Plant Pretty, Drought-Tolerant Herbs

Reader Jessica Fields wrote us for help with a plan for her unruly Southern garden.

| October/November 2010

Dear Herb Companion,

My yard is definitely a challenge, and I am clueless about what to plant and where. I have a lot of rocks and red clay, so plants do not do well along the edges of my house. I have a few herbs in a little bed under a bay window that gets mostly sun. I would like to learn how to grow all types of culinary, medicinal and cosmetic herbs. I live in central Alabama.

—Jessica Fields, Sylacauga, Alabama

See pictures of Jessica Fields' garden in central Alabama.  

Every garden space brings its own set of challenges. It’s true that the Deep South—with its heat, humidity and often heavy clay soils—offers particular challenges to herb gardeners. But, as in many other areas of the country, time and sweat will improve both your soil and your knowledge. Digging in and learning how to plant and maintain beautiful gardens in your yard will also bring with it an acceptance that there are some things you can’t change. 

From the photos you sent, it looks like you have a lovely setting for a mobile home that you’ve expanded and built decks onto. Perennial garden beds will give your home a feeling of permanence and anchorage, beauty and bounty, as well as a steady harvest of materials to suit your interests.

You live in Zone 7b or 8a, which allows you to grow some herbs outdoors that Northern gardeners can only dream about. I’ll bet in a drive around your community you would see large shrubs of rosemary in the landscapes, tree-sized bay laurel plants and many other herbs thriving in gardens. We’ve redesigned your sunny bay-window garden for a variety of herbs that can take advantage of your mild winters and long growing season and survive the summer heat, including a variety of traditional culinary, medicinal and cosmetic herbs.

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