7 Essential Perennial Herbs for the Garden

7 Essential Perennial Herbs for the Garden

Niki Jabbour

Most perennial herbs are easy to grow, long-lived, and add delicious flavours to your cooking. Plus, they’re ornamental plants with beautiful foliage and flowers that attract and support pollinators. You can create a dedicated perennial herb garden or tuck them amongst other perennials. Keep in mind that perennial herbs like thyme and oregano grow best when planted in full sun in well-drained soil. Others, like mint, chives, and lemon balm can take less light and richer soil. Because perennial herbs will be in your garden for many years, try to plant them in a site where they can thrive.

Here are 7 of my favourite perennial herbs:

Chives (zones 3 to 10)

Chives are perhaps the easiest herb to grow. They can be planted in full sun or partial shade and reliably yield a heavy crop of spiky leaves with a mild onion flavour. Chives are also a beautiful garden plant with pretty lavender pom-pom flowers appearing in late spring. Like the leaves, the flowers are edible and can be sprinkled on salads or used to make an onion-flavoured (and pink!) vinegar.

Mint (zones 4 to 9)

Mint is an aggressive perennial herb and one that should only be planted in a pot. If you put it in a garden, and trust me on this, it will spread everywhere. In most parts of Canada it’s hardy enough to overwinter in a container. If your potted mint doesn’t come back the following spring, you can always pick up a few new seedlings at the garden centre. And there are so many different cultivars to try with a wide range of delicious mint flavours. We harvest mint all summer for salads and also dry big bundles so we have plenty for tea during the cold season.

Thyme (zones 5 to 9)

Thyme is a low-growing plant that loves to be tucked into sunny rock gardens or other spots where the soil is very well-draining. Thyme can also be planted in the gravel between patio stones or used as a low-maintenance ground cover. Whenever the foliage is walked upon, the aromatic scent fills the air. The evergreen leaves add bold flavour to cooking and can be used fresh or dried. In summer, the tiny pink flowers attract beneficial insects and pollinators to the garden.

Greek Oregano (zones 5 to 9)

As a Mediterranean herb, Greek oregano loves the summer heat. We use this culinary herb fresh but I also dry plenty for the winter spice cupboard. Like thyme, it needs at least six to eight hours of sun each day and well-draining soil. I harvest at least three times each summer, cutting the plants back by half. In late summer I finally allow them to bloom and I’m not sure who enjoys the tiny pink flowers more, me or the bees.

Sage (zones 5 to 8)

For years I had two large sage plants bordering either side of the entrance to my vegetable garden. The grey-green foliage looked amazing in spring, summer, and fall, and in early summer the purple flowers attracted clouds of butterflies and bees. Unfortunately when we renovated the space, the plants didn’t survive, but this past spring I added more sage to my garden. There are some beautiful types of sage you can grow including tricolour and purple, but I don’t find them to be reliably hardy. Instead I grow common sage and dry the leaves for winter use.

Garlic Chives (zones 4 to 9)

Garlic chive plants looks a lot like chives with similar grassy foliage, but their flavour is all garlic. We like to chop handfuls of the flat leaves into stir-fries, dumplings, and salads. And while garlic chive plants produce plenty of greens for the kitchen they’re also super ornamental in the garden. In late summer, stalks of white flowers emerge and provide a late season source of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies.

Lemon Balm (zones 4 to 9)

Lemon balm is a mint relative and has a tendency to spread throughout garden beds. I tuck it in raised beds or pots where it won’t get out of control. I love the lemon scented and flavoured leaves which are so delicious in fruit salads, lemonade, and tea. Plant it in full sun to partial shade and work in some compost as this is a plant that appreciates ample moisture.