There is no shortage of plant choices when planning an herb garden. The most popular herbs are grown for their culinary qualities, although many varieties are also quite beautiful as landscape plants. Growing herbs in containers allows for easier care and management. Container-grown perennial herbs can also be brought indoors in cooler weather to ensure a fresh supply through the winter.
With so many culinary uses, basil is an important element of any herb garden. Fresh sweet basil is the key ingredient in many classical Italian dishes. This flavorful herb loves plenty of sunshine and water, but good drainage is essential to avoid root rot and mildew problems. The leaves of the more than 60 varieties of basil can be used right off the plant or dried and stored.
Mint is another versatile herb that adds zest to many recipes. Peppermint, spearmint and pineapple mint are just a few of the many varieties available. Mint is best grown in containers, as it is hard to keep in check when planted directly in the garden. It also cross pollinates readily so it's best to keep mint varieties well separated to avoid inadvertently growing plants with odd flavor combinations.
Known commonly as Chinese parsley, cilantro is the foliage of the coriander plant. The leaves are aromatic and enhance the flavor of many ethnic foods when finely chopped, especially salsas and other Mexican dishes. Cilantro does not retain much flavor when dried and is best used fresh. Planting cilantro in the garden will also attract ladybugs, which are effective for controlling aphids and other nuisance insects.
The robust, peppery flavor of sage is especially well suited to meat dishes, although it is commonly used as a sauce ingredient in vegetarian recipes. Although Mediterranean in origin, this perennial herb is quite hardy and easy to grow in USDA zones 6 through 9. Sage retains flavor well and the leaves can be tied in bunches and hung to dry for use through the winter. The silvery green foliage and lavender flowers also make this an attractive plant for beds and borders.
Although rosemary is well known for its flavor-enhancing qualities with meats, such as lamb and chicken, it is equally effective in many pasta and vegetarian dishes. Rosemary thrives in full sun and can be grown year-round by bringing it inside when the weather cools. Pinching and harvesting usually keep this plant a modest size in the herb garden but it can easily reach 6 feet in height in warm, sunny conditions. Rosemary is one of the best dried herbs, as the leaves remain flavorful for many months.