Southern Herb Gardening

Kae Snow-Stephens shares her experience with Southern herb gardening, including tips on planting, growing and overwintering herbs in a tough climate and southern zone information.

| October/November 1992

  • Learn these tips for Southern herb gardening.
    Learn these tips for Southern herb gardening.
    Photo By Fotolia/Magdalena Kucova

  • Learn these tips for Southern herb gardening.

Learn about how the author succeeds with Southern herb gardening in a difficult climate.

Southern Herb Gardening

It was 1989, and my life was like a Dali painting gone berserk. Seventeen years in a highly stressful profession had prepared me for permanent residence in a padded room somewhere; the big “four-oh” was staring me in the face like an angry cobra; and both of my children were under the age of eight. Something had to change: I needed to make a new decision about what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I took an extended leave of absence. As I played with my dandy collection of house plants and did a bit of horticultural reading, I found that I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty (what I like to call dirt-diving). I also began to realize that the landscape planting around our house was truly awful. Oh, it was neat and well kept, but it was dull: the plants were the same low-maintenance, evergreen, Southern standby shrubs that everyone else had. I began driving around my city, getting ideas and learning which plants grew well, and gradually I began to see a glimmer of design ­potential for my own home.

At this point, several very timely events occurred, after which I never looked back. One was my first pungent whiff of santolina; I think that’s what really got me started thinking about herbs. Then I happened across a copy of Samuel J. Touchstone’s Herbal and Folk Medicine of Louisiana and Adjacent States. Touchstone is one of my area’s most captivatingly colorful, knowledgable, and personable luminaries, and my eyes were opened to the staggering array of native and naturalized herbs in our area. As my excitement grew, several people told me, “You can’t grow herbs in the South!” Well, throw down the gauntlet to ME! Farming runs in my family, and I just couldn’t resist such a challenge.

Then, at the apex of this crossroads of my life, Lady Luck led me to cross paths with Bertha Reppert of The Rosemary House in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. This enthusiastic wo­man swept me under her wing and­ ­became my mentor, generously bestowing encouragement, direction, and knowledge.

But alas, Bertha lived two hardiness zones away, and she had four seasons where I had three. Obviously, I’d have to do a bit of improvisation and adaptation to deal with the legendary Southern Detriments: stifling heat, horrendous humidity, a constant siege from the entire insect world, high water table with no drainage at or below sea level, and rich, acidic soils. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the truly irrational climate, which consists of three seasons—Hot, Wet, and Cruddy.

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