Herb Your Enthusiasm

Let These Seasonal Gems Bring Versatility To Your Garden


We often associate herbs with their ability to brighten a spring meal, spice up your favorite cocktail or maybe even offer potential health benefits—but as you dig deeper, the possibilities that this group of plants brings to the table are seemingly endless!

For Mary Nell Jackson, Collin County Master Gardener Herb Specialist and member of the Herb Society of America, herbs have long been a fascination. As an empty nester, she was drawn to the garden more and more, consuming as much information as she could about culinary herbs and the value they bring to the home and garden.

“I checked out as many herb books as the library would allow and began my herbal education journey. at was 28 years ago and I am still learning!” Jackson says. “Herbs were such mysterious plants to me, surrounded by almost a mystic fairy legacy. is was just the challenge I was searching for in my gardening and today the challenge is still on.”

Photos courtesy of photoshelter


Whether you are a new green thumb or an experienced gardener looking to grow more utilitarian plants, Jackson believes there are some truly noteworthy herbal plants worth growing in your Texas garden or landscape.

“There are many ways to use herbs—culinary, medicinal, [in] crafting. This is why the definition of an herb [as] ‘a useful plant’ makes [them] so intriguing to gardeners the world over,” says Jackson. Herbs are often as beautiful as they are functional and can be planted in an ornamental setting by using traditional design principles. To get started, consider substituting the regionally adapted herbs listed here for currently unproductive or struggling plant material.

Aside from their beauty, many herbs can also serve as multiplefunction plants with several uses. Jackson appreciates herbs for their healing properties.*

“Herbs can be brewed as teas, applied to the skin as gels, lotions, and cream and added to bath water or foot baths. Herb gardeners nd many uses for even the easiest herbs to grow: a cup of mint tea is a delight!” she says.

*It’s always best to seek a medical practitioner’s advice before treating a severe medical condition.


Jackson also likes to branch out, experimenting with more unique herbs . . . and spices. The distinction involves which part of the plant you are consuming. The leafy parts of stronger flavored botanicals are most often referred to as herbs, while spices typically originate from the seeds or sometimes the owers, bark, or roots. (In the case of cilantro, you can harvest both herb and spice from the same plant.) When it comes to the renowned spice saron (Crocus sativus), the most sought-after edible plant parts are the stigmas, or longer red female parts of the flower.

“Who wouldn’t want to grow the most expensive spice in the world!” says Jackson. She reports that their corms (bulb-like root structures) are becoming more available for sale in North Texas and can also be ordered from plant catalogs. ey are best planted in fall and oen bloom six to eight weeks after planting (save this article as a reminder!). Each corm produces just one flower, and each flower only produces three stigmas, which explains the spice’s high retail cost. However, when grown in the herb garden, each year the corms can be divided, eventually developing into larger and larger groupings.

“You will be surprised at how easy it is to grow and how the blooms magically appear,” Jackson says, encouragingly.


Perennial herbs (typically live three or more years)


Lavenders are one of Jackson’s favorite herb plants, but they are not all created equal. She reports that although English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is often easier to find in North Texas, her personal favorites are hybrid cultivars ‘Phenomenal’ and ‘Sensational’ (Lavandula x intermedia) which are not only cold hardy, but also tend to grow better (and live longer) in our wetter, more humid seasons.


Rosemary is one of the easiest herbs to grow, as long as you give it plenty of sunlight and good drainage. Jackson recommends planting this shrub/subshrub with a sunny, southwestern exposure and in a sloped area where excess water naturally flows away from the plant. To increase their longevity, plant the most cold hardy cultivars ‘Arp’ or ‘Hills Hardy’ or the trailing form ‘Huntington Carpet.’


Like its cousin rosemary, the shrubby culinary sage prefers full sun and soils that drain well after heavy rainfall. Like other Mediterranean herbs, sages grow best on sloping southern exposures. In addition to their silvery foliage, they produce beautiful blooms (like others in the Salvia genus) for both people and pollinators to enjoy. Try cold hardy ‘Berggarten’ or the colorful foliage of cultivars ‘Purpurascens’ (with purple hues) or ‘Tricolor,’ which has variegations of pink and cream which contrast its gray-green leaves.


Yet another Mediterranean herb, oreganos are a great utilitarian perennial. These semi-evergreen, sprawling subshrubs have good heat and drought tolerance in addition to small pinkish white flowers that rise above the foliage in summer. For best flavor and a more ornamental look, try shearing plants back regularly before they flower to keep the plant full and to induce growth of new leaves.


Thyme is a low-growing culinary herb, prized for its rich, scented leaves and its whorls of tiny lilac-hued flowers— attractive to people and pollinators alike. The dark green leaves reach their aromatic peak just before flowering. Leaves are frequently used fresh or dried as a seasoning in a variety of culinary applications, including as a seasoning to add aromas to chicken or fish. Fresh sprigs may also be used as a garnish in tea or cocktails.


This clump-forming member of the onion family is great for both culinary and ornamental purposes. Its gray-green leaves grow up to 12 inches long and are used in cooking in the same manner as onion chives but have more of a garlicky kick. The small clusters of star-shaped white flowers rise above stems from late summer into fall. Because it seeds readily, small plantings expand rather quickly; deadhead after blooming to keep them in check. The leaves can be used in any way chives or green onions are used to add mild garlic flavor to uncooked dishes where raw garlic might be too overpowering.

Annual and biennial herbs (must be replanted each year/ every two years)


One of Jackson’s prized annual herbs is basil. Unlike the perennial herbs mentioned above, basil needs to be replanted each spring after the danger of the last frost has passed, and can be easily grown until fall’s first freeze. “My favorite is ‘Lettuce Leaf’ (Ocimum basilicum),” Jackson says. “I love this large-leaf variety for its sweet flavor and size for summer sandwiches (instead of lettuce) using fresh grown tomatoes!” ‘Genovese’ is another prized selection. Jackson reports that this heirloom has been cultivated since prehistoric times and first became available in the U.S. when the early colonists introduced it from Europe.


Cilantro is technically a biennial (with a two-year life cycle) but it generally thrives only in the cooler seasons, so is often treated as a cool-season annual. It can be planted in early spring, then fizzles out as temperatures rise in the summer. A favorite for Mexican and Asian cuisines, this herbal plant is also a spice. After their beautiful white flowers fade, they produce seeds which are commonly called coriander. If you leave some of the seeds on the plant, they can easily reseed and persist in the garden year after year, harvested in spring and fall. Cilantro is generally cold hardy to 10°F, so can actually last deeper into winter in some years.


Dill is another biennial plant that grows well when planted in the cooler seasons but tends to struggle in the summer heat. It can be transplanted in early spring and grows well if given protection from the western sun, producing until summer temperatures soar. In addition to harvesting the leaves for your favorite recipes, use the summer seeds as a great addition to pickles. You might also try fall planting in September for harvest before the first freeze.


A close relative of dill, fennel has similar growing seasons and requirements, and is best treated as a cool-season annual. It can be planted after the danger of the last frost in spring (usually mid-March). Or it can be planted again as temperatures begin to cool in the fall. The flavor is sweeter, with licorice undertones, while the leaves, swollen base, and seeds are all utilized for cooking.


Mary Nell Jackson offers tips to ensure success in the herb garden. Before planting, research your plants’ needs. Identify a garden location with the right amount of sunlight. To grow most herbs, you need at least 6 hours of sun in your planting area.

Prepare the soil. Because many herbs prefer well-draining soil, amending with compost is often the best way to ensure your plants’ “feet” don’t stay too wet. Incorporate up to 2 inches of compost into the top 6 inches of soil, especially in areas where poor-draining clay soil is prominent.

Visit local plant nurseries. Jackson recommends seeing what’s available BEFORE you make an impulse buy. Instead, she suggests buying (or checking out) an herb reference book and reading about the herbs you might want to plant. Focus on the plants listed above, or those that thrive in the climate and soils of your area.

Now go shopping! Start small. Jackson suggests beginners select three herbs at a time to more easily familiarize yourself with each plant. After planting your herbs, check on them regularly during establishment to see that they have proper growing conditions. Once you have a grasp on their upkeep, try establishing a few more, and grow from there!

+ posts

Daniel Cunningham, Horticulturist with Texas A&M AgriLife's Water University program. His primary focus is a holistic approach to landscaping and food production systems. Cunningham specializes in Texas native plants and trees, vegetable gardening, edible landscaping, rainwater harvesting and is passionate about utilizing landscapes as habitat for benecial wildlife. For more gardening advice om Daniel, tune in to NBC DFW (Channel 5) on Sunday mornings or ask @TxPlantGuy on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.