I have always included herbs in my gardens, a tradition that started when I was introduced to the crisp, clean camphor aroma of an upright rosemary bush some 40-odd years ago at the Houston Garden Center in Hermann Park. I have expanded my culinary palette over the years to include the standard ‘Mediterranean’ types of herbs that we bring into our kitchen: parsley, sage, oregano and thyme to name a few. We must not ignore a nutritional component involved with gardening herbs; they flavor foods while helping us cut back on using less salt, fat and sugar in our diets. This practice follows the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service initiative Path to Plate, a research-based education program that helps consumers understand how their food choices impact their health.
While I enjoy including herbs as an accent for my daily meals, I also want to remind our readership of the benefits of adding herbs as an accent to the landscape. There is a gardening trend referred to as edible landscaping, a practice that brings a unique approach to garden design. Treating herbs as you would ornamental plants in a garden design has its advantages: like ornamentals, herbs come in various heights, leaf texture, and leaf and flower color. One very good species example is basil.
Whether you use it as a base for your pesto or spice on your pizza, basil cultivars can be bold in stature and flavor. I favor basil that exhibits large, sweet anise-flavored leaves measuring 3-inches long by 2-inches wide. Most of these types are generically names with titles like ‘Sweet Basil’ or ‘Green-leaf Basil’, and an exception is one named ‘Genovese’. Make sure to read the package to relate the description for taste; you want to meet your expectations for flavor by purchasing the correct variety. ‘Genovese’ is a tad stronger than ‘Sweet’, and varieties like long-leaved ‘Siam Queen’ is bold and more pungent. Consider height as well: some of the basil’s previously described provide a canopy up to 2-feet. On the opposite end of the spectrum is small-leaved, uniform and compact basil titled ‘Boxwood’ coming in at 10-inches in height and more appropriate in the edible landscape as a garden border.
Regarding design for your edible landscape, you may consider mixing up your color palette with dark purple-leaved varieties. ‘Purple Ruffles’ offers an almost black frilly skirt with extremely wavy margins on large, pointed leaves and standing at attention at 1.5-feet tall. Purple Ruffles has a fragrance and flavor stronger than Sweet Basil. ‘Petra Dark Red’ offers large, glossy, dark purple-red and a bit more tame leaves (margins are less crenulate) with a very mild undercoating of pale green and mild, sweet taste. This basil’s canopy also reaches to 1.5-feet. Letting this plant form flower stalks adds to the contrast, with deep purple-colored wands dancing in the wind. ‘Round Midnight’ rounds out the reds, providing a smaller stature at 1-feet and dense canopy than the other purple basils.
This article just begins to scratch the surface of the variety of different types of herbs that one can incorporate into their home landscape. Aggie Horticulture is a good resource for research focusing on individual herbs and accessed online: aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu. Choose the icon/link ‘Vegetables Resources’ that hosts a library of fact sheets on individual herb species. The Herb Society of America – South Texas Unit has a chapter that meets regularly in Houston at the Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion in Hermann Park. Find more info of their meetings and activities at: www.herbsociety-stu.org. I invite you to share your ideas and successes in your garden by browsing online to my Facebook webpage: facebook.com/stephenbhorticulturist, as well as keeping up with programs and activities promoted from Brazoria County AgriLife Extension. Let the spice of herbs bring flavor and health to you and see you in the garden.