Garden Spaces: Grow These Herbs for Dought and Humidity

October/November 2010
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Illustration by Gayle Ford

• Rose (Rosa spp.). So many to choose from, and they do well in the South if they have adequate drainage. Go for a big, tough shrub rose or vigorous climber that you can tie onto a trellis. One favorite is ‘Mutabilis’, a china rose (R. chinensis) with blooms that change colors as they age; it can grow to 6 feet or more.

• Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, many varieties and hybrids). This native perennial, an important medicinal herb, is also a garden favorite. Now available in a wide array of colors and growing habits, it reaches 1 to 2 feet and is hardy in much of the United States.

• Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). What can be a tender, fussy, disease-prone potted plant in the North is a showy landscape plant in mild climates. There are many varieties and hybrids, some upright and some low-growing sprawlers. It has culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses.

• Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). This tender perennial is an evergreen tree in warm Southern climates, but elsewhere it is grown in containers and protected during the winter. It is a favorite culinary herb from the Mediterranean.

• Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Being a mint family member, this hardy perennial herb can be a bit aggressive in the average garden so is a good candidate for a container. The luscious lemon fragrance makes it great in the kitchen, but it is increasingly noted for its medicinal value.

• Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). A perennial favorite in both the garden and the kitchen, these tidy foot-high clumps of strappy leaves show off bright pink pompon flowers in early spring. Will seed itself around the garden, but not in a troublesome way.

• Sage (Salvia officinalis). This is a carefree culinary/medicinal/cosmetic plant for the traditional herb garden. It is a small shrub, about 2 feet tall, and comes in a variety of color patterns and leaf shapes, including the handsome, rounder-leafed ‘Berggarten’.

• Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile and Matricaria recutita). These are two plants with look-alike flowers, the first a low-growing perennial (called Roman chamomile), the second a taller annual known as German chamomile. Both have myriad uses.

• Lavender (Lavandula spp.). Many species and varieties are available of this invaluable cosmetic herb that also plays a minor role in both the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. In the South, you can grow L. stoechas, with its showy purple bracts, and L. dentata, with its ferny leaves, as well as the more traditional English lavender (L. angustifolia), but good drainage and not wetting the leaves are critical.

• Oregano (Origanum spp.). No herb garden (or pizza) is complete without this perennial herb, as well as its annual cousin, marjoram. It’s a wide-ranging genus with many different fragrances and forms, most staying under about 1 1/2 to 2 feet.

Kathleen Halloran is a freelance writer living in beautiful Austin, Texas.

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Click here for the main article,  Garden Spaces: Plant Pretty, Drought-Tolerant Herbs .