Reno, Nevada, is in a high mountain desert. The climate is dry, with cool nighttime temperatures. Summers are sunny and hot, and winters often see several feet of snow. Reno is in USDA Plant Hardiness zones 5 to 7, which gives you a large variety of annual and perennial herbs to choose from. But local watering restrictions mean drought-resistant plants will work the best in your garden.
Sagebrush is Nevada's state flower. A fruity-smelling, yellow-flowered variety (Artemisia tridentata) grows wild all around the city, which should tell you that most types of sage are suitable for your garden. Culinary and landscaping sages give off a wonderful scent in the sun's heat, and the grayish leaves make a nice contrast when the plant isn't in flower. Sage is a hardy perennial plant that thrives in rich, well-drained soils and only needs enough watering at the roots to prevent wilting. Mulch sage plants in the fall to protect the shallow roots from freezing and heaving, and cut back dead and damaged growth in spring.
Chamomile is another deliciously scented herb that's suitable for a Reno garden. This annual plant has tiny, daisy-like flowers and delicate, lacy leaves. The flowers can be dried for tea, and chamomile makes a good edging plant because it can handle getting brushed or stepped on. It also grows well between rocks or bricks. Chamomile prefers light, dry soil and can be direct-sown or transplanted from pots. It reseeds itself vigorously so it will keep coming back year after year.
Lavender is a hardy perennial that is a great landscaping plant for Reno. It's pointy, light green leaves add interest to garden edges and interiors. This herb has medicinal and cosmetic uses. Lavender's soil and water requirements are similar to sage's, and like sage it thrives in full, hot sun. Lavender's spikes of purple flowers can be dried to use in sachets, or you can rub the leaves on your hands for a nice perfume. Cut back lavender in the spring, and mulch it well in fall.
All varieties of mint grow so well in Reno gardens they can become a nuisance if not managed carefully. Mint likes rich, moist soil. Once the plant takes off, it shades the soil underneath, which lessens its watering needs. Mint plants smell good until they freeze in the winter, and they come back vigorously in the spring. Mint has spines of small pink, lilac, or white flowers that usually bloom in late spring. To help control the plant, cut it back after it flowers so it can't reseed more.
St. John's Wort
St. John's wort is a good perennial herb for both sunny and partially shady locations. It has bright yellow flowers that ooze a crimson juice when you smash them in your fingers. This herb does well in average to poor soils, and it's not too picky about pH. It prefers soil that hasn't dried out, but like mint, it grows so quickly that it shades the soil for itself. St. John's wort is not an invasive plant, however, and only needs to be pruned of dead and dying material in the spring.
Hyssop is an herb that bees love, but which tends to repel other pests. It's a good plant for Reno gardeners because it tolerates dry soil. The purple, sweet-tasting flowers are star-shaped, and the leaves have culinary and medicinal uses. Hyssop likes a slightly alkaline, well-drained soil and grows well in full sun or partial shade. It does well as a border plant and just needs to be pruned for shape. Since it reseeds easily, plants can also be divided to start new clumps.