Last year, I planted some herbs around my new birdbath, and they soon stole my heart with their simple charm and delightful fragrances. Of course, I promised myself that I would grow lots more of them next year, and I have spent much of this winter pondering where to put them! I would really like to give them a garden of their own, but I simply don’t have the room. Not to mention that the grand and formal 16th century herb garden I am envisioning would look just a little odd in the midst of my decidedly messy flower gardens! It seems that the only option left to me is to grow them amongst my flowers, but I have decided that this is not such an unfitting place for them after all!
I’ve always had a few herbs among my flowers. Last year, I was struck by the beautiful (and somewhat accidental) combination of Catnip and Sweet William. It was lovely! Later in the summer, one of my Petunias made its way into the Catnip foliage, which was also quite pretty.This year is going to be an experiment to see just how many herbs I can tuck in among my flowers, and I am eager to see what these combinations will look like!
But there is another reason why I feel that herbs are not wholly out of place in the flower garden, and vice versa. First of all, what is an herb? I agree with Louise Beebe Wilder, who writes that, “a plant, to deserve the name must serve a use, other than a decorative one”. She goes on to say that those used “in medicine, for salads, for flavoring, and even those said to be invested with magic working powers, might properly be included”. But then she warns us that “if one seeks a list of those in the old herbals, it will be of such a length that no garden could hold them, and if it could, would differ little from an ordinary flower garden”. Since I am just as interested in a plant’s historical uses as present, I am finding that most of my flowers could fit into this category. Even in Mrs. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, I was delighted to find such familiar flowers as Heartsease, Love-lies-bleeding, Foxglove, Sweet Rocket, Forget-me-not, Peony, Iris, Lupine, and Heliotrope! And of course, to quote Mrs. Wilder again, “there is no reason why for each of us the herb garden should not have a special meaning and manifestation”.
So, while I still love the “proper” herb garden, I wonder if we ought to consider planting more of the traditional herbs amongst our flowers. I look forward to sharing more photos of herbs in my garden next summer!