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Herbs make a great all-rounder

Right now, I’m all about herbs. Whether growing in my garden, steeping in my teapot, flavouring my raw dips and stir-fries, administered by the capful every morning, dropped into the bathwater or oil burner, herbs are working their magic both from the inside and out.
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I dream of the day that I will open my front door and enter a buzzing herb garden, walking over a soft lawn of chamomile to pick fresh leaves for tea, but for now I have to content myself with pots, crevices and hanging baskets of peppermint, sage, oregano, parsley, basil, Vietnamese mint, stevia, lemon balm, lemon verbena, chickweed and thyme. And many herbs do well being a tad squashed and forgotten. After all, what is a weed to one is often herb to another.

Now I know not everyone like me wants nettle growing rampant, and luckily there are many ways to introduce herbs to your backyard.One garden I visited in the Hunter last week skilfully used herbs to create decorative borders. The catmint edging the rose garden was like a continuous blue cloud from a distance, and alive with bees. It’s a bit like sneaking healthy ingredients into a standard meal and lost nothing on beauty, form and function.

Here are some favourite herbs for creating borders, and of course, for other more utilitarian and magical purposes:

Catmint adds a lovely flowering on the edge of a rose bed, especially when the spring flush of roses is finished. Drought tolerant, catmint is only dormant for a couple of months, and when you prune it well in winter your cats will go wild.

Rosemary is great either as an informal border or a clipped hedge. The Tuscan blue variety is gorgeous when flowering and again it is very hardy.The fragrant violet cluster flowers of Tulbaghia make it a wonderful edging plant. Known as society garlic,flowers and leaves are both edible, and you can enjoy the garlicky flavour without the lingering smell (hence the name).

Lavender is a classic border herb. While French lavender is the most reliable to grow in our area, it can be a bit tall and leggy. More compact are the dwarf English, Italian and Spanish varieties.

Thyme is a lovely groundcover border plant, or for planting between pavers, releasing a rich fragrance when stepped on. The variegated option offers a great alternative to the usual grey/green foliage.

Other common herbs that feature striking foliage for borders include golden marjoram, tricolour and purple-leaved sage, and silver leaved curry plant. One old trick is to use curly-leaved parsley as an edge filler until the permanent shrubs grow. Another option is to combine thyme, oregano, english lavender, and sage for a gorgeous herb border.

My special request is that these plants not only become part of the colour and movement of your garden, but also of your plate.

Claire Dunn is the author of My Year Without Matches: Escaping the City on Search of the Wild EDGY: Catmint adds colour to the edge of a garden bed and is drought tolerant.

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