Create a Garden Border out of Herbs

Outline your garden with perennial herbs (lavender, rosemary and thyme) for a visual stunner

Credit: Carol Pope

Use herbs to create a fragrant, bee-supporting, deer-proof hedge that even provides kitchen seasonings

Plant herbs to create a structured border that will be visually stunning

When I first stood back and had a good look at the soil-filled rockery we created to line our compressed-limestone driveway, I was a little worried about how long it might take me to plant it up. But instead of panicking, I thought about that all-important adage, “Right Plant, Right Place.”

This particular lengthy but narrow bed had so-so, somewhat-sandy local soil (not the super-fancy manure-rich option that had to be trucked in from much farther away, using more fossil fuels). It was a raised garden and extremely well-drained, with a southwest exposure. And, perhaps most notably, it was unfenced and right in the midst of a deer freeway. 

My wishes were to have long swathes of perennial plantings, summer colour, solid foliage that would suppress weeds, and year-round structure. And if our zone-6 garden could also sustain Mediterranean herbs, these are among the plants I aspire to grow lots of.

A Garden of Rosemary, Thyme and Lavender

Since visiting Italy years ago and sitting in gardens of sun-soaked culinary herbs, almost dizzy with the scents dallying about me, I’ve been pining for a sizable and statuesque garden of rosemary, thyme and lavender.

In a previous home located at a higher altitude, this seemed undoable, with my lavender and rosemary seldom surviving the cold slap of winter; in this spot, however, my test rosemary hasn’t even winced and the lavender plants seem unstoppable: as long as I am careful to prune them at the right time.

Because I like the look of their seedheads throughout the fall, we clip them every March or April, once we’re sure the frost has finished and we’re into the growing season. One spring of clipping them too early set them back and even did in a couple, a mistake never to be repeated by me.

Creating a Herb Border

While my border still needs a touch-up here and there, I’m happiest with it where I stuck to this simple theme:

  • The front is lined with thyme (Thymus vulgaris), which is easy to grow from seed or cuttings, or go ahead and buy plants if you just want some immediate impact.
  • Next, Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), much of which I rooted myself, stands tall.
  • Wherever the bed widens, we’ve also added in rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lots of it as it is frequently trimmed for kitchen use.

And as a backdrop, statuesque foxgloves (which I want to note for good measure are not among the edibles in this hedge, being highly poisonous) spring up and self seed, and a smattering of drought-hardy native fir trees (rescued from other areas of our yard) grow a good foot or so every spring.

For additional filler plants, we rely on Calamintha nepeta, rose campion, Shasta daisies and feverfew. These perennials are reliable and prolific, but all require trimming back in the late fall or else they look scraggly. They’re best tucked in behind the lovely lavender and thyme that hold their own year in, year out.