southernwood, costmary, hyssop, rue, bay tree, lavender, peppermint, pennyroyal, spearmint, catnip, patroulli, mountain mint, rosemary, sage, santolina, tansy, thyme.
Herbs are wonderful plants, but remember there is a dark side to all good things. Be careful when self-medicating. We make no recommendations or claims, but this is a list of plants that were used throughout history. (Ed. Note: Check with your physician for any possible herb/drug interactions.) With a little study, you can come up with mini medicinal theme gardens such as sleepy time herbs, headache herbs, cold herb garden, arthritis garden, etc.
If you have an ailment, a group of historically used herbs to suit you needs might consist of: Yarrow, oxknee, sweet flag, calamus, snow on the mountain, hyssop, lady’s mantel, garden chive, marshmallow, lemon verbena, chamomile, American arnica, mugwort, French tarragon, pleurisy root, New England aster, false indigo, wild indigo, calendula, German chamomile, costmary, black cohosh, coneflower, rattlesnake master, hemp agrimony, Joe-pye weed, Queen of the Meadow, bronze fennel, Sweet woodruff, lady bedstraw, bigfoot geranium, ginkgo tree, Russian licorice, Japanese blood grass, chameleon plant, St. John’s Wort, blue hyssop, bay tree, lavender, motherwort, lobelia, horehound, lemon balm, mint, bee balm, catnip, Russian sage, parsley, balloon flower, jie geng, garden sage, soapwort, Jing-Jie/Japanese Catnip, skullcap, betony, stevia, comfrey, feverfew, tansy, thyme, coltsfoot, valerian, mullein, vervain, culver’s root, passionflower vine, oregano, mallow, rue, rosemary, violet.
Other ideas are culinary, beer making, cut flowers, dried flowers, rock gardens, fairy gardens … endless possibilities. With all the hobbies out there I am sure you can attach a gardening theme to your passions in life.
Happy gardening and enjoy growing herbs outdoors for all your hobbies.
Originally published in Countryside March/April 2001 issue and regularly vetted for accuracy.