Mediterranean Companions

Welcome these gray and green herbs to your garden, and flavor is sure to follow.

| August/September 2004

The subtle-hued, many-textured gray and green herbs native to the Mediterranean are favorites in the herb garden. In their homeland, lavender, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, santolina, savory and thyme cling to chalky cliffs and hillsides and stubbornly exist in barren, dry, sandy, rocky soils. But in our gardens in Maryland (Susan) and Arkansas (Tina Marie), we’ve proved that these Mediterranean immigrants do just fine on American soil with a few amendments. We re-created a Mediterranean region for these plants in our gardens.

The Mediterranean-style garden is a contrast to the look of lush cottage gardens. Picture an arid chaparral in California, or what commonly is known throughout the Mediterranean region by the French term maquis, and as macchia in Italy and matorral in Spain. Imagine creating an alluvial fan with a combination of grit and stone, which in the Mediterranean forms the base around mountains and the raised areas around streams. The canvas is primed with a layer of fine grit mixed with coarse chunks of minerals of gray and green, rust, carbon black and stark white.

Mediterranean herbs like their personal space. We can see much of the mulch, so we know each plant has good air circulation and plenty of interior light. Velvety down on sage leaves and lavender spikes, thick bright green needles of rosemary and the feathery mounds of santolina impart visual and tactile appeal. The colors are a muted palette, ranging from soft silvers and gray greens to blue grays and dark greens, over the canvas of mulch.

Coming to America

Fortunately for us, these gray and green herbs can be cultivated in many climates and soil conditions, do well in containers and can flourish if certain requirements are met. Wanting to make these Mediterranean herbs at home in our gardens or containers and give them the very best conditions for growing, we have created a planting mix to be worked into the soil, a meal mix for nourishment and a mulch to top the soil. Click here for instructions.

You can work our mixes into established beds, or if you want to break ground for a new garden, find a location that has full sun for at least six hours. These herbs need adequate drainage, which means the Mediterranean garden is a natural for inclines or sloped sites. Mark off the garden space and remove all existing plants, destroying any grubs or cutworms as you work. Get a soil test and determine what amendments are needed to improve drainage and nutrient quality, keeping in mind the nature of barren, slightly alkaline Mediterranean soil.

Lay out the placement of the beds and paths with string. Remove the top 6 inches of earth from the pathways and shovel it into the growing areas to make raised beds. The advantage of making new raised beds is better drainage — which should help lessen disease — as well as freshly amended soil and a fairly weed-free garden space to start. Once the raised beds are prepared, fill in the paths with whatever medium you like, such as stone, shells, bark or brick.

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