There are numerous beautiful flowering plants which we may not readily associate with the herb category. Many medicinal herbs are very decorative and the more lavish varieties tend to be cultivated relatives of their plainer counterparts, such an example is Tanacetum parthenium ‘Tetrawhite’ (double flowering feverfew). This is a cousin of common feverfew (T. parthenium) which has golden foliage and single daisy flowers. But beware it has a self-seeding nature!
The annual salad herb ‘Chop-suey greens’ is actually a Chrysanthemum. The young leaves should be harvested when they are 2” to 3” long. They have a strong, unique flavour and can be added sparingly to salads and oriental stir-fries. An extra bonus with this plant is that later in the season it produces startling yellow daisies on sturdy stems. These are ideal for cutting and can also be used for salad/plate decoration.
The well known medicinal St John’s wort belongs to the Hypericum genus. This has many showy relatives such as the shrub H. hidcote and the invasive creeper H. calycinum (Rose of Sharon). All produce plenty of yellow blossoms throughout the summer and are often semi evergreen.
One of my favourite groups is the delightful poppy family. The medicinal Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) which has been the source of morphine has many ornamental relatives, all producing impressive flowers and decorative seed pods. I once grew the Hungarian blue seed poppy whose violet flowers are really beautiful. The seed is treasured by bread makers and the pods can be used as seed shakers. There are lots of other varieties producing a rainbow of colour. The Oriental poppy and the Iceland poppy are the two most recent I have enjoyed growing from seed, and they have served me well.
A selection of thymes will provide lots of colour. Many are mat forming and produce stunning flowers from pink to red. These can be used to edge pathways, containers or rockeries. Their aromas will up-lift the spirit of the garden and increase honey bee activity. These herbs enjoy full sun in a sandy soil. Thymus citriodorus varegata ‘Aurea’ aka gold variegated lemon thyme is extremely pretty and has a reputation for being hardy hence it is often referred to as ‘winter thyme’.
To create a themed herb garden, boundaries may be inter-planted with honeysuckle and roses. Pathways and low borders can be enhanced with lavenders, hyssops or sages.
‘I know that if odour were visible, as colour is, I’d see the summer garden in rainbow clouds’ Robert Bridges.