An Herb for Every Spot

Here’s some help for troublesome areas in your landscape.

| June/July 2002

Let’s face it—few people are blessed with perfect terrain for building a garden. Maybe some landowners are willing to spend enormous amounts of money and time to create a rocky incline for the creeping thymes (Thymus spp.) or a boggy niche to cultivate orris root (Iris germanica var. florentina) as a specimen plant, but not many of us.

A far better solution is to work with what you have, or as we say in Texas, “dance with the one who brung you.” Accept the spot you were dealt, with all its warts and foibles, and remember that the time and energy you invest will have an impact on the garden that emerges. Think of the problem areas as interesting challenges to overcome with study, preparation of the site, and realistic plant selection. That may sound simplistic, but surely some plant, tree, or shrub from that great maw of herbs will be happy as a clam there. Most plants will survive in less than optimal conditions, although they may not thrive. Take a chance, and see if it works.

Confront tough spaces

Let’s look at some typical landscape demons.

Shade. We get many questions on how to manage shady areas. First, provide as much light as possible by removing non-essential trees and underbrush. Take out lower limbs on large trees or trim the ends of the bottom branches. Curved, irregular beds rather than the usual geometric shapes are more naturalistic in shady areas; think of walking through a forest, in and out of large trees.

Full sun generates strong essential oils in culinary herbs but most will survive in high shade or dappled sunlight. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), costmary (Tanacetum balsamita), lemon thyme (Thymus ¥citriodorus), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) and tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) will do nicely here. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is happy in shade, especially in areas with long hot summers. Monarda species (bee balm and horsemint), as well as mints (Mentha spp.), will also grow well in high-shade areas.

Columbines (Aquilegia spp.), dead nettle (Lamium spp.), foxglove (Digitalis spp.), lady’s-mantle (Alchemilla mollis), and Primula spp. will provide color and texture. Violets and first cousins pansies and Johnny jump-ups are charming and make colorful borders in shady nooks and corners. If you have a small stream on your property, be sure to tuck in Florentine iris (Iris ¥germanica var. florentina) and sweet flag (Acorus calamus).

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