On the Garden Path: Herbs

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Pineapple sage

You stand in the middle of your perfect garden, where colors shimmer, orioles trill in goldenrain trees, and water murmurs down the waterfall to a hidden pool where cloudy white water lilies float. What could be better?

You close your eyes and take a deep breath, but there’s no sweet fragrance of honey or spice wafting on the breeze. No third dimension of discovery for your garden. You need fragrant herbs!

And, oh what variety herbs offer. Not just the usual parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but the sweet-scented pineapple sage, licorice basil, marjoram, hyssop and wild ginger, as well as lemon basil, lemon grass, lemon mint, lemon thyme, lemon geranium and lemon verbena. In addition, many common perennials that were once used as herbs have scented foliage, such as yarrow, chrysanthemums and Russian sage.

Pineapple sage is one of my favorite herbs, even though it’s an annual. I don’t plant many annuals, but I do plant calla lilies and pineapple sage. The sage’s bright green leaves offer a sweet pineapple scent that isn’t too overbearing.

The plant also bears tubelike scarlet flowers that attract hummingbirds. And the leaves can be used to flavor pork and poultry. Or, for a pleasant scent, dried leaves can be burned.

Two other sages with color and panache are tricolor sage and variegated purple sage. Both have leaves variegated with white and give off a warm, dusty scent, and both have purple blossoms.

For a nice, nonblooming herb, try Artemisia ‘Silver Mound,’ a low-growing, silver-leaved plant that is sometimes sea green, sometimes white, depending on what light you see it by. The plant is soft, and it has a vague lemon scent, but without the sharpness. The blooms aren’t much, so I always cut them off.

Thyme makes a great groundcover around footpaths, where the crushed leaves will fill the air with a spicy scent. And since they are vigorous growers, they don’t seem to mind a little traffic.

If you have a brick patio, try taking out a brick here and there, scooping out some sand, filling the hole with soil and planting thyme there, where it will spread onto the bricks. Lay a little mulch around it until the plant makes its own mulch of leaves.