U.S. Botanic Garden Horticulturist Adam Pyle explains the benefits of potted herbs and demonstrates how to pot dry and moist herb gardens. (Adrian Higgins and Sandi Moynihan/The Washington Post)

A little herb garden in a container allows you to move beyond sweet basil alone. With so many great herbs to choose from, there is no one right mix.

Your selection of herbs is not only personal but also connected to your favorite dishes, which in turn are linked to your cultural background, childhood memories and palate. It is worth knowing, however, that there are now more varieties of herbs commonly available than ever, especially with basil, thyme, oregano, scented geranium, lavender and rosemary. Reserve a little room for something new this season.

If I were limited to five — the right number for a 14-inch pot — I would grow these:



Chives. (Walker-Jones Education Campus)

●Garden sage, variety Berggarten

●Common oregano, variety Hot and Spicy

●Common thyme

I asked other herb connoisseurs for their Fab Five.

Nora Pouillon, chef and co-founder of Restaurant Nora:

●Flat-leaf Italian parsley



●Sweet basil


Adam Pyle, horticulturist at the U.S. Botanic Garden:


●Sweet basil (Genovese)

●Common thyme

●Common oregano

(Hot and Spicy or Kent Beauty)


Holly Shimizu, executive director, U.S. Botanic Garden

●Garlic chives


●French tarragon

●Lemon verbena

●Lemon thyme

Francesco DeBaggio, owner, DeBaggio Herbs, Chantilly.

DeBaggio, whose nursery offers 30 varieties of scented geranium alone, offered three combos.


●Italian parsley




●Sweet marjoram


●Thyme, variety Provencal

●French tarragon

●Italian oregano, also known as

hardy sweet marjoram

●Golden lemon thyme

●Alpine strawberry



●Sweet marjoram

●Golden pineaple sage

●Creeping rosemary

●Provencal thyme

For restaurateur Nora Pouillon, chives evoke memories of her childhood in Austria. Her mother would take hearty brown bread, slather on butter, and press the slices into chopped chives and sprinkle a little salt. “This was our snack,” she said. Chive blossoms, soon to appear, can be eaten, too, but they are onion strong. The florets should be separated and sprinkled lightly on the host dish.

Among Pouillon’s other favorite and most useful herbs are French tarragon, thyme and peppermint.

Shimizu said if she could squeeze in another herb, it would be hardy sweet marjoram (Orginanum x majoricum), which is both sweet and spicy, and sometimes called Italian oregano. She also commends a mint hybrid named Madeline Hill, as well as curly parsley. “I really eat a lot of it,” she said.

Pyle, who was standing nearby, gave voice to the eternal parsley debate. “I’m a flat-leaf person,” he said.