What is an Herb?Webster's defines an herb as: "1 : a seed plant that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season, 2 : a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities." That's a pretty broad definition. And where do so called herbs like lavender, rosemary and sage fit in, with their woody stems?
For the most part, the term herb is not definitive. It's best not to spend too much time debating what is or is not an herb. Basically, an herb is a valued plant if it suits your needs. For most herb growers, it comes down to a plant that can be used either for cooking, medicinally or practically, like plants used to make dye or perfume. Even then, the list is almost endless. Most common garden plants like iris, sunflowers, marigolds, Joe Pye weed and even sweet peppers make it onto someone's list. And I'm not sure I could ever consider hops as medicinal, but they too are herbs. You have to approach the topic of herb gardening with an open mind.
Why Have an Herb Garden?Herb gardening, like defining the word herb, all comes down to what you want to do with the plants you grow. If you want to dye yarn, or make ointments or potpourri or cook like a chef, you'll want to grow plants to suit that need. Having a designated herb garden makes their care and harvesting more convenient. It is by no means the only way or even the best way to grow herbs. You could always simply intermingle these plants throughout other garden beds or improvise according to your space and needs.
Annual culinary or kitchen herbs, like basil, dill and cilantro, are often better suited to vegetable gardens, where they'll be certain to get regular waterings and they are handy when you go out to harvest dinner. Some of the highly scented perennial herbs, such as lavender and sage, are useful in the flower borders to discourage deer and rabbits.
For gardeners in small spaces, an herb garden could be a collection of pots. It's romantic to envision a series of small potted herbs on the kitchen windowsill, but in reality, you'll need a good sized plant to really be able to harvest enough herbs to cook with regularly. However for the occasional use and for the sheer luxury of having their gorgeous scent nearby, small potted herbs are a delight. If you have room indoors for larger pots, go for it.