Many of us grow herbs for their culinary medicinal value – but why not grow herbs that also look good in the garden too?
Despite the popularity of sun- and heat-loving herbs like lavender and rosemary, there are many herbs that can be grown in shady aspects, too, so you can achieve beautiful borders and containers in sun or shade.
At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, we asked growers to highlight some of their favourite ornamental herbs, which offer attractive foliage and/or flowers. Find out more, below.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Bright green Angelica flowers
This architectural plant, which can exceed 2m in height, is equally at home in the border or the herb garden. Angelica archangelica prefers, moist, humus-rich soil in dappled shade. Its stems and roots are edible.
Australian mint bush (Prosanthera rotundifolia)
Purple-flowering Australian mint bush
In late spring, this tender shrub is smothered in bell-shaped, purple flowers. Its foliage has a very strong menthol smell, and the leaves can be used in oils and infusions. Prostanthera rotundifolia reaches around 2m tall and needs protection in a cool greenhouse over winter.
Creeping pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Creeping pennyroyal foliage
This tiny, low-growing mint looks lovely planted in cracks in a pathway, and is said to repel ants and mice. It’s similar to spearmint and has purple-lilac flowers in summer. In Spain creeping pennyroyal is traditionally added to black pudding and to sausages.
Curled mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa)
Crinkle-edged leaves of curled mint
This unusual mint has smaller leaves than other mints, with attractive, curly-edged leaves. It has a spearmint flavour and can be used in mint sauces, desserts and drinks. It produces small spikes of lilac flowers in summer. Grow curled mint in shade and keep well watered.
White dittany flowers
Dittany is known as the gas plant or burning bush, as a flammable gas can evaporate from it in hot weather. This hardy perennial has spikes of white or pale purple flowers. It’s a good border plant and likes a sunny spot. The roots were traditionally used to treat skin conditions.
Hedge germander (Teucrium x lucidrys)
Textural hedge germander foliage
This shrub is often used in knot gardens, as it responds well to clipping in spring or autumn, and can make a good alternative to box. It also makes a good hedge and has purple-pink flowers in summer. Hedge germander can be used to flavour liqueurs, vermouths and tonic wines.
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium yezoense var. hidakanum ‘Purple Rain’)
Purple flowering Jacob’s Ladder ‘Purple Rain’
Jacob’s Ladder used to be used for all kind of medicinal purposes but today, it’s mostly grown as an ornamental. This variety has unusual bronze leaves and bright blue flowers and makes an excellent border plant.
Pygmy borage (Borago pygmaea)
star-shaped white flowers of dwarf borage
Borage can reach a quite a size in the garden, so if space is at a premium, try this dwarf variety, which reaches 30cm x 30cm. The star-shaped blue or white flowers have a cucumber taste and can be added to summer drinks and salads. Bees adore it.
Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
Salad burnet in bloom
This semi-evergreen perennial has small, red, globe-shaped flowers and leaves that have a cucumber flavour – use it in salads. Salad burnet does best in sun or partial shade and makes a great border filler. If you’re growing it for its foliage, remove the flowering shoots.
Woad (Isatis tinctoria)
A mass of tiny yellow woad flowers
This hardy perennial has a froth of yellow flowers in late spring that are reminiscent of oil seed rape or rocket flowers. It’s a member of the brassica family and reaches 3-4ft so is good for the back of the border. Woad roots used to be fermented to make a blue dye.
More unusual herbs to grow
Puple shiso leaves
- Shiso (pictured) – also called perilla. A sun-loving herb with a flavour that combines mint and cinnamon
- Winter savory (Satureja montana) – a perennial, semi-evergreen herb with summer flowers and a peppery flavour
- Ajmud (Carum roxburghianum) – grown for its seeds and leaves that can be used in curries and chutneys
- Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) – the leaves of this annual herb have a flavour somewhere between rocket and coriander
- Stridolo (Silene inflata) – a fast-growing perennial herb used in Italy to flavour dishes