Using herbs in landscape design

chives blooming

Using herbs in the front yard landscape may send the mind to envisioning a yard taken over by tall vegetation, reminiscent of a bountiful English cottage garden. Not all herbs are towering plants and for those herbs that do show off in girth and height, with controlled planting, they fit into landscape design. Choose the function of herbs in the landscape design based on the anticipated height of the plant, the plants U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cold hardiness zone, and how they fit in as companions to other landscape plants.

Herbs Less Than 18 Inches Tall

Short herbs, those that grow to less than 18 inches tall, are suitable for borders in front of shrubs or taller plants, or along a walkway. Plant the border with one or more herbs or mix the herbs with other border plants, like the annual sweet alyssum or the perennial coreopsis. Short herb plants may include any of the following:
  • Chives. Reaching a height of about 12 inches, chives produce pink to lavender colored blooms. Carrying a mild onion flavor, it's hard to resist pinching off a stem to munch outdoors. Chives are cold hardy to USDA zone 4. Space the plants about 12 inches apart.
  • Lady's Mantle. Cold hardy to USDA zone 4, lady's mantle prefers part shade but will grow in full sun, though the leaf color may change. The plant reaches a height of about 12 inches. Space the plants about 12 inches apart.
  • Parsley. Parsley prefers full sun and in most zones, is considered an annual. Parsley grows 6 to 18 inches tall. Plant parsley about 6 inches apart.
  • Thyme. Thyme, which grows 4 to 12 inches tall, prefers full sun. Plant 6 to 12 inches apart. Thyme is cold hardy in USDA zone 4.
Herbs 18 to 36 Inches Tall

Herbs between 18 and 36 inches can be used between border-height plants and taller plants like shrubs.
  • Basil. Also called sweet basil, this herb can add brilliant green or deep purple color to the landscape. Cold hardy in USDA zone 9, basil grows 20 to 24 inches tall. Space the plants 6 to 12 inches apart in full sun.
  • Lavender. Growing 24 to 36 inches tall, lavender is a shrub-like plant that offers lots of fragrance. USDA hardy as far north as zone 4 or 5 (depending on the variety), lavender can be planted in full sun about 18 inches apart.
  • Lemon balm. Cold hardy to USDA zone 5, lemon balm prefers sun to part shade. Plant about 2 feet apart and in an area where you wouldn't mind it spreading as it does drop seeds.
  • Sage. Sage can grow 18 to 30 inches tall and prefers full sun. The shorter varieties can be planted 12 inches apart while the taller varieties are better suited to 24-inch spacing. Sage can be cold hardy as far north as USDA zone 4, depending on the variety.
  • Yarrow. Growing up to 3 feet tall, yarrow is drought tolerant. A perennial in USDA zones 3 to 9, the blooms of yarrow may be white, yellow, burgundy, or shades of pink. Space the plants about 12 inches apart.