After seeing some incredible mixed containers I told my young horticulturist son I had a vision of writing a column called Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme, kind of a play on words from Simon and Garfunkel's famous album by the same name and of course the lyrics from "Scarborough Fair." The idea being to encourage you to use these herbs in mixed containers.
But whoa Nellie, it appears my young 26-year-old son had never heard of the artist, album or song. What has happened to the world? We spent weeks in Mr. Murray's 1969 English class studying these songs and it was the best class ever, but I digress.
Just know this, remembering those lyrics or should I say those four herbs as you design your mixed containers will allow you to create interest with foliage, add a touch of fragrance, dazzle with color from flowers, bring in a few butterflies and, freshen your breath too. Lastly, if you are a culinary artist, then these are all available for the picking.
Parsley is the most famous garnish on the planet. As a carnivorous meat eater, I would just soon skip the parsley and add a couple more ounces of New York strip. Speaking of New York, the Times had an article that says no way parsley freshens your breath, the science is just not there. Of course, the Romans felt differently and it must have been famous at Scarborough Fair. As a horticulturist, however, I love curly parsley as a one foot tall filler plant in mixed containers. Its bright green leaves just seem to bring out the color of companion flowers.
Sages are my favorite plants for gardens and mixed containers. Now we have to assume for lyrical purposes we are talking the edible sage Salvia officinalis. Of course, other species are edible including the heavenly scented pineapple sage, Salvia Elegans. The Salvia officinalis excels as a filler plant in mixed containers and the new variegated varieties do their part to add a little drama. This plant sometimes struggles in the high heat and humidity of the south when planted in garden soil but always performs in mixed containers that drain freely. Drop it in with some ajuga at the front of your box or mixed container for a picturesque arrangement.
We may think of rosemary as the now official Christmas topiary or the staple of the herb garden and both would be correct but it also makes a terrific center or tall plant in mixed containers. The aromatic foliage does not go unnoticed as you walk by. The green fine textured needle-like leaves, contrast with cool or warm season flowers as well as a boxwood, or holly. Throughout Georgia, they are beginning their bloom cycle as they load up with icy blue flowers. A sprig or two may be just the herb you are looking for to add to pork or poultry.
Thyme is something I've generally used among rocks or stepping stones. The little if not diminutive creeping red thyme, however, is a wonderful spiller creating interest with its tiny foliage texture and then follows up with its own version of WOW with flowers that may be rose, lavender, red, or white. It's like the engine that could and you will be asking why haven't I tried this before? It grows 3 to 6 inches tall and spreads to 18-inches.
Spring planting season is coming, albeit sooner for some of us. Herbs make wonderful component plants in mixed containers. If you can't remember which ones, let the old song remind you, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru.)